Goal setting for the rest of us

According to the internet:

  • Goals should be specific, have a deadline, and have measurable results
  • Goals should be bite-sized and focused
  • Goals are bullshit, don’t make them

A friend told me today that I’m really good at sticking with goals, which I find odd since I think I’m terrible at setting goals. I constantly set goals (meditate every day) and never do them (yeah I did that for maybe a week). But some goals, like train for an upcoming triathlon, are easy for me. Why is that?

I found trying to lose weight to be similar. I struggled with eating for months, for years, and then suddenly it was easier and I lost weight. Why?

Because I actually wanted it. And by “it” I mean the process, not just the end result. For instance, I like training, that’s why I do it. It isn’t always easy but I do it anyway, and I’m always happy I woke up at 6am to hit the pool (at least I’m happy about it when I’m getting out of the pool and into the hot tub). I don’t ask myself if I’m going to go–there is no question. I’m going. Exercise and training has been a part of my life for over a decade, so at this point it’s part of who I am.

But with other things, like meditation, I can’t really say I like doing it. It’s not part of my routine and every evening I would say “ok I guess I’m going to do this” or “maybe I’ll do it later…” or I would just forget about it entirely.

I have to come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t make goals for things that you don’t want to do.

Yep, that’s my advice, don’t do things you don’t want to do. Now, you may be thinking But… I need to save money/eat better/start running. But I ask you: but do you really want to? Really? Because I don’t think you do.

I don’t really want to meditate. I want all the benefits of meditating without any of the work. Maybe one day sitting quiet in a room with myself will become appealing, but not today. I start not wanting to do things when I put pressure on myself, or when I tell myself I “Have To”, or if I tell myself I’m a huge failure if I don’t do something every single day.

The other difference is that I don’t identify as a “meditator”, whoever that person is. But I do identify as an athlete, so I do what athletes do. But I’m not so sure you can just convince yourself one day that you’re an athlete by thinking about it or by willing yourself to believe it. You have to prove it to yourself. You have to feel it. And this is the catch 22–you won’t feel like you’re an athlete until you’re working out, but you may have trouble working out if you don’t identify with those feelings.

I think this is where forgiveness comes into play. You just start trying. Little bit by little bit. You have to experiment with what makes you actually like the process. That’s why people sign up for races. Or try to “gamify” saving money. Or all the other little tricks people play on themselves to actually want to eat carrots instead of chips. Then one day, six months from now, you realize that you’re not just eating healthy, you ARE healthy. When that happens, setting goals becomes way, way easier.

But you have to be honest with yourself. Do you want to eat healthy, or do you just want to be thinner? Because you will not succeed if all you want is the end result. Day after day, decision after decision, you cannot rely on will power. Choosing the carrot isn’t about willing yourself to do it; it’s about willingly choosing it.