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Goal Setting Series

Goal Setting Friend or Foe?

Below you will find two version of this blog, written and video.  I have kept the video brief and included more content and detail in the written form.  Feel free to email me any questions as I have decided to devote future blogs to answering client questions.

Goal Setting – Friend of Foe?

I sometimes wonder to myself, “could goal setting be one of the most confusing things within the entire personal development industry!!”.  As many of you know I have been obsessed with the change process for 30 years now and goal setting is one of the areas I find frustrating and see much confusion about in my clients.

Goal Setting is a deceptively complex topic!!

Unfortunately, most things you read about goal setting will give you a simple formula.  Something like, write them down, separate theme into short- and long-term goals and use something like the SMART acronym to guide your writing:

“Make sure your goals are:”

S                      specific

M                     measurable

A                      attainable

R                      realistic

T                      time specific

This may be useful for something quite simple or straight forward, however if you are focusing on something, deeper, painful, stuck, more complex and really seeking deep lasting change it just won’t do.

Over the next few months, I am going to try and do this complex topic justice, give you useful information that you can apply in your life and outline my approach to goal setting and its role in change.

In this blog I want to cover some of the common problems I see with goal setting.

To help you get the most out of this blog, take a moment and choose an example of one area of your life you are struggling to make change in and feel stuck.  If possible, choose something that you might focus on with a coach or therapist.

Also reflect on the issue you have chosen and write down what ideas, concepts, and past experiences you have with the issue and goal setting.

Did you know most attempts at change fail?  I have written about this before (see my website, ) using the example of weight loss.  The question I want you to ask yourself is, “how can you make lasting successful changes without getting one of the first steps in the process right?”.

Why is goal setting so hard?

Like most things in life, we have pre-conceived ideas, concepts, and past experiences that we bring, and goal setting is no exceptions.  All my coaching clients bring a long list of these to the process of goal setting, most of which are not helpful!  This

There are so many ideas, concepts, and past experiences about goals that clients bring to the coaching process that I could not possibly cover them all.  However, there are some common examples that come up with my clients consistently.  These include:

  • What the end result will be
  • What the process will look like
  • What will help
  • What will not help
  • How fast the changes will happen
  • How long it will take
  • Past experiences of trying to reach goals

I will go over these one at a time to help illustrate some of the confusion I see.  Keep in mind the example you chose earlier and some of the past experiences you have had with goal setting.

  • What the end result will be

Most people have an end result in mind when they start focusing on an issue.  Ask yourself “what impact that would have on the process?”.  Having an outcome in mind will distort the process, it will cause you to ignore options, exclude other outcomes, and restrict the potential strategies you might choose as you believe they won’t help you obtain the outcome you already have in mind.  Further the end result you have chosen is often based on some unhelpful ideas and experiences that have caused the issue in the first place!

I would also argue most of my clients totally underestimate themselves and the outcome they have chosen (a small percentage overestimate themselves).  What impact do you think that has on your life and potential?

  • What the process will look like

Unfortunately, it is quite common for people to have a vision of what the process of change will look like.  These steps, stages, and strategies then become a vision that they try to stick to, again distorting and not allowing the process to unfold naturally.

  • What will help

Clients also have ideas about what will help them reach their desired outcome, however these are not informed by significant research or working with thousands of clients and keeps them wedded to specific strategies and excluding others.

  • What will not help

Normally the things you have in mind that won’t help are the very things you need to be focusing on.  This normally involves the things we find hard and difficult and want to avoid!

  • How fast the changes will happen

Most people want the process to be fast, they believe fast is better!  If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked, “how long will this take”!!

Ask yourself how useful is it to change quickly?  How sustainable is it?  Does it support integration?  Could it even hinder the process?  What ideas do you have about how fast change should happen and how do you respond when it does not happen that way?

  • How long it will take

Change never happens as quickly as we would like.  I get that we are in pain, suffering and want things to change.  However, expecting it to be quick impacts the things we focus on how we respond when things don’t go to plan or if we have a setback.

Instead of taking setbacks in our stride and looking at what we can learn from them, the expectation of quick changes normally causes us to give up or start focusing on a new strategy or approach that is equally problematic instead of refining what we are already doing.

  • Past experiences of trying to reach goals

Ask yourself, “what past experiences have you had with goal setting?”.  Have you had lots of success, little success, has it been dramatic, painful, slow, tedious, have you done it alone, with others or do you avoid goals all together?

In short, all the ideas, concepts, and past experiences we have with the change process and goal setting distort the process!  Not trusting and allowing it to unfold naturally and in the most optimal way for you at that time in your life.

This is actually the goal of goal setting!  I want my coaching clients to be able to trust the process, trust themselves, trust me and closely attend to their experience of change in that moment and how it is unfolding naturally.  Being exactly where you are in the moment is the most effective way to change and means we only need to know the next step we need to take.  Most of my clients find this a relief.

One way of understanding why this happens is that when we approach change, we typically approach it from the mindset or perspective that led to the problem in the first place.  This keeps us locked in the same patterns and what I call the “Reactivity Cycle”.  Making change from within the reactivity cycle never works and only strengthens past patterns.

The key take home from this blog is that your ideas, concepts, and past experience with goal setting will DISTORT the process.  Letting all that go, approaching change from a different mindset, trusting the process and working with someone who can guide you through a proven process will give you the best results.

Future topics in this series will include, Change is growth, The power of being exactly where you are, Process vs Content Goals, and Trust.

I am here to help.



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