Turning goal setting on its head

If you’re like most people, you’ve given this year some thought and have come up with the goals you want to achieve.

If you’re really set on achieving them, you’ve probably created a physical or mental list of the steps you’re going to take to get there.

In fact, when you think about it, your plan is a big list of commitments and actions.

It’s feels a bit unwieldy. Quite daunting. Pretty heavy.

Best not to think about it.

And so the cycle of ‘big goal, over commit, overwhelm, procrastinate and give up’ begins.

If this pattern looks familiar to you, it’s not because you don’t have the appropriate level of will power. You’ve just been taught to goal set in an unhelpful way.

Accepted wisdom says that we should set goals from a destination and checklist point of view. For example:

Destination: I will be two stone lighter. 

Checklist: I will join the gym and go three times a week. I will cycle to work twice a week. I will not eat sugar. I won’t eat after 8pm….


Destination: I will be a better family member. 

Checklist: I will phone my parents every week for 30 minutes. I will Skype my sister in the USA monthly. I will attend more family get togethers….

This approach often ends up as an uninspiring and unmanageable to-do list – effectively, a list of ‘shoulds’ – so we are put off before we’ve even got started.

To set goals that stick try this alternative approach, which will stop you ‘shoulding’ all over yourself and get you setting goals that feel positive and doable.

Get a piece of paper and write down the things you’d really like to achieve this year.

 Take some time and really mull over what’s important to you.

Now rather than create a list of actions to make those things happen, take each goal in turn and actually imagine yourself doing it.

Put yourself in that exact scenario with all of your senses, really allowing yourself to experience what each goal encompasses and how it feels, be it losing weight, reconnecting with family, writing a book, being a better manager, taking that course and so on.

Now write down what the goal involved as you just imagined it, without adding anything that didn’t show up. 

Consider what this tells you about the goal itself, and what it does and doesn’t entail.

Next, write down how the goal feels. Use a few adjectives to clearly describe the feeling state associated with it.

Finally, make those feeling states your actual goals for the year, rather than their related destinations. 

Then stay on the lookout and chase any experience – work or pleasure – that can be described with those adjectives, acknowledging them when they come up.

Approaching goal setting in this way does three things:

  • It helps reveal what each goal really involves so that you don’t make it bigger than it needs to be. Aim to stick to the goal as you imagined it, rather than adding extra dimensions that might lead to a feeling of overwhelm.
  • It gives a clear indicator of the goal’s real purpose, i.e. how you want to feel versus an imagined destination. If you make the feeling state your actual goal, it’s likely you’ll more easily connect with it and want to stick to it. For instance, what feels like an easier objective – feeling strong, energetic and healthy, or being two stone lighter?
  • When you’re clear on how each goal feels you can choose the right ones to focus on. If you have any that don’t feel good, positive, happy or relaxed, then this might suggest you aren’t ready for that particular goal yet. It’s probably more a should than a could. Aim to prioritise the goals that have the feel good factor.

Try it out and see if turning goal setting on its head gives you a new perspective and approach – one that helps you stick to and achieve what you really want to this year. 

P.S. If you’d like help with making serious strides on your career goals, check out my ADVANCE programme.

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