The Trouble with Goal Setting

I’m a fan of goal setting. I love setting goals and planning how I’m going to achieve them. I find the whole process exciting. Sometimes, though, the goal doesn’t get achieved. Not because I didn’t really want it, but because along the way I fizzled out. Or the goal happens, like in weight loss, but it doesn’t stick. I don’t maintain that ideal number. That’s the trouble with goal setting sometimes. It starts off being a motivator, but can end up being a de-motivator. That, my friends, is unfun. But does this suggest that we shouldn’t set goals?

There is absolutely a time and place for goals, so I’m not suggesting you get rid of them altogether. However, sometimes that can stifle our progress. So what’s an alternative? Setting a direction. Direction is broader, less defined, than goals. It’s the difference between losing 20lbs and living a healthier lifestyle. The goal of losing 20lbs is very specific, whereas the direction of living a healthier lifestyle is broad and open to lots of possibilities. It can lead to a feeling of success more easily than the weight-specific goal. You can feel successful if you added more fruits or veggies to your diet one day or walked for 20 minutes another day.

Another great feature of setting direction, is it allows you to be more curious. With goals, you have a clear path with milestones along the way. A goal of traveling cross-country will have a clear path on how you’ll get there, and what towns you’ll stop in along the way. With direction, you don’t need to plan everything ahead of time. You can choose your path as you go. It may not even be a straight path – you can zig zag as you find what feels best for you.

What’s wonderful about both goals and direction is they both lead you forward. They both require action. This means you should not feel any guilt about focusing on a direction instead of a goal. If you’re exploring something new, sometimes it’s best to start with direction first and then as you get more certain about specifics, you can start developing some goals. For example, if you want to increase your physical activity after years of being a couch potato, it may serve you better to set the direction of being more physically active in general. Then, as you explore different ways of doing this, you may find that you enjoy being outside more than inside and you can develop goals around this realization.

If goal setting has been something you’ve avoided, or has frustrated you in the past, give direction setting a try instead. I think you’ll find many benefits to this more general, flexible approach.

Share in the comments section a direction you set for yourself in the past and where it ultimately led you.

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  1. Another insightful post April! I set my goals for the past few years and find it hard to follow, and lose certain amount of weight for me is impossible and it makes me obsessive and desperate. I realize it is better to maintain a healthy body then just simply lose weight. I started eating healthy instead and do more workout, and it is easier than just to accomplish the goal of losing pounds in a certain amount of time.

    • Great, relatable example to share, Erin! Switching your mindset sounds like it resulted in enjoying your direction instead of stressing over a number on the scale. Thanks for sharing!!

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