When reflecting on past years and wondering if goal setting is a good way to move through life, I came to the conclusion that the most effective strategy was to be the person you need to be.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I dreamed of being the best mother. I took the vitamins. I read parenting books, had my birth plan, and budgeted for baby essentials. Because I was sure my goals were bulletproof, I didn't consider making space for flexibility. I thought I knew exactly how my life would look with a baby.
And then she was born. She quickly made it clear that she had her own agenda. Even though she was on her own developmental timeline, I tracked her progress until she was able to set her own goals, which weren’t exactly as I had envisioned, with no plan and nothing to track.
Begging for the latest toy and wanting her room decorated with the latest Disney character like her life depended on it, only to get bored with it after two days. Children can convince us that they love their new karate or dance classes, and once we've gotten used to the routine and bought the uniform, they suddenly want to start pottery sessions on a different day instead.
It doesn’t really change for adults. We renew our gym membership every year, buy the Nike leggings and shiny new trainers, are determined to stick with it this time, and a month later, we’re paying for something we don't use.
Setting goals can help us stay motivated, develop self-control, think through better time management strategies, take action, and feel satisfied. One of the most well studied ways to succeed is to ensure our goals are S.M.A.R.T.
Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-bound
SMART or not, that isn’t the problem
Setting goals is not a problem. The problems arise when we expect immediate gratification and fixate on the results and not the process, resulting in many people being stuck in an outcome-oriented mindset.
Society and marketing would have us think that by drinking this magic coffee, we will lose 20 pounds overnight. We will get shredded abs in 10 days if we buy this program. If we sign up for this course, we will get thousands in earnings overnight.
This builds pressure to achieve the outcome as fast as possible, then makes us feel like failures when we do not reach the desired result. Starting with passion, but becoming so focused on the end goal that we neglect other areas of our lives, such as relationships, health, and spirituality. This negatively impacts mental health, bringing feelings of anxiety and affecting our confidence and self-worth.
The balance between outcome setting and process orientation
Setting goals has advantages, but it is essential to evaluate the process by reflecting and asking ourselves, "How's this working for me?" and being willing to adjust where necessary. This reduces the risk of obsessing over the outcome and helps us understand that it's okay if things don't go as planned. It doesn't mean we failed; it was simply our 'First Attempt In Learning.'
How to be the person you need
To make goals work, ensure that the challenge isn't so much that it creates anxiety but enough so we don't get bored. We must know why we have set these particular goals and ensure they are personal and not just going along with what others are doing or want us to do—a deep enough "why" hits us emotionally, which embodies change.
Understanding our "why" provides a sense of purpose and highlights our priorities, which can help motivate us to build the required skills to become the person we want to be and create small daily habits that align with our long-term goals.
My goal of writing this article almost didn't happen. I discovered that I enjoy writing in previous courses where I had to submit my work. However, I don't write without reason.
Because I don't have to do it and doubt anyone will read it anyway.
"Why does it matter if no one reads it?”
I suppose it doesn't matter, but I feel I ought to be doing one of the many chores that need my attention.
Questioning my "why" helped me to realise that I have been focused on the outcome and my to-do list, preventing me from getting started on my goal of writing for pleasure.
Why do I want to write?
Because it allows me to challenge myself to express my thoughts on paper, share my opinions, and look within to know myself better, which aligns with my value of self-growth.
Initially, my goal was to write an article on goal setting. Still, throughout the process, I felt free to divert slightly off-topic and express whatever came to mind because I was writing without anyone else's expectations. I wanted and am grateful to practice writing rather than produce it to meet a deadline.
I am learning to let go of the fear of rules and worrying if I have hit the required criteria to reach the grade. Despite moments of self-doubt, I’ve had the opportunity to practice believing that I don’t need to question whether my efforts are worthy of outside approval or validation.
Putting this into words, I can see that it is an act of self-care, slowing me down, bringing joy and peace into my life. I don't just think that; I feel it within, and now that is how I approach all my goals in life. If your goals don't motivate you to continue, you may want to identify what you truly want to achieve.
The process of change is never linear. There will be times when we want to give up. But suppose we have a deep enough understanding of our "why," let go of the results-oriented mindset, and adopt a process-oriented one. In that case, we can get into a flow state, enjoy the process, and let the outcome take care of itself.
Of course, meeting criteria and deadlines is essential at times, but that was not my purpose here, and that's the point.
Everyone's goals are unique, and to be effective, they must be relevant to our values and priorities at the time. Setting goals with purpose first reduces frustration, which enables us to remain present.
Instead of feeling anxious about “shoulds” if you’re “SMART” and obsessed with an outcome you can't control, be the person you need, and fall in love with the journey. I don't get to decide if my words resonate with anyone else. I can only choose to continue writing.
Maria Whitlock is a Mindfulness and Body Image Acceptance Coach. She understands the struggles of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially when life gets busy. Being a mum of 9, Maria shares skills from her life experiences as well as education.
Life DOES get busy and healthy living CAN be hard to maintain. It’s easy to put yourself last, but you are not alone in your struggle. Find other articles written by Maria on her coach profile to discover the tools and resources you need to get on track and stay there, feeling successful and leading a rewarding life.