We live in a world where acquisition and achievement have become all important. This has been supported by our innate desire to have more and be more in life. A whole movement which studied the psychology of success over the past 40 years has taught us that the only way to acquisition and achievement, in short to “success,” is to set clearly defined goals. Having set these goals, they are achieved by focusing unwaveringly on their achievement and taking action, often daily, to achieve those chosen outcomes.
There is no doubt that the human mind is hugely powerful and if you consistently focus your mind on a chosen result, there is a possibility that you will achieve a certain outcome. This may take some time, but with patience and a sense of determination, you may well get there. For a few, this approach has brought material success and financial gain, but for most it has led to disappointment, frustration and misery as intended goal after goal has not materialised.
So why is this? Why is goal setting able to ruin your life?
Goals are most often set in the hope that life will be better with the attainment of a certain goal. They are set in the hope that with this achievement or acquisition, there will be greater happiness and fulfilment. For many wanting to improve their lives, goal setting offers them a way of trying to make their lives more rewarding and under their control. Yet the realisation soon comes that even with their chosen acquisition or achievement, they are no happier or fulfilled. How many times have we got the bigger house, the better car, the partner, the marriage, the children and the better career situation, only to find that we are still no happier? From here the solution seems to be to set another goal, and a bigger goal at that, in the often desperate hope that this will bring the happiness we crave. In time, goal setting creates an almost never ending cycle of desire all in the search for a seemingly elusive thing.
Another problem with using goals to try to make us feel better inside is that we often do create for ourselves things that are not really right for who we are and that are not really in alignment with who we inherently are as a person. We think we want a bigger house yet when we get it and see the reality of maintaining this bigger house and garden, we realise that it is not really quite us. It can actually become a burden on us rather than a pleasure, and impose some considerable strain on us on many levels.
In addition to this, many people set goals that are a result of what they think they should want or should have. They set goals based on what their peers have or what their peers are doing, or based on what they are being “encouraged” to do by others. It takes quite a lot of singularity of mind not to get caught up in this subtle peer pressure or indeed the family pressure that says you should have a thing by a certain age or be a certain way.
What often happens when we are intent on creating a certain outcome is we miss that very thing that really is for us to have, that really would make us happy. With the strength of our focus we fail to see the opportunity that is right in front of us because it is not what we have chosen to look for. The reticular activating system of our mind helps us to notice those things that lead us to our chosen focus and can actually prevent us from noticing other signs and coincidences from the Universe along our way, signs that really are trying to help and guide us. So many people miss out on what is inherently for them by having this narrow focus that things should be a certain way. Furthermore, our logical, rational approach to our goals leaves no room for intuition, inspiration and creativity as we forge ahead on our “chosen route.” And this is the very crux of the problem, it is our chosen route, it is about what we want, and that is very often at odds with the chosen route that the Universe has mapped out for us.
For many people goals are sought after with much pushing and striving. We have been taught that to achieve things we must “take massive action”,” make life happen” and “take the bull by the horns” so we try to do this, often to no avail. This approach based purely on what appears the logical steps to take to achieve something can lead us to be very driven, very manipulative and often very unaware of the effect we are having on those around us. It adds often to our stress levels as we chase and push to achieve our outcomes, always thinking what else can we do to achieve this. The Protestant Work Ethic that taught us that we are here to “live to work” fuels our ardour as we push ever forwards in the hope of achievement.
With this self focused approach, at no time do we stop a moment and ask what are the consequences for our families, our marriages or relationships, our friendships and also the consequences for our health of all this pushing to “make life happen?” For many people that I have worked with as a coach, they have lost much that they hold dear as a result of this desire to be successful as defined by their goal setting and the material world. They have lost marriages, relationships with their children and friendships all in the name of goal achievement and success. On reflection this endless goal setting has made them, they acknowledge, lose touch with what is really important in life. They have lost out on love, connection, intimacy, and a host of other values that come with good relationships. Many high achievers are coming to realise that these really are the things to value…and sometimes when it is too late.
However, the biggest problem with goal setting is what happens to the many people who, despite doing all the right things, do not achieve their goals. They do not get to where they want to be or have what they feel they deserve and want. The disappointment and disillusionment this causes is hugely detrimental for us as people. It leads us to be very self denigrating, self critical and self undermining. The self talk that we get into about the way we are and the way life is, can significantly lower our levels of self esteem and self worth. It makes us see ourselves and life through a very negative lens that effectively states “life is not fair.” We see things working out for others and wonder what it is that they are doing that we are not doing. This endless comparison erodes our levels of self appreciation so that we often feel a failure. And the difficulty is that from that place it is really is hard to lift out of the depression and low feelings that invade us. Stress and depression are moving towards epidemic proportions these days and for many goal setting and the failure to achieve is at the root of this.
So what is the solution to all of this? Are we just to give up on our goals and give up all hope?
The good news is: there is an alternative approach to reaching your potential and achieving all that life has to offer you.
Within all of us is a sense of inner wisdom that can be used to guide us in every aspect of our life. It can guide us to achieve all that is for us to achieve; it can inspire us with new ideas and options that we had perhaps not considered and it can be used to guide us in the creation of our dreams. And by dreams I mean those ideas and often random synchronicities that come us to that inspire us to act on them. They are not goals that we set, but are ideas that well up from inside us, that just come to us and take hold of us. These dreams feel right, they energise us and they are totally in alignment with who we are.
Most importantly of all, our inner wisdom can guide us in how to be happy for it has our fulfilment at the core of its guidance for us. This innate wisdom really can see the bigger picture of our lives as well as our talents and skills and it gives us these gifts of creative insight at just the right time. And often all we have to ask is “What is the Universe offering me right now?” “What things are happening naturally and easily for me at this moment?” It may be that right now there is no action to take, no dream to act on and if we can accept that everything is perfect for us, then we really are acting in alignment with Universal flow.
What gets in our way of following this natural course of events is our desire to control our lives and what happens within it. Rather than accepting what is, we try to fight against it and it is that very fight against life and our circumstances that can lead to much stress and negative thinking. The Universe really does have an intelligence of its own and if we can join that universal intelligence, which for some is their innate Spiritual Intelligence, then life takes on an ease. We come to recognise that every situation is perfect for us, perfect for our growth and perfect for the Universal plan as a whole.
So, my advice is to stop setting goals and stop striving to achieve those goals and let your instincts guide you in the right direction. You will feel happier, less stressed, and certainly more fulfilled.