I’m Not Setting Any Goals This Year

Maybe you shouldn’t, either

This is the time of year that every personal development writer starts using a dirty, four-letter word: Goal. And the tips they give for setting and achieving goals are consistent, evidence-based, and solid.

Almost without exception, they tell us that writing goals down are the first key to success (and that only three percent of people write down their goals); they remind us how to write SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, and Timely), and that most people abandon their goals three weeks into the New Year.

“Don’t be that person!” they urge us. “Be the one who achieves! The success! Rise above! Push beyond!”

At some point, setting goals began to feel like defining my failures.

I get angry just writing that. And this year, I’m rebelling. I’m not setting any goals. I’m choosing to step off this particular train.

I first realized how much I hate goals in a journaling session about a year ago. As my hand furiously scribbled across the page, words of rage came pouring out of me. As I drilled into my emotions around the word, I realized that the word “goals” for me has become synonymous with “failure.”

I’ve set a LOT of goals in my life. I’ve written them down. I’ve done SMART goals — pages of them. Each time, I jump off into a new world of success, the one in which I will be the person I always wanted to be. Better. Happier. Making more money. Getting promoted. Skinnier. Healthier. Faster. Stronger.

I’ve had goals around nutrition, goals around exercise, reading more, reading non-fiction, writing, starting businesses, being a better mother, a better employee — name it, and I’ve probably configured a goal around it at some point in my life.

I’m choosing to step off this particular train.

I haven’t achieved very many. Not because the intent or the desire wasn’t there, but because I lost interest in them at some point, or my life changed in some dramatic way. My life can be summed up in many ways; “predictable” and “consistent” aren’t among them. At some point, setting goals began to feel like defining my failures.

And failing at my goals made me a failure.

As the New Year approaches, I’ve been dreading the process of goal writing. I know I “should” write goals; I know what the research says. Yet, every time the topic of goals comes to the front of my mind, I get a sick feeling in my stomach.

Constant goal-setting becomes the enemy of contentment.

As I’ve ruminated on my reactions and their source, I realized there’s a hidden message in the ‘goal culture’: You’re not good enough. Your work isn’t enough. There’s a subtext that tells us we have to be more and do more, and that’s not always healthy.

For us Type-As, the push to be more and do more is a short road to workaholism. As we achieve a goal, the next goal must be set — and quickly. We never arrive at a destination; we need to be more than what we already are. Our most recent achievement is not good enough. It’s a treadmill of effort.

Constant goal-setting becomes the enemy of contentment.

Thinking about it objectively, I know that my circumstances are different now. My life is pretty stable. I haven’t moved in nearly five years; I have a network of friends in my community; my marriage and family life are the best they’ve ever been.

“Maybe this time would be different,” a little voice in my head whispers. “Try it. Surely there’s something you want.” And when I seriously start to listen to that voice, nausea sets in.

In pondering this point for the last two months, I realized that there are things I do want to achieve. I want the Wounded Birds Ministry Facebook Group to grow and thrive. I want to run more support groups. I want to speak at local churches and share the message of hope.

But these are just a means to an end: I want to help people. How many people doesn’t matter to me. I just want to know that every day, I am doing my best to support and encourage another person, and hopefully, with one person, I have an impact.

I’m giving myself permission just to experience the journey.

I want to continue on the path of becoming the better, kinder, more empathetic person that’s emerged as I’ve traversed my road to real mental health.

I want to be available to my family, to not just hear about their days, but to listen to what they have to say.

I don’t want to have more. I don’t want to be more. The only thing I want is more contentment, to continue growing in the person God formed me to be.

And so, rather than setting goals for the next year, I’m sharpening the focus on the life I already have. I’m defining and clarifying values, intentions, and routines. I’m not putting dates or numbers on anything.

I’m giving myself permission just to experience the journey.

So, yeah, I’m not setting any goals for 2018. And I feel great about it.

Care to join me?

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You can find more on my message at https://woundedbirdsministry.com or join my supportive Facebook group here.

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