Goal Setting!?!

Well done for getting this far! I’m saying that because I figure most people would have seen the title of this post and moved on without opening it. In most people’s minds it’s probably just a groan worthy subject. And I get that, I really do. However, now you’re here, I’ll attempt to make things as entertaining as possible.

I was at a workshop last night, where the main topic was goal setting for 2019. I can vouch for the fact that pretty much everyone there inwardly groaned too. But by the end of the evening each person felt they had got something worthwhile out of working with the subject matter.

From my point of view it got me thinking about the whole topic. In particular, why is it such a groan worthy subject? Why do we instinctively shy away from it? After all, we do it all the time. And we’ve been doing it ever since the day we were born. We have to have been doing it; otherwise we would have been stuck in the same place for a lifetime. You might think that’s been the case for you; but I can promise you it hasn’t.

I once learned that an aircraft’s autopilot makes mistakes on a continuous basis. I’d keep that to yourself by the way; particularly if you’re on an airliner crossing the Atlantic. It actually needs to do this, in order to achieve its goal of getting you from A to B. The aircraft’s navigation system needs signals from locations outside of itself in order to calculate exactly where it is and which way it is pointing. However, because of a variety of other external forces that are constantly acting on the aircraft, eg, random cross winds, it needs a constant stream of these signals from known fixed points on the ground. Although these days probably from space too. With this data it can then make the necessary calculations to correct its path towards your destination at point B. Where you can disembark and get on with the serious business of enjoying your holiday.

I’m guessing that this is the way that any navigation system works. From us using map and compass in the hills, to the Satnav in our cars and even the latest craft heading to Mars. All constantly checking for errors and making the necessary corrections to keep on track. In a not entirely dissimilar way, this is how we set goals too. Except that it’s a little more complex for us. I suspect that we inwardly groan, at the prospect of setting goals, because life has taught us that they don’t always work out as straightforward as we would like. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just take simple easy steps from A to B to C to…… yeah, now that does sound boring.

So there’s a lot can go wrong for us. Our external navigation beacons can malfunction. Making it a lot harder to pinpoint where we are in life. Our own inner software can screw up, so that we misinterpret the information we receive.

I know from my own life experience that goals can dissipate like smoke when I realise that my reasons for setting them in the first place, had absolutely no basis in logic. And when these knock backs happen the effect can be, at best, dispiriting and at worst devastating. If this kind of thing happens often enough, then it’s little wonder that many people inwardly groan at the prospect of setting themselves yet another goal.

In some therapeutic models, there’s a much overused word at the moment…resilience. It’s the ability of something to return to its original form after it has been deformed over and over again. A bit like a rubber ball or an elastic band. It’s used as an analogy for the ability of a person to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and continue with life. I guess the thinking here is that as long as we stay focussed on our goal, we will ultimately achieve it if we just bounce back from all the setbacks on route and just keep going. However, even an elastic band if stretched enough times will, instead of snapping back, just snap.

The thing is, that it’s our viewpoint of goals and goal setting that is the problem. There’s a tendency to see the whole process as somehow fixed and linear,  and that somehow we must stay on the track we’ve set without letting anything deflect us. In my view that’s just wrong. We are not remotely like that aircraft navigation system. Which, because of the inflexibility of its programming, can only go from point A to point B.

If we can imagine that airliner having a navigation system with a flexible intelligence. It could get within 50 miles of, say, Jamaica and suddenly decide to go to Barbados. It would piss of its passengers. Until they realised that it was chucking it down in Jamaica, but nice and sunny in Barbados.

Our goals are always fluid and flexible. And we can make choices about them. We can change our minds as many times as we like. We can abandon a goal completely; something we should do if we realise that it’s unworkable or maybe even detrimental to us in some way. We can change direction, shift our approach and head towards it from a completely different angle.

In the book “Alice Through The Looking Glass”, written by Lewis Carroll, there is a point in the plot line where Alice is trying to get to the Queen. However, she finds that as she walks towards her, she simply gets further away. So it’s suggested that she walks in the opposite direction; as soon as she turns round to do so, the Queen is standing in front of her. The term for this latter approach by the way is Paradoxical Intention. It’s used in some psychotherapeutic practice, and it can be a pretty powerful direction in some situations.

So next time your own goal seems further away than ever. Sit down and have a think about it. Maybe you need to change your viewpoint; alter your approach. Or maybe even, like Alice, just turn around and walk away from it.

2 thoughts on “Goal Setting!?!

  1. About the time that I read your interesting analysis of goal-setting (prompted by what seems to have been a worthwhile workshop), I received a communication from my bank offering some goal-setting tips. Normally I might have deleted that email without further thought but because of the awareness your article had raised, I settled down to see what I might learn. The following four goal-setting tips were advised

    1. Little wins add up – small goals can seem insignificant but they can bring much joy.
    2. Write your goal down – place it where you will see it every day.
    3. Tell as many people as you can – keep talking about it.
    4. Push your comfort zone – jump at opportunities to try something new even if it seems daunting.

    On reflecting on these, (and wondering how the bank felt they might benefit from this advice to their customers), my mind went swiftly back to the SMART targets (an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic Targets) that were advised during my teaching career in the process of assisting students to attain their full potential. I think I have since used these myself in my own goal-setting although acknowledging that “achievable” is not easy to define for oneself and can be used as a “cop-out”.

    So thank you for your analysis which proved to be a great catalyst in prompting me to keep setting myself goals and enjoying the satisfaction of achieving at least some of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, and thank you for that. It’s lovely to know that my post has been of some use to someone.

      I think the core of it for me, is that the whole idea of goal setting is culturally loaded. It can simply just add to the burden of stresses in people’s lives. We simply end up chasing one goal after another ad infinitum. When the key goal that should override all others is simply looking after ourselves. Thank you for your likes and comments, I do enjoy receiving them.


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