The art of setting goals

7th September 2020

Goals could be considered as external manifestations of desired feelings. Our hope is that when we achieve our goal we automatically embody the feelings we associated with that goal. For example my goal could be to have one million pounds in the bank. When I originally set the goal I associated one million pounds with feelings of safety and protection, independence, success and self esteem, freedom and happiness. So the feelings inspire the goal and it makes sense that we might ask someone, “What makes you happy?” as a first step towards setting a goal. It’s also plausible that one may not even have considered the feelings associated with a goal and rather one would just imagine that in that scenario they would feel good because perhaps they had seen it on television or heard about it from someone else.

Focalism is when we anticipate our feelings when focusing on an event and what we do is we tend to focus in a vacuum, so we forget to consider what other feelings or events may arise at the same time. For example take my goal of one million pounds in the bank. When I think about having all that money I don’t think about the responsibilities associated with having one million pounds or how much work maintaining one million pounds might involve. I’m not thinking about any of the negative events that might happen as a consequence of having one million pounds and I am also so focused on my one million pounds that I am not thinking about other events that will happen like crashing my car or having my home broken into or a family bereavement or feeling lonely. Our propensity to focalise requires that we consider other consequential feelings associated with our goal that may not be aligned with our desired feelings. We should also keep in mind that the positive desired feelings associated with our goal will not always override other feelings that come as an effect of life.

The feelings I associated with my goal of having one million pounds in the bank included safety and protection independence, success and self-esteem, freedom and happiness. But does one million pounds really bring freedom and happiness? If I’m going to earn one million pounds I’m going to have to develop a skill that I can apply consistently with discipline. I’m going to have to work hard for at least five years and that would be rather optimistic requiring a profit of £200,000 a year. I would question whether I would be free and happy. Again I focalised on the goal as an outcome but not the journey towards the goal. Am I happy to sacrifice my freedom and happiness for at least five years while I earn one million pounds?

So let’s suggest that I’m okay with limiting my feelings to safety and protection, independence, success and self-esteem. These feelings don’t suddenly appear when I have one million pounds. The journey towards the goal teaches me how to embody these feelings. After all one could question whether I could earn one million pounds without feeling worthy or successful. So we could look at the goal as a symptom of embodying the feelings that the goal requires. For example I would probably need to embody feelings of confidence, enthusiasm, motivation and many more if I’m going to be successful at achieving my goal. This is why there is so much emphasis on acting like you’ve achieved your goal even before you’ve achieved it. For example if you want to be successful you have to act successful, in other words you need to embody feelings of success. No matter how much money you have in the bank you will need to develop routines and behaviours that are associated with success. Your day might start with getting up at a regular and consistent time. You might start developing healthy routines like exercising and healthy eating. You might look at the language that use for yourself and start thinking and talking about yourself more positively. You might look at your posture and stand a little more confident or work on your anxiety and how you relate to others.

Setting a goal of one million pounds in the bank is extremely ambitious and requires careful planning and organising. Setting realistic and achievable objectives which are then further refined into daily, weekly or monthly tasks not only makes the goal more workable but allows us to focus on one step at a time. However, one must be careful that we do not get lost in all this planning, organising and doing that we forget about the feelings that we desire. We must constantly reflect and reassess whether the journey towards our goal is helping us embody the feelings we desire. I might decide that actually my freedom and happiness is important to me and that securing a permanent job with a view to buying my own home will be more aligned with the feelings I desire.

Take your time setting your goals and choose to focus on the desired feelings you want to embody. Develop behaviours, beliefs, attitudes and habits that help you embody the feelings you desire as a way to accelerate your achievement. And don’t be afraid to change your mind about what you want. Every time you change your mind your honing in on that which you truly desire, you’re becoming more of what you want to be.

The journey is the goal