Monthly Archives: March 2017

Live by “Themes” Rather than “Goals”?

Is Goal Setting a Recipe for Failure?

Every time I set myself a goal I usually set myself up for failure.  I started out doing a PhD with the idea that it would take me three years and in the end it took me six years and a lot more time, money, sweat and tears.  I wrote a book about my experiences.  That seems quite typical in my life.  Another goal I had was to reach 86 Kgs weight by a certain date.  I started at about 110Kgs or more.  In the end I reached 86.7kgs (late) but never reached the 86Kgs.  I felt like I had failed at that goal when I really had won… If my theme was to live and eat healthily then I had clearly won.  Because I had set such a specific number and not reached it I had felt I had failed. My theme was health and fitness.

If I look at my first quarter 2017 goals I am way off track.  I am still working on the goals (which were supposed to be finished in 2016!) but they are just taking much longer and are much harder than planned.  I feel like I am getting nowhere!  How is your progress on your 2017 goals or your new year’s resolutions?  Are you off track or are things taking much longer than you expected?  I think many of the problems in goal setting go back to the planning fallacy which I discussed in an article on this website.  As human beings we just tend to be over-optimistic about how long things take and also over-optimistic on the benefits of achieving a goal.

On this website I have promoted a programme by the Goals Guy, Gary Ryan Blair, called the 100 Day Challenge.  I learned a lot from this programme and I enjoyed it and I still recommend it. However just be aware that there is also a downside to the programme as well.  If you fail to achieve your goals in 100 days (highly likely and happened to me) you are left feeling a bit like a looser…..that is not what anyone wants. You can be left a little stressed and unhappy – I missed my goals what is wrong with me?  The danger when you consistently fail to reach goals is that you will become despondent and give up trying every day.

Another big problem with goals is tunnel vision.  You get so focused on your goals that you don’t see opportunities staring you in the face.  You are not able to see or respond to new opportunities as they arise.  You are too focused on your goal.

I recently came across an idea from a guy called James Altucher.  I have probably mentioned him before on this website (by the way he produces a great monthly report, which I subscribe to, on new innovations/technology and how we can benefit).  I realise that so much of what I have written on this website is about goal setting and encouraging people to set goals.  But what if goal setting is a bit of a trap?  When I reflect on my own life I have never really achieved any goals I have set.  I mentioned that my PhD took double the time.  Also the benefits of attaining that goal have not materialised as expected.  Another goal I had set was to publish a self-help book.  I eventually achieved that goal too – much tougher and longer than anticipated.  I struggled on that book,  ‘Experiments in Personal Change’, for perhaps one and a half years.  However in the end very few people have read the book probably because I am not that good at marketing.  I am very happy with the book though and I am actually reading it again myself at the moment to find renewed inspiration for my own life.  That’s neat – read your own self-help book for advice!

Anyway to get back to the topic, the idea of setting themes instead of goals is interesting.  If I say that I am going to reach x weight by May 1st it kinda sets me up for failure.  Therefore decide what you want to do everyday and then do it.  I write every day – I am working on another book project.  But this time I don’t have a goal of when to finish the book – I just write everyday for at least one hour.  The book will be ready when its ready.  I also try to be creative every day – Altucher has an exercise to write 10 creative ideas every day on any topic you wish.  You are exercising and developing your own creative muscle.  I also meditate everyday – I want to train my mind to be present.  What is most important is that I act every day and then I let go of the results.  The results can take care of themselves.  My job is just to be present, show up to my own life and then to do/be present each and every day.

On reflection I agree with Altucher to a large extent.  I will opt from now on for themes with one or two very specific goals where it makes sense and is attainable.  There is no point putting myself  under pressure for nothing and ending up feeling like a failure when I am actually winning.