One of the things I find so interesting about professional degrees, like a law degree, is that it often represents the end of our goal-making activities. Whether you ended up seeking an advance degree by chance or chased that goal since the 7th grade, once the degree is confirmed, we simply stop making other goals as a part of our natural state.
I often think back to my time in college leading up to law school. I never found myself wondering if law school as the “right choice” or ruminating about whether it would “all work out”. I never stressed about whether I might not be a good lawyer or whether I might not actually like being a lawyer. I just decided that was what I was going to do and I did it. It was very simple. It was not clouded by a self-judgment and forecasting. It was on my list of goals and I was going to do it.
Years ago, when I started this foray into the self-help realm, I realized that I no longer had any concrete goals that were motivating me every day. I was just doing the job. I wasn’t thinking about the next step, I was just on cruise control. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become a partner. I didn’t really give it much thought. I just knew that if I stayed around long enough, did a good job, and didn’t get fired, it would work itself out. At no point did I ever seek out partnership and work at it in the same way I worked at law school.
It fascinated me and I started asking all my friends. What are your goals? What’s on your list right now? They looked at me like I was having a mid-life crisis. Not even one of them described any type of a concrete, personal goal they were actively working toward.
So I started to wonder: Are goals important? Should I have some goal I am working toward?
My conclusion was an emphatic Yes, we all need something we are striving toward. Here’s why.
First, as a preliminary matter, I must stress that setting goals and establishing dreams should never come from a place of lack or judgment for your present state. If all you think about is I need to lose weight, I need to lose weight, I need to lose weight, the energy you are sending to the universe and instilling in your life is the energy of judgment and criticism of your body. If, instead you think, I am thankful to have a functioning body, the energy you are going to bring to a goal of losing weight is going to be one of gratitude and thankfulness. That line of thinking and those types of feelings are going to propel you down a road of success toward your dream. Thoughts of negativity and body shame are only going to make it easier to keep hating your body and treating your body terribly. Those conditions are no conducive to effective weight loss.
So, as a rule, if you are going to go about setting goals for yourself you must do so from a positive space and give thanks for all of the blessings you currently have in your life. Recognize all the prior goals you may have achieved already (buying a home, graduating college, getting married, having kids, paying off a credit card, etc.) and come from a place of thanks before you start this process.
The reason so many of my clients hate goal-setting is because they use those goals as a reminder of all the things they don’t like about their life. They don’t come to goal-setting from a place of look at all the things I have to be thankful for and that I have accomplished, what more can I do to challenge myself and grow even more? Without that mindset, goal-setting can be a very sobering and upsetting experience. It is a reminder of all the things you want and still don’t have. That is not productive.
Second, goals are important because of the trajectory that comes with them. The goal itself is not the point, the experience is the point. Setting and achieving a goal is not going to provide lasting happiness. Many of my clients believe that once they achieve a certain goal, they will be happier. They will be less stressed. There is always some anticipated emotion associated with the goal. The problem with this approach is that nothing external can or ever will provide happiness or peace. That can only come from within.
So why pursue a goal if it’s not going to make you happier? Because we are not put on this earth to run on auto-pilot. We are here to learn and grow and develop. To become the best possible versions of ourselves. In setting a goal and having something to work toward, it forces us to step out of the pattern and routine of our lives. That will cause a whole host of negative thoughts and emotions to come up—I don’t know how, I don’t have time, I can’t do something like that, I’m not smart enough for that, this isn’t going to be worth it, etc. This is where the magic is. In working toward that goal, you will be forced to work through and confront negative thoughts and emotions. You will be challenged to disagree with those thoughts and take steps to prove to yourself that you can do it.
Once you start working through those thoughts and emotions and move forward in the face of adversity, that is where you start to grow. It’s easy to stay remain where you are and not make waves in your life. But is that really what you think life is all about?
I believe we are all here to be brave; to have the courage to explore, learn, fail, and GROW. That is why goals are important. Goals are simply the period at the end of a growth story.
If you are not setting goals that bring up negative thoughts and emotions, you are simply not goal-ing big enough to force that growth. Get uncomfortable!
One of the things I love doing the most is supporting others toward their goals. Struggling to set some goals of your own? Let me help you.
My current goals: write a book, learn Spanish, master a two-tiered scratch lemon cake.