Just over one month into 2018 and I’m jumping ship on all my goals. I’m done with them.
I started this year by doing what I always do: setting goals for what I wanted to achieve by the end of the year (using my Yearbook printable*).
It felt good at the time, if a little scary. But the things that challenge us usually scare us a bit.
Goals are supposed to be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. So, for example, ‘lose weight’ is not a good goal because it’s not specific, measurable etc, whereas ‘lose 20 kilos’ is a ‘good’ goal.
Well, I already failed on that count, because ‘make my health a priority’ and ‘bring my thoughts, words and actions into alignment’ are vague and not at all measurable. But I wasn’t sure how else to write them, because they aren’t things to attain, they are ongoing practices I want to include in my life – intentions, more than anything. But more on that soon.
I wrote my goals into my weekly Moleskine planner, with the intention of checking in with them every week. I made little spaces to write down what things I had done that week to achieve the goal.
And I hate it. I hate all of it. Most of the time, I don’t want to do the things I need to do to ‘achieve’ the goals.
Leo Babauta on Zen Habits explains this really well:
In the past, I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps.
Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. You all know this. You know you need to work on an action step, and you try to keep the end goal in mind to motivate yourself. But this action step might be something you dread, and so you procrastinate. You do other work, or you check email or Facebook, or you goof off…
Here’s the secret: the problem isn’t you, it’s the system! Goals as a system are set up for failure.
Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.
I also set several guiding words for the year, one of which is flow LINK. I’m using flow to guide me each day – what feels good, what is easy and happens without resistance. This is more of an intention that a goal – an intention to be in flow as much as possible. Obviously, this one isn’t specific, measurable and so on.
I’ve actually found that the more I follow the flow, the more I let the good feelings guide me, the more likely I am to do things that are good for my health and the more likely I am to come into alignment. So that’s two ‘goals’ on track. Interesting.
On the other hand, the two specific goals I set for the year (both of which revolve around making/saving a certain amount of money – one in my business and one for travel) don’t feel good. They immediately put me into a scarcity mindset and I start to feel anxious when I think about them. I could certainly hustle and do the work necessary to meet these goals, but when I tried to do that so far I felt very far out of flow, out of alignment. Alarm bells went off and I realized there was a fundamental conflict between these goals, and my intention to be in flow and alignment.
All any of us want when we set a goal is a feeling. The feelings will vary widely from person to person and goal to goal, but essentially we are just looking for a feeling: a sense of achievement, pride, security, love, acceptance – whatever it is, it’s a feeling.
With my money-oriented business goal I was searching for a feeling of personal satisfaction, achievement, security. With my money-oriented travel goal, I was searching for a feeling of inspiration and adventure.
The problem with goals, though, as I read about on Zen Habits, is that they lock us into a specific outcome. For example, the goals I set mean that I think I can only achieve those feelings if I achieve the goal. If I fail to meet the goal then I won’t get to experience those feelings, because in my mind they are locked together.
But actually that’s not true at all. In fact, since I’ve been following the flow and the little cues to come into alignment, I’ve stumbled across some really interesting things – new things to focus on. One of these things is to write a book, and another is to rebrand and pivot my business. These things will allow me to have the same feelings of satisfaction, achievement, inspiration, adventure and ultimately security (not necessarily financial, but security in who I am and my work), but they look much different to how I imagined them. In fact, I could not have imagined these things at the start of the year.
These things arose from my intention – my intention to come into alignment and be in flow. These airy-fairy and vague ideas have led to some big transformations for me in my work.
So I’m letting go of my specific goals. They are only limiting me and making me feel crappy when I think about them. I’m letting myself be guided by intention instead – the intention to be in flow and alignment.
And the funny thing is that I will of course achieve things without goals – I will write my book and I will rebrand and change my business, because these are things I’m excited and inspired about. If I follow the flow, I can’t not do them.
Babauta speaks about it like this:
[Without goals] what do you do, then? Lay around on the couch all day, sleeping and watching TV and eating Ho-Hos? No, you simply do. You find something you’re passionate about, and do it. Just because you don’t have goals doesn’t mean you do nothing — you can create, you can produce, you can follow your passion…
In the end, I usually end up achieving more than if I had goals, because I’m always doing something I’m excited about. But whether I achieve or not isn’t the point at all: all that matters is that I’m doing what I love, always.
How marvelous does that sound?! Why aren’t we all living like this?
Do you have specific goals you are working towards? Do you have intentions guiding you this year?
*Next year’s Yearbook printable will be changed to reflect my new approach, so check back then if you’re interested!