Goals Versus Themes – An Example

The last post on this website was on the subject of goals versus themes.  A goal I recently completed was to run a half marathon (21km).  I can say that the goal was 100% achieved.  I picked a race, trained for it and ran it on the day.  There were no major problems (apart from my sore feet) and this goal was particularly easy to achieve.  Why was the goal so successful?  Because this was my third time to run a half marathon and I had a very clear programme to follow which I had successfully used before.  I had a clear formula for success.  Each day of each week leading up to the event I had clear instructions on how much training I would have to do each day.  Once I followed the programme the result was never really in doubt.  I would be ready on the day of the race.

Successfully completing my goal to run a half marathon (21Km) – But What Next?

The half marathon goal was easy to achieve because the sub-goals or stepping stones were so clear.  I knew what I had to do each day.  The stepping stones were tried and tested and they worked before.

However when I look at other goals I have in life they are much harder to break down into quantifiable sub-goals.  For example I am writing a book at the moment.  The topic of the book is beekeeping in Ireland.  I simply don’t know how much effort or how long it will take me to write each chapter.  As with most projects we tackle I have never done this before – there is no exact formula for success.  In my opinion therefore it is pointless trying to set a goal to complete the book by a certain date.  I would be setting myself up for stress and failure to reach my goal.  What I have decided to do instead is to set a daily writing theme.  I have decided I am going to write/work on the book for 1 hour per day.  That is all I have to commit to for now.  There is no stress because there is no artificial deadline which I would fail to meet and start to feel like a failure.  I just focus on researching and writing the book in a stress free way.  I think this is an example where setting a specific time bound goal is a waste of time because as I have said the steps are not always clear and the work involved in the project is hard to quantify.

Going back to the half marathon example there is another important lesson.  I achieved the goal but is that it – job done and goal achieved? Is that all I get – a medal and memories of a beautiful day and crossing the finish line?  The reality is that the goal itself is not very useful.  The goal is just a stepping stone to a life of health and fitness.  Once I achieve the goal I have to continue on the theme of health and fitness or I will slide back to being unfit and overweight.  If I don’t continue exercising after the goal has been achieved then in 3 months I will be overweight and unfit once more. I will then be back to where I started which is not very useful.  The goal got me to where I am today as regards fitness but I now need to incorporate fitness into my life by making exercise and healthy eating a theme irrespective of whether I have a goal or not.  Alternatively I need a succession of goals to keep me motivated and exercising.  The goal is not the end but merely supports the theme of health and fitness.

The point I want to make in this article is that society stresses so much on working towards goals such as at New Year.  My life coach advised me to set one year, three year and five year goals but I don’t think this was very useful advice.  I am way behind on most of these goals because they were simply unrealistic.  I never look at them any more because they depress me and make me feel like I am not moving ahead in my life.  We need to recognise that goals can be useful stepping stones to success but they also have major weaknesses.  Inappropriate goals can stress us and make us feel like failures unnecessarily. Also achieving a goal is not the end but is a mere stepping stone.  Goals should fit into and support broader themes in our lives and move us in a direction we want our lives to go.


PS if you want to read more about practical ways to improve your life please check out my book ‘Experiments in Personal Change’. This book is about taking six key personal growth areas and experimenting with them in your life. The experiments are written in such a way as to make them actionable so that you can put them to the test and observe the results yourself. The information contained in the book is designed to be short and easily digestible. If you read this book and take action by trying out the experiments in your own life and reflect on the results, then you will gain knowledge that can change your life for the better.  Please see the link below:


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