The Client-centred Blog

Does goal-setting work?

As we enter a new year it is that time when many people make plans, set goals and resolve to be a new, improved version of themselves – new year, new you and all that.

A couple of days ago I read that something like 40% of people resolve to either start doing something or stop doing something and yet, according to some research I read in Forbes, only around 8% of people actually achieve their New Years resolutions!

If goal-setting is so important then why is the success rate so low?

Scanning a few articles on the subject over the last couple of days there is tons of advice on staying the course – plan for failure, celebrate your successes, break it down, think big, be realistic, be unrealistic – for virtually every piece of advice you get there is someone else telling you the complete opposite!

They can’t all be right, can they?

So, perhaps we need to look a little deeper than simply trying to control our thinking and behaviour (especially with tips and advice from other people) because this has a very poor record of success.

What is true is this…

Goals set from a place where we think we ‘should’ have a goal are rarely compelling for long. New Years resolutions are a prime example because this is an outside-in way to set goals.

Goals that are highly compelling and likely stay this way are ones that emerge from internal clarity – they have a very different energy to them. They are pursued because it just makes sense to follow that path and, therefore, there is no resistance.

For instance, think of something you love to do. Even though it may involve hard work and effort this does not stop you, does it? It is all part of the fun.

A healthy approach to goals is understanding that goals are just thoughts that we made up and that getting attached to them is counter-productive because it clogs up your mind.

Allow common sense and inner wisdom to be your guide rather than an unhealthy pre-occupation with an outcome.

But what about goals that are imposed upon you – at work for example?

Daniel H. Pink author of ‘Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us’ wrote…

‘Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others – sales targets, quarterly returns, standardised test scores, and so on – can sometimes have dangerous side effects.’

When people get too fixated with a goal they can easily lose perspective and forget to smell the flowers along the way.

So, does goal-setting work?

Rather than considering whether the process of goal setting will make you more successful or help you get more or less of what you want, it is far more useful to understand the inside-out nature of how your mind works.

A goal is a thought and can only exist as a thought.

What is the point of willfully hanging onto a thought if it becomes a burden, closes your mind down and sucks all the enjoyment out of life?

On the other hand, if setting and going after a particular goal makes complete sense to you, makes you feel more alive and is fun to do, then why wouldn’t you?


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