The Problem with Goals and Resolutions
It’s a new year, which means it’s time for the Annual Much Maligning of Goals and Resolutions. Get excited.
I’m just going to get straight to the point. While I’m pro goals and resolutions, I’ll admit there is a problem with goals and resolutions, and that problem is you.
More specifically, the problem only exists if you say it does, and that you say it’s a problem is why it feels that way.
Every year about this time, we are regaled with loud choruses of “New Year, New You” and other equally annoying calls for annual growth and transformation from eager cheerleaders who I presume hardly ever blink.
Like a predictable and very loud game of Red Rover, this enthusiastic invitation for you to change something about yourself is met with an equal but opposite team playing on the side of, “Goals and resolutions are the source of all unhappiness and discontent!” or something similar.
It’s all very predictable, and both sides are widely missing the mark, in my opinion.
The problem isn’t the goal or resolution or intention (or any other words we cleverly employ to avoid stating our desires out loud): the problem is the way you’re relating to it.
First of all, while you absolutely do not need to change anything at all about your life, your habits or yourself, you may desire to do so.
You’re allowed — encouraged, even — to want more from life and from yourself. You can want more from others, too, but that’s largely up to said others to manage, and therefore out of your control. It’s hard enough to change ourselves; there’s no need to go about trying to change anyone else (especially if we’re hoping they’ll change so that we don’t have to).
Contrary to popular belief, you can set a goal or intention or become resolved to do something without it implicitly meaning that your previous goals were inadequate, or that you yourself are inadequate without having achieved them.
It was never the goal, intention or resolution that made you unhappy. It was the way you set about trying to achieve it, which was likely a set up for failure right from the beginning (NB having a goal without a doable plan is called wishing) that made you unhappy.
Let’s clear this confusion up.
It was what you made it mean about yourself, the world, The Way It Goes, and Goals themselves when you didn’t immediately and easily achieve your objective that led to your discontent. From those belief-based-feelings comes the dismissal of the entire concept of Achievement On Purpose (aka Goals) because you mistakenly held goals responsible for making you feel badly about yourself.
You mistakenly believed things to be causal that were, at best, correlated. Then you made up some “truths” to explain away the feelings you felt, and then you believed those thoughts, too.
Oops. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it need not be the end of your desires, objectives and aims.
Look, you do not want to go about believing everything you think. Trust me. That’s a dangerous business. Especially if what you’re thinking is that you should play smaller, desire less, and generally not try to create the experience of life you’d like to having.
“I used to set goals and resolutions, but eventually I just got tired of feeling like I wasn’t meeting my expectations.”
“I don’t like who I become when I set goals: I’m too hard on myself.”
“I can’t control how Life goes.”
I get it: you touched a hot stove, and it burned your hand, so you’re none too eager to do it again. That’s very sensible, with regards to the hot stove, that is. But this is not the same thing: your goals are not a hot stove.
A more accurate metaphor is that you drank water once and it went down the wrong way (we’ve all been there), and it made you choke, which was very scary. But would that mean that the sensible thing to do would be to give up on drinking water ever again, to avoid ever being scared again of spluttering and coughing? I’m guessing not, since I presume you’ve not died of dehydration, as you’re here reading this.
So you didn’t meet your expectations? Okay. You’re a grown-up: do the work to forgive yourself for how it went, and look honestly at what got in the way, or didn’t work. Likely, you were missing some now-obviously key components that — armed with the benefit of hindsight on this side of how it went — were probably predictably going to mean that you couldn’t succeed at your endeavor.
Maybe you needed certain tools or resources, or more structure, or accountability to make it happen. Maybe the resolution or goal was only ever an intention, and you never created an actionable plan to move it out of the wishing well into created reality. Certainly, it’s frustrating, but these are resolvable issues.
If you’re hard on yourself, then that’s a relationship that can be improved, but not without effort and attention. Not being a judgmental jerk to yourself only because you don’t allow yourself to access your passion, purpose and desire is hardly going to transform your relationship with yourself.
If you don’t get along with someone, avoiding them is certainly an option, but it doesn’t change anything. Plus, it’s awfully hard to avoid yourself or your desire for any prolonged period of time and still have a great experience of life.
If you tend towards ruthlessness with yourself, I highly doubt that changes simply because you try to avoid any potential possibility of coming into contact with your own expectations.
Not having goals or desires or expectations doesn’t automatically make you any nicer to yourself. It just reduces the potential opportunities for some specific disappointments and some predictable negative feelings, sure, but it robs you of the opportunity to learn how to be more forgiving, accepting and compassionate with yourself, for real. It steals away your growth and resilience.
Oh, and it costs you the life of your dreams come true. So there’s that.
If you feel obligation and guilt, shame and pressure from yourself with regards to your goals, work on dropping your negative relationship with YOU, and not the goal itself. What do you say?