The Client-centred Blog

Two approaches to goal setting and why only one is healthy

I have found that goal setting can be a double-edged sword. 

On one hand we want to achieve things that are important to us, so aiming at something makes sense.

Yet for many people pushing hard towards their goals also causes them a lot of stress and compromises their quality of life.

So, is it possible to set goals and have the process be stress free and enjoyable? 

This strikes me as an important question.

Not only from our own personal perspective, but if you are helping your clients to set goals and make plans, then you want the process to be stress free and enjoyable for them too.

The two approaches to goal setting

1. Active

The active approach to goal setting is all about a linear, left-brained way of doing it. And it’s probably the most common.

This will often (but not always) involve setting SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. 

With this approach it is all up to you. You need to be the one in control, making it happen, and therefore managing the whole process. 

2. Passive

The passive approach is about acting upon inspiration. Your actions emerge from an inspired state of mind and if you are not inspired, you are happy to wait until you are.

How do these two approaches to goal setting tend to play out?

The active approach involves a lot of mental work. Yet a lot of the thinking that typifies this approach tends to be unproductive. It is just wheel spinning. 

However, to someone who takes the active approach, the passive approach would make little sense. The desire to be in control is just too compelling to consider letting go.

So, they are caught between a rock and a hard place because although letting go seems unpalatable they do not enjoy the stress either. 

A new understanding to free your mind

I used to most definitely used to be in the ‘active’ goal setting camp. But a new understanding of how my mind really works changed everything.

In our society so many of us are tightly wound. Our minds are so busy that there is little room for anything new. This is why the idea of control seems to make sense because inspiration is in short supply. 

The natural default setting of the mind is peace, stillness, and presence

When we allow our minds to quieten down new thought emerges. Including inspiration. We get more perspective, new ideas, and the actions we take seem effortless.

The psychologist George Pransky said:

“I think goals and plans can be very hard if people don’t have a feeling of inspiration behind them. If you have a feeling of inspiration behind your goals and plans, then you have more clarity of mind and insight.”

It is unhealthy to pursue goals in an almost constant state hypervigilance. It drains the life from you. It is also an inferior way to create results because you can often fail to see what is staring you right in the face.

So, a more healthy approach to goal setting is realising your mind has an in-built design for success.

You can relax into life and allow it to come to you, rather than taking on the burden of thinking you need to make it all happen.

A contradiction about goal setting

A question that sometimes comes up when I am working with my clients is ‘What if you do not feel inspired? Do you need to wait for inspiration every time?’

No, sometimes it is useful to get into action despite not ‘feeling it’. One example that springs to mind is exercise. I go for a run several times a week and on some days, I just do not feel like it. Yet I still go. Once I am running that feeling of resistance usually disappears very quickly and I return to clarity.  

The main point is that when we allow ourselves to act from inspiration more often, setting and pursuing our goals becomes way more fun, creative, and effective.

PS. Many people choose goals in the belief that it will make them happy. But how true is this. Click here to read ‘The surprising truth about happiness’.  


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