On Setting Goals

I’ve always been a person who set a lot of goals. Birthday list goals, financial goals, reading goals, travel goals. I would set goals at the end of each year for the coming year, and on my birthday, and each month, and most weeks. I’ve tried a lot of approaches to goal setting, including The Desire Map method, the Day Zero project, and creating lots of bucket lists. I have goal tracker sheets taped to my wall as we speak, to track my daily meditation, reading, and exercise habits.

On Setting Goals >> Life In Limbo

But just as I’m starting to be more mindful of what I’m measuring, I’m also starting to be more mindful of my goal-setting process and whether it’s serving me.

Over the past few years, my process around setting yearly goals has shifted considerably. When I was living abroad, I usually didn’t know on January 1st where I’d be living or what I’d be doing for work for the next 12 consecutive months, so the idea of setting goals made a lot less sense. In my yearly goal-setting, I started to shift instead toward setting intentions for the year and creating daily habits.

I continued to make birthday lists of things I wanted to try or do before my next birthday, but those began to feel stale too. I realized that as I was creating the lists, I was actively searching for things that sounded sort of interesting, or that I thought might be fun. Some things on the list would be exciting no-brainers, but others, much less so. By the time my birthday rolled around, I would never have done everything on the list (and would feel bad about that), but it was usually because as the year passed, I never felt motivated to do the things that felt kind of arbitrary. This year, despite my deep love of repeating traditions every year, I didn’t create a birthday list.

A couple months ago, I sat down to create a list of things I thought would be fun or interesting to have achieved or accomplished within the next five years. But just like the birthday lists, it didn’t really resonate with me: everything felt kind of arbitrary, forced, like what I “should” be working towards or creating for myself. Nothing was pulling me towards those particular outcomes – or I should say, nothing within myself – except lots of external voices and ideas.

I was chatting about these ideas with my friend Bridget tonight, and she wondered if maybe this shift was because this year I’ve really established the habit of a daily meditation practice. I’ve never thought of it before, but I think she might be on to something there. It’s true that this year, I definitely feel more present in my daily life, more grateful, and more connected to my community and family than ever before. The idea of setting goals to get me to “somewhere better” doesn’t resonate with me as strongly, because I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. I feel engaged and motivated every day, but I don’t feel that constant urge to strive, reach, or leap. I feel that I’m growing and learning all the time, but am happy with where I am and with what I’m moving towards at the pace that feels tailor-made for me.

I also feel like this year has sharpened my intuition, which is now quicker than ever at helping me find things, people, and experiences that I feel aligned with and connected to. This means that I’m spending a lot more time being in the right place at the right time, and moving away from anything that doesn’t serve me. But listening to my intuition is a moment-by-moment process, so the idea of setting goals now when I can’t know yet how I’ll feel a month or a week or a day from now isn’t feeling as appealing to me.

And the last thing is: I don’t want to block myself from experiencing abundance and flow. Life unfolds in magical and mysterious ways, and I’ve found that trusting that process can bring about better things than I could ever have forced to happen on my own, had I been moving blindly towards an arbitrary goal. One year ago, I never could have predicted where I’d be now, the friends I’d have, or the work situation that I’m currently in. I could never have predicted how amazing my life would be today. Had I set a bunch of random goals and efforted my way to them, who knows if I’d have ended up at such a great place! Trusting that unfolding is not always easy, but more and more it feels like the way to more expansion and joy.

Who knows? I might change my mind about goal-setting yet again a few months from now, but for now, I’m consciously taking a break from it. How do you feel about goal-setting? How do you set goals in a way that works for you? Tell me!

  • Eli Regn

    I agree with the part about wanting life to unfold in magical and mysterious ways because that’s what makes life that much more interesting and memorable, I’d say.

    Thanks for sharing this because I’m very much a goal-setter myself. I’m afraid that sometimes the goals I set aren’t my goals but someone else’s because what they did look so cool and I thought I might like it too. So it’s okay to let the nature takes its course. If I’m meant to go somewhere, I’ll get to go there. If I’m meant to do something, achieve something, have something, these will eventually happen in its own time.

    • Hi Eli! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I definitely agree that letting things unfold feels more natural to me. But I also hear you on being a goal-setter! So am I, it’s in my nature for sure. This recent change has been kind of refreshing. Let me know how the shift you’re making goes for you.

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