Forget Your Goals

All through life we set goals for ourselves in order to accomplish things. Sometimes we set a goal to lose 20 pounds by summer, or to finish fixing cleaning up the garage.

We spend so much time focusing on the end, that while we make our way there, we never feel like the actions in the middle are as important.

The problem is, they are. In fact, they’re more important than the goal.

Take the example of losing 20 pounds. That sounds like a fantastic idea, one that I could probably get behind, myself. The problem with this idea is that all that seems to be important is crossing the 20-pounds-lost mark.

We’re so focused on the end, we don’t believe everything we’re doing in between is crucial, too, and end up not giving it as much attention.

Here’s a better example that I can take from my personal experience.

Since I started this blog January 2015, I’ve shared 74,000 words. For comparison, 60-80,000 words is a book. I wrote a book in a sliver over four months. If I woke up, January 1, 2015, and set a goal to write a book and have it finished by May 7th, I’d freak out. I’d also probably not finish it.

In climbing to 74,000 words, I focused on the day-to-day. I set writing goals for myself that didn’t involve an endgame. These plans I made didn’t have a finish.

If I came to realize then what I realize now, I wouldn’t have even called them goals. What’s a good word for something you do on a regular basis for which you set aside time?

A project? a habit? It could be called anything you want, so long as you find these criteria to be most important:

  1. Figure out what you want to accomplish.
  2. Set aside time at whatever interval you find appropriate.
  3. Don’t think about #1.
  4. Do whatever it is you planned on doing during the time set at #2.
  5. Repeat #3 and #4 as necessary until you’re where you want to be.

The first step comes in the planning phase. This is where you sit down and determine what you want to do. Maybe you really do want to lose 20 pounds. It’s totally okay to have that goal.

Step two involves figuring out when during the week you’re going to sit down (or stand up) and work on the task at hand. Depending on what it is, you can break it down in to multiple sub-tasks. If you’re writing a book, each time you sit down and write can be a task all on its own; write a page every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday for example.

Step three is the most important of all: stop thinking about your end goal. Seriously. Everything I’m telling you comes down to this: if you focus only on the end, you’ll never appreciate all the work you’re doing to get there. That 1.2 pounds you lost last week will seem like nothing and you’ll eat your sadness.

Step four is action time. You’ve determined when you’re going to work, so now work. Enter into the work mindset with the idea that you’re just there to complete the task. You’re only doing whatever it is you’re doing at that time. You entered the gym and are going to lift weights. You’re training for a marathon but tonight you’re only going to focus on running five miles.

Step five involves continuing to work and not focusing on your end goal. Tracking progress can be acceptable but is a slippery slope. If you’re just starting out, I wouldn’t recommend it. If your goal is open-ended, then by all means. Tracking progress on an open-ended goal is great. It forces you to think about it in smaller chunks because there’s no end, only continual betterment of yourself.

I don’t want to tell you to stop having goals. Having a goal or five is awesome and I encourage it. It’s the focus and or obsession over said goal that’s the problem. I keep going back to the 20-pounds-lost goal because it’s such a good one to use as an example. In order to lose 20 pounds, you have to lose one pound, then two pounds. Then three. If nothing I say but one sentence sticks, let it be this one: what you’re doing today to reach your goals in life is more important than reaching the actual goal because without those incremental steps, you’ll never make it.

————

What do you think? Is there a goal in life you’re trying to accomplish but don’t feel like you can ever make it? What do you think would happen if you stopped focusing on the end and started paying attention to what you’re doing about it right now? I’d love to hear your story in the comments, via Twitter or email. If your story is good, I might revisit this topic in a future post with your thoughts and comments. Thanks for reading!


Also published on Medium.

One thought on “Forget Your Goals

  1. “Since I started this blog January 2015, I’ve shared 74,000 words. For comparison, 60-80,000 words is a book. I wrote a book in a sliver over four months. If I woke up, January 1, 2015, and set a goal to write a book and have it finished by May 7th, I’d freak out. I’d also probably not finish it.”

    Let’s be intellectually honest, writing 74,000 words in completely disconnected items does not a book make. Writing a novel involves telling a story which means character development, describing the environment, and actions to that the reader can visualize. Writing a non-fiction book require research. That takes a lot more time and effort than tossing down words on a blog post in the spur of the moment.

    Your advice about not-focusing too much on the end goal always flies in the face of Stephen Covey’s 7th habit Being with the End in Mind.

    “Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen. ”

    I think that covers what your blog post was trying to get at.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *