The danger of setting goals

By Anthony Gold

Last week I failed. And the week before that I failed.

At the beginning of each week, like many other people, I often spend time thinking about what I’d like to accomplish over the coming seven days. What commitments have I made to my various projects and other people, and what progress do I hope to make this week

From here, I set my goals and the tasks needed to achieve those worthy objectives.

Yet each week I rarely complete all the tasks nor fully achieve the goals I set.

I fail. And most weeks, I fail miserably.

But I fail only if I define success as the achievement of those goals. What if success were instead defined by how much joy I take in the moment-by-moment experience of life?

When we set the attainment of goals as our measure of success, then we are rarely successful. Why? Because until the goal is achieved, we have not triumphed. In other words, we are in a continual state of failure until – and only until – the goal is realized.

That’s the danger of goals – once we tie success to their achievement, we are failing nearly all the time.

Certainly there is benefit – often great benefit – in setting goals and stretching our limits. It is when we tie success to their completion that misery rules. In the words of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the insightful book Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens, they forfeit their chance of contentment.

This book details his decades-long research into the condition of happiness. His key finding: Happiness is not something that happens as the result of luck or goal attainment. Rather, it comes from within – and only from within.

Likewise, in Viktor Frankl’s incredibly transformational book Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes:

Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.

Wayne Dyer describes this perfect metaphor for the danger in goal setting:

Our purpose in life isn’t to arrive at a destination where we find inspiration, just as the purpose of dancing isn’t to end up at a particular spot on the floor. The purpose of dancing—and of life—is to enjoy every moment and every step, regardless of where we are when the music ends.

Ironically, when we thoroughly immerse ourself in every dance step, in each instant – when we are consciously living in the present moment – then the attainment of goals occurs as a byproduct. It naturally ensues, rather than being pursued.

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of pursuing goals and how we can transform that into an experience of true happiness. I look forward to seeing you then.

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