Does goal setting sap your joy in the present by making you focus too much on the future?
One of the difficulties I’ve had with using traditional goal-setting is that I’ve found that it gives me a hyper-focus on the future. And while this has had the benefit of turning me into someone who spends very little time thinking about the past, and at times given me great confidence about my future, the part that’s not worked well for me is that I’ve found that during the times of my life when I was most focused on my future goals, I was least focused on being present in my life. It’s as if my pre-occupation with planning for the future meant that most of my time was spent with my attention on future business, rather than noticing present business, and then every so often I’d have a moment where I’d realize just how dissociated I was and how much joy/ calm/ adventure/ intimacy and all the other stuff I wanted was actually sitting right in front of me, but I wasn’t noticing or claiming it because I was so busy planning for how I could change stuff in my life so that I could have those experiences in the future.
So, once again, I surveyed my fellow coaches and bloggers in the personal development niche and asked them about their thoughts on this issue, and the degree to which you should focus on the future, if you want to create a happy, successful and fulfilling life. Here’s what they said:
Chris Brogan created the following 3 posts at his blog, when I asked him to share his take on goal-setting. Chris seems to use the traditional left-brain-directed goal-setting approach, with a strong focus on the future, and anyone who’s familiar with Chris knows how successful he’s been in business and he certainly seems successful and happy as a person. Here’s the summary of Chris’ approach to goal-setting:
1.) ‘Set SMART goals – goals that are simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.’
2.) ‘Once you have a sense of what your goals are, I’ve found that the best way to work towards them is to keep them front and center all the time… do your best to make the goals something you can manage/alter. If it’s something not in your control, then how will you impact it?’
3.) ‘Keep asking yourself, ‘Is this helping me to achieve my goals?’ and prioritize doing the stuff that will help you to achieve your goals.’
Chris Brogan advises businesses, organizations, and individuals on how to use social media and social networks to build relationships and deliver value. Chris blogs at www.chrisbrogan.com and on Twitter he’s @chrisbrogan.
‘…To tap into this power, take away the logical step-by-step approach and place yourself firmly in the experience you want to create – right now.’
‘Being lucky enough to be a right-brain thinker, I use an unstructured yet surprisingly effective success formula. It’s very simple: I think about what I want to create as if I have already created it. When I describe my goals, I say to myself and others, ‘My current project is,’ ‘I’m creating,’ or ‘I’m doing…’ rather than ‘My goal is to…’ The moment I decide to do something, I envision the whole project as complete, even if I’m currently only taking a small action step.
Thinking about goals analytically, using the typical step-by-step approach, puts the actual and imagined achievement of the goal in the future. Why is this a problem? I immediately separate myself from my right-brain creative genius (who only understands present-tense language) and hire my left-brain inner critic (who is obsessed with the future) to do the job. She’s quick to point out all the pitfalls and problems, but slinks away when I need solutions.
By using present-tense language, I’m speaking right-brain lingo and therefore connecting with my creative genius. While I’m cooking dinner, my right-brain wizard is whipping up new ideas to make the current project a success. All I have to do is follow these inspirations as if they were a breadcrumb trail. Voila – without a single plan, whatever I wanted to create comes alive. This is your right brain at work, creating what you want, right now. To tap into this power, take away the logical step-by-step approach and place yourself firmly in the experience you want to create – right now.’
John Williams: ‘I’m not a fan of goal setting. If they already work for you, keep using them but they clearly don’t work for a lot of people. If goals were so powerful, a lot more people would reach them – and everyone who did would be happy. The problem with goals is that they place a focus on the future and suggest relentless action and compromise in the present to get there. When you achieve that goal, you allow yourself a brief period of rejoicing and then set a new one. Ugh! I can feel the existential desolation just writing that. What about how you want to be or feel from moment to moment? There’s no goal you can tick off for that.
Your goals won’t make you happy. The truth is it’s not anything in the future that will make you happy but how you live today, how you choose to create this day of your life. It’s not your success that will create your happiness. It’s your happiness that will create your success. And you can’t create happiness in the future by consistently creating misery in your life now. If you can’t create what you want in some form today, it’s likely you will never have it. I’m sure you’ve seen the kind of person who is always running faster and faster in the hope of creating a more relaxed future and of course never gets there.
As Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power Of Now said, ‘Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live.’ When I look back at my own successes, none of them are the result of setting goals. My achievements have all been driven by two factors: firstly I just got interested in something and pursued it as far as I could, and secondly I had a sizeable project with a deadline that I absolutely had to meet (my publisher’s deadline for my book for instance).
What I advocate now (and have written about in my book due out in 2010) is to turn your focus from far off goals to the present day and create some of the experience of your dream life in the here and now – even if it’s scaled down to start with. Play out the unfolding of your life’s work; pick a project that will give you more of what you want – and start it right away. When you focus on getting into flow today – doing what you enjoy and what comes naturally to you – you’ll be amazed just how fast you’ll find yourself progressing.’
‘My relationship to goals has really evolved over time. At one point, I was highly goal-oriented. I thought that was the way you ‘made things happen.’ It’s what everyone else said you’re supposed to do anyway. Well, it didn’t work for me. It just made me start dreading all the stuff that I wanted to do.
So I went into a very anti-goal approach for a long time. I stopped setting goals and and I started setting intentions and themes. I create a theme for each year and month. It may be ambiguous, or very focused. It could be something like ‘quit caffeine’ or ‘become more mindful.’ I’ve found that goals tend to be very rigid, and linear. It’s too easy for your ego to get caught up in them. It’s too easy for me to become obsessed with numbers and to-do lists, rather than enjoying where I’m at right now. I’m still very focused on where I want to go, the things that I want to accomplish. But for me now, they are always an expanding of the present. They’re an evolution of the path I’m on right now. Essentially my ‘goal’ is to do what I want right now, and to do even more of it as time goes on.’
‘…deciding who I want to be and what kinds of things I enjoy doing and then doing some small thing each day to move in that direction has brought me more results than anything else I’ve tried…’
‘My own attempts at goal setting have never been all that successful. Maybe I was doing it wrong. I don’t know. The only thing I really know is that deciding who I want to be and what kinds of things I enjoy doing and then doing some small thing each day to move in that direction has brought me more results than anything else I’ve tried. That approach, I have found, allows me to be more flexible and open to new opportunities. I spend a lot less time worrying about whether I’m doing the right things or doing things right. Instead, I simply enjoy what I’m doing and trust that it will all bode well in the end. So far, so good.’
Ken has written more about his mild way of approaching goal-setting, in response to the questions I’m raising, over here, where he says he’s more of a ‘goal-shedder’ than a ‘goal-setter.’
‘…it’s not so much what you do or even achieve that dictates your experience of life, but how you connect to the moment…’
‘We all share the same ultimate destination or ‘goal’ in life so to speak. The good news is, for any avid goal setter, is that it also happens to be the one goal in life that you are absolutely guaranteed to achieve. And that goal is death (as sombre as it seems). Although it will very rarely make good dinner party conversation, each of us will leave through the same door we arrived. And what we have to deal with in between is our naked, vulnerable humanness.
From my experience as a recovered goal setter, it’s not so much what you do or even achieve that dictates your experience of life, but how you connect to the moment. For many, goal setting has become an agitation of the mind, born from an inability to be present to the inherent uncertainty of life itself. And this approach to living, regardless of what most self-help material would suggest, often leads to a life of suffering.
So what’s a possible alternative to goal setting? Living with intention, whilst simultaneously surrendering to the moment. Being kind to yourself and to others and to greet each and every experience in life as the divine gift that it is.’
So What do you make of this?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; Do you think that goal-setting is incompatible with being ‘fully present’ and ‘enjoying the now’, or have you found a way to use goal-setting and still stay very present to enjoying your life as it is right now?
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Mark Montoya has been working in personal branding for more than a decade for hundreds of online and offline companies, small businesses and individual service professionals. His focus has been toward improving the way jobseekers find employment on the Internet. He has synthesized his expertise by helping job seekers obtain their ideal choice of employment over the Internet on his sites MyOnlineCareerSpace.com and MyOnlineCareerCoach.com, and through his books 101 Tips Every Job Seeker Should Know and The Ultimate Online Job Search eBook.
“It is the responsibility of the individual to reject the prospect of mediocrity and to strive for the betterment of society as a whole” ~ Mark Montoya