What You Can Set Instead of Goals

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If you ever bought a book with a thousand inspiring quotes, you probably saw that there is a substantial part of it dedicated to goals. Apparently, a lot of notable people have a lot of thoughts about goal-setting. Check this out:

“I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and try to ignore the rest”. This one belongs to Venus Williams, one of the all-time greatest tennis players in the world.

“Goals transform a random walk into a chase”. This nugget of wisdom belongs to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist and the author of “flow theory”, which we’ve been citing a lot.

“Everybody has goals, aspirations or whatever, and everybody has been at a point in their life where nobody believed in them”. Eminem, ladies and gentlemen.

With all those great thinkers praising goals, it could seem overconfident to try and shake this. Still, there is a great chance that goals are overrated. At least, there are quite a few examples when goals can be substituted with more appropriate concepts.

Set directions not goals

Let’s make it clear from the start—having goals is a good thing. But sometimes pursuing a concrete goal implies that you need to take control over things that just can’t be controlled. These include things such as other people’s decisions and natural disasters. There is not even a single parameter that you can guarantee will not change down the road. When you zero in on a specific goal and dismiss everything else, you place yourself in a very vulnerable position.

There is a case to make for setting directions instead. Beetroot co-founder Gustav Henman says: “I keep goals in the corner of my mind, while concentrating on the directions that can take me there. It helps me remain flexible and notice other potential objectives or benefits along the way. By thinking of directions I can better trust my gut feeling and have the freedom to choose less risky paths.”

Set for continuous improvement not for goals

Imagine a marathon runner whose goal is to finish a race in 4 hours. The big day comes and he reaches his goal. Isn’t that a success? Maybe. But what if he didn’t zero in that much on his objective and ran in 3:45 instead?

By setting a goal you also set your own limitations. If you opt for continuous improvement you can discover the unknown dimensions of your own potential.

“When I concentrate on a single goal, it usually means that I eventually focus on a single way of reaching it,” Gustav says. “But there is a whole universe of opportunities lying in front of us, right? There is a great chance that by combining and mixing different approaches, we can land on much better results”.

‘Wait a minute,’ you can say, but what if our hypothetical marathon runners would finish in 5 hours without a concrete goal? Human beings are lazy by nature and maybe only challenging goals keep us from doing nothing.

“Having a goal doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be reluctant to spend time and efforts on it. If you decide to improve continuously, you should keep an eye on your progress. Eventually, you’ll develop some kind of a gut feeling, telling you that you’re moving in the right direction or urging you to pull yourself up and get going”.

Set the highest and the lowest bars not goals

With a little imagination, you can come up with all sorts of goals that pop up off the top of your head. You can sign up for a 1000 push-up challenge, for instance, or for becoming the first colonist on Mars colonizer, or whatever. But you should always ask yourself, “What’s the cost of reaching this goal?”

Does it take that many push-ups to feel well? Or wouldn’t you have panic attacks after moving to an inhabitable planet, only to find that Elon Musk is already there?

Instead of setting ambitious goals, it might be better to set the lowest and highest points that you would find agreeable. For instance, doing from 5 to 10 push-ups, or as many as possible till you feel well.

Indeed, in the rush of achieving extraordinary goals, sometimes we are forced to sacrifice a lot of things, like the quality of our projects or work-life balance. By outlining several possible aims, you can decrease the tension and concentrate not on the aim itself, but on the quality of reaching it.

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Setting a goal just for the sake of having a goal isn’t a good thing. If you have a strong feeling that a concrete aim will make you more motivated and productive, then go for it. But if you have a powerful intrinsic motivation that pushes you forward whether you have goals or not, it might be a good idea to listen to your inner voice and keep your eyes open for new opportunities along your way.

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