You smile. Before you is a pad of paper. On it is written, “Run five miles each day.” You just set a goal. It’s your first time doing so. You’re ecstatic. You decide to start today. Hours soon pass. It’s time to run. You put on your shoes, pair your headphones, and get out there. It’s amazing. There is a cooling wind. The afternoon dusk casts a calming glow on the landscape nearby.
You smile to yourself. It’s the same smile you had on earlier.
The next day arrives. You get out of bed with pep. The sun shines through your window. You elect to get a morning run in before the emails pile up. You put on a hat, grab sunglasses, and hit the street. It is, once again, amazing. The brisk air invigorates you as you navigate the neighborhood. Arriving home, you catch yourself in the mirror. You’re smiling once more.
A week passes. You find yourself again hitting the pavement. Although, the refreshing breeze has lost some of its appeal. What was once delightful is now, simply, frigid. The afternoon dusk too has lost some of its romance. Now it’s just dull out. Nothing has changed. It’s the same season, but the honeymoon has started to fade.
The laces, the runner, and the closet
A few days later, you awake to sunshine in your room. You pull the blanket over your eyes. You had intended to run that morning. Curled up under the sheets, you decide that an afternoon run is a better fit. The afternoon arrives and you’re slammed. Work has been so busy lately! In truth, it’s just as busy as it was a couple weeks ago. You ignore that fact. Instead, you sigh, curse your hectic work-life, and vow that you will get back out there tomorrow morning.
The weekend arrives. Running never crosses your mind. Between the breakfast bagels, burger for lunch, and pasta for dinner, plus the (many) drinks in between, you can’t even fathom moving more than from your table to your couch. Somewhere in the back of your mind a voice calls out. It says something, but it’s dull, quiet. It sounds like a reminder of sorts. Turning on a movie, you ignore its call.
A few weeks later, you rummage through the closet. You’re trying to find something. As you dig, you uncover a forgotten shape. They’re your running shoes. Oh ya… you think to yourself. I completely forgot about that… At just that moment, the object you were searching for makes itself known. You put the shoes back and close the door. You smile. You’re happy you found it. As you make your way down the hall, you catch yourself in the mirror. The smile on your face reminds you of something… something that you can’t quite put your finger on.
You think to yourself, was I supposed to do something this morning?
Goal setting isn’t for you
You won’t hear this a lot, but it’s the truth. You’re better off without goals. And that’s coming from someone that sets a lot of goals for themself. In fact, as of this writing, I have something like ten+ of them. Ranging from reading to dates with my daughter, from going to the beach to daily gratitude, my goals cover the many aspects that incorporate who I am. Further, I write about goal setting a lot. How to set them, overcome obstacles, stay motivated, and everything in between. To that extent, I have a unique insight into the world of goal setting.
And from that perspective I can confidently say, you absolutely shouldn’t set goals for yourself.
Because you, the majority, don’t take it seriously. You set a goal for yourself one time. You brag about it to your friends. And you say things like, “Oh I started doing X recently. It’s great! You should start doing X too!” Then, without fail, two weeks later, you either have since quit doing it or have forgotten about it. Either way, you wasted your time. And for those who want the best for you, like your friend who listened to your monologue, you wasted their time too.
Goal setting is powerful. And achieving your goals is entirely possible. But until you do things differently, stop setting them for yourself. If you find yourself doing any of the following, goal setting is not for you.
Planning isn’t your thing
You need to plan for your goals. If you don’t physically schedule out your time, you will either forget about them or continuously push them off, ad infinitum. If you don’t have a system in place for planning your days, don’t waste your time setting goals. Further, if you don’t want a system for planning your days, again, don’t waste your time setting goals.
When you don’t actively plan, your life will be chaotic. You won’t get much done. You will go to bed wondering what you did that day. One thing is certain though, working on your goal will not be on that list. Especially if the goal’s more than two weeks old. The older the goal, the more I’m willing to bet that you’ve made zero progress on it.
If you don’t plan out your time, you shouldn’t set goals for yourself.
You “forget” to check-in
For argument’s sake, let’s say you regularly plan out your time. Well done. But do you remember to fit your precious goals into that schedule? Do you remember to update your goals with your progress? If you don’t actively revisit your goals, you’re better off without them. For if you don’t revisit them, you will forget them. Either entirely or partially. Regardless, amnesia won’t get you to read more. Only reminding yourself of your reading goal will do that.
Let’s say you’re the type that doesn’t like to write things down. Great! Goal setting isn’t for you. Go ahead and do something else. If you don’t write your goals down, you can’t check in on them. If you can’t check in on them, you won’t be able to measure your progress or even recall the specifics of that goal. And if you don’t do that, you’re wasting your time.
If you don’t check in, you shouldn’t set goals for yourself.
Bragging comes first
If your whole reason for doing goal setting is to have something to brag about at your next social get-together, goal setting is not for you. Goal setting is about adding fulfillment to your life. Sharing your work with others is fun and is part of the experience. But it is a side effect. It should not be your only reason for doing it.
And even if you do set them for the right reasons, if your desire to share with others outweighs your desire to achieve those goals, goal setting is not for you. After all, the sooner you tell someone about your goals, the sooner you will stop working on them. If you share too soon, you will feel good without having done any work. And if you feel good now, you will no longer seek to feel good from your goals. You will quit and look for new goals to brag about.
If you love to brag, you shouldn’t set goals for yourself.
You shouldn’t set goals moving forward
If you hate planning, refuse to check your progress, or love to brag, goal setting is not for you. Avoid putting in that effort. Avoid the frustration of quitting. Sidestep your “forgetfulness” now. Instead, just forgo the goal setting experience altogether.
Goal success takes work. And if you’re not willing to put in the effort, you’re wasting your time.
But hey, at least now you know, right? Think of the hours you will save by not monologuing to your friend about how they should really meditate more. Consider the time you don’t have to spend pretending that you “forgot” to read that day. Unless you will take it seriously – not intend to take it seriously, but actually do so – you absolutely shouldn’t set goals for yourself.