Goal Setting for Anti-Goal Setters

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Well, it’s that time again. As the Gregorian calendar year comes to a close, many of us are thinking about our hopes and dreams for the new year. I don’t know about you, but the phrase “goal setting” tends to send shivers down my spine.

I was one of those kids that dreaded the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Then when I did grow up, any mention of a five-year plan would have me running for the hills.

So it probably goes without saying that I’ve never been very good at setting goals. However, now that I’m following my heart and building a creative career, I’ve decided to reconsider this whole goal setting thing.

After doing some research and listening to the sage words of friends and mentors, I’ve ended up distilling the information into a few nuggets of wisdom that are making me feel pretty good about the upcoming goal setting season.

The first idea dates back to an engineer in the 1960s (according to Wikipedia) and is known as the KISS principle. Originally an acronym for ‘keep it simple stupid’, I prefer the more recent variation ‘keep it simple sister’. It seems that humans have a tendency to over-complicate things, and enjoy dreaming up complex (and unrealistic) fantasies about the future.

Turns out you don’t need to have a twenty-five step plan to reach all ten of your goals simultaneously. In fact, trying to change everything at once is more likely to set you up for failure and result in the complete abandonment of all your goals. So, maybe it’s more useful to think about the one thing that is most important right now, and the first couple of steps you could make towards that one thing.

I came across the second useful piece of advice while listening to the Gentle Rebel podcast. This one goes a little deeper, and requires some consideration of your values. In my past attempts at goal setting I think that I’ve fallen into the trap of focusing too heavily on outcomes. These goals weren’t very motivating in the longer term and they were also often outside of my control.

It was a revelation to consider focusing inwards on value-driven goals rather than outcome-driven goals, and to think about building habits that support those values. The outcome may actually end up being the same, but the motivation to get there is coming from a completely different mindset.

The final nugget of wisdom that I’m taking into goal setting season is to hold on lightly to goals. I think one reason I shied away from goal setting in the past was because I thought having a goal meant deciding on a particular path and sticking to it. So if I never decided on a goal I could leave all paths open to me. In reality, I ended up stumbling onto different paths out of convenience, or because somebody else suggested that I take a certain path.

When I shared my aversion to goal setting with a wise friend of mine, she responded by saying she sets goals with the knowledge that nine out of ten of them won’t necessarily work out. Thinking about goals as something more fluid is so freeing and really takes away the (self-imposed) pressure to make the “right” decision.

There is so much information out there around the topic of goal setting and I’m sure different pieces of advice resonate with different people. These were the three points I came across that actually made me re-evaluate my negative feelings towards goals and planning. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic in the comments below, and may your goal-setting season be enjoyable and fruitful!

8 Replies to “Goal Setting for Anti-Goal Setters”

  1. I will admit that I am a big-time goal setter and find actual comfort in my version of a five-year plan. There’s not actually a plan involved really – I just say, “In five years, here’s where i want to be and this is what I want to be doing.” Then I just keep checking in with that idea of a goal – is what I’m doing now going to get me where I want to be? If yes, keep doing; if no, stop doing.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Norma! I like that idea of checking in and making decisions based on whether or not what you’re doing now will help you reach a big goal in the longer term. I tend to have a hard time saying no to things (and not letting things go when they’re not working) so having this kind of guidance sounds like it would really help to see the bigger picture.

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