It’s January, so social media is bursting at the seams with stuff about goals and resolutions.
Usually, I find this a big turn-off and pay very little attention to it all: a quarter of a century in the corporate world left me with the conviction that goal setting is basically a tick box exercise in politics and bullshitting, and very much Not My Thing.
For the last couple of years, though, I’ve felt that I should be doing goal-setting, given that I am now a coach and running my own business. So I’ve really tried. And there have been times when I thought I’d had the breakthrough I needed to get me acing the whole process (as demonstrated here)…but it quite quickly became clear that I hadn’t. Hello again, square one (well, maybe square 1.1 or 1.2, but not exactly back of the net, to well and truly mix my metaphors).
This year, however, there’s been a bit of a change in all the goals posts (ha, see what I did there?!) filling my feeds: lots of people are talking about NOT setting goals.
You’d think that I’d be celebrating this seeing of the light and enthusiastically jumping on the bandwagon, wouldn’t you? Not so much, it turns out. My native bolshiness kicked in (or perhaps off) and I found myself questioning the non-setting of goals - while another part of my brain was eyerolling, face-palming and muttering “FFS” rather loudly and, to be fair, entirely understandably.
You see, a lot of the people I saw posting about choosing not to have goals were running their own businesses, and my instinctive reaction was “But surely they must want SOMETHING for their businesses?”.
It occurred to me that, when it comes down to it, a goal is quite simply something we want to have happen.
When I asked Guru Google for the definition of a goal, the first thing that was presented to me (and let’s face, it who looks beyond the first item on the list unless it doesn’t say what they want it to say?) was:
“The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired outcome.”
If someone is running a business, the chances are that they’d rather like it to be successful – to have paying clients who love what they get…that sort of thing. This is undeniably a desired outcome – ie a goal.
And then, slowly (because we can’t all be fecking Einstein and it never seems to be my turn), the realisation dawned that I too run my own business and so, based on my own logic, I must want something for my business…therefore I must have a goal. Maybe more than one (I needed a little sit down and a calming cup of tea and biscuit at that point, I must confess).
But if people who have chosen not to have goals do in fact have goals, then what is it that they’ve chosen not to have?
Seems to me that, In short, they’re opting out of SMART goals and planning. If you’re not familiar with the SMART acronym, it stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound (or similar – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria for more info), and serves to ensure a very structured and practical approach to goal-setting, with clear criteria for exactly what achieving the goal will look like. SMART can be an extremely useful, even powerful, tool…and it can also tie your brain in a big knot and drive you to go through dictionaries crossing out the word goal with a permanent marker, to the accompaniment of various muttered expletives…although that may be just me...
When we resist the idea of setting goals, we’re not saying “There isn’t anything I want to happen in my life/business/work”, but rather “I don’t want to create rigid definitions around what I want to have happen or how I’ll make it happen.”
The posts I’ve seen about not setting goals have talked about wanting the freedom of choosing to respond to life as it happens, to make decisions based on what feels right at the time, to take opportunities as they arise. It’s about following the path as we see it opening up to us, rather than sticking blindly to a route laid out before we’ve experienced the territory, or mindlessly hacking a way through the undergrowth to get to where we think we should be. Wide lens versus laser-focused, to be a little more pithy.
So the choice to not set goals is in fact a decision about how you want to approach and show up in your life - sounds a bit like a goal, wouldn’t you say? And the plan for achieving that goal is not to plan…getting a bit mind-fucky now, isn’t it?!
So, if we all have goals whether or not we think we do, is it better to set goals the deliberate way or the accidental way?
Well, for me that’s an entirely subjective issue: I think the answer will not only vary from person to person, but will also vary for the same person in different contexts, or at different times.
And maybe we even run different approaches in parallel for the same goal: when we’re really focused on what we want, we may well both have a SMART strategy with a clear action plan AND find ourselves spotting and making the most of opportunities that are completely unrelated to the path we’d envisioned.
It’s not one size fits all, and it doesn’t have to be one approach to the exclusion of all others. It can be – in fact, I’m going to go so far as to say it should be - whatever and however works best for each of us at any given time and in any given context.
We can set off on a path that seems like the best route to where we want to go, and still remain open to other options along the way. Maybe we’ll find a different path...maybe we’ll find a different destination.
So, how am I doing goals?
As for me, the realisation that I can think about what I want professionally without having to go down the traditional goals route has allowed me to start connecting with a spark of desire for more focus in how I work in and on my business, and that feels good. Because, to be perfectly honest, the bumbling-along-relying-on-psychic-vibes approach to business doesn't appear to be all that productive.
I am still resisting SMART and the dusty echoes of corporate bullshit, but astonished myself by voluntarily attending a day-long, in person workshop on goals, priorities and planning. Even more alarmingly, I afterwards not only dug out a lovely planner that I was given about 3 years ago but also started using it. Yet more alarmingly, I’ve largely done what I put in the planner for this week. It feels like progress not only that all this has happened, but also that I’m not fretting about the stuff I haven’t (yet) done.
I’d like to think that I’ve had insights that will leave my approach to goals and planning forever changed. But I can’t honestly say that my attitude has been transformed - as per my previous blog post, personal growth is evolution, not transformation.
What I do know is that this current approach to goals feels good right now.
Will it last? I don’t know.
What will it produce? I don’t know.
And you know what? That’s ok.
Something I definitely want is connection.
So, if you fancy a bit of a discussion about goals or, indeed, anything mindsetty, then let's talk!
Find a convenient slot here for an online tea & biscuits chat - no charge, no pressure, no obligation.
(Honestly, I not only hate it, but am utterly shite at that icky salesy stuff, so you're quite safe!)