Conventional wisdom tells us that setting goals is an important part of successfully achieving them. But too often we set unrealistic goals with impossible deadlines in an effort to prove something to ourselves or others, or because we’re in a rush to make something happen. Not only do these goals tend to be fantasy-based, but we can become so bent on achieving them in a certain way and by a certain time that we’re unable to be flexible when we need to be.
This is why I make a point to carefully evaluate my aim before setting any goal for myself. Am I aimed at a fantasy or a reasonable goal worth achieving? As I make my way toward reaching my goal, I try to keep my thinking flexible about how the goal will be achieved.
Getting too tied to the specific outcome I have in mind closes me off to new or alternate ideas with information and opportunities that may ultimately direct me toward something even more fulfilling.
Evaluate Your Goal: Is It Based in Fantasy or Reality?
Start by asking yourself:
Why this goal?
Of all possible goals, why is this the one you want to tackle now? Can you pinpoint what’s motivating you? Excitement? Fear? Vanity? Something else?
- What feelings are attached to the goal? Pros and cons?
With any change, the outcome will likely include benefits and drawbacks. If all you can see are the benefits, and your predominant feeling is bliss or excitement, then this goal may be in the realm of an unachievable fantasy.
- Are you attached to an outcome that isn’t reasonable or necessary?
Do you expect to look or feel decades younger, for example. Or do you imagine yourself suddenly confident, the life of the party showing off your new accomplishment? Ask yourself if this is honestly realistic.
- Will your lofty goal actually make you feel fulfilled?
Consider if you are truly doing it for yourself. Or are you just looking for external validation?
- How do you imagine things will change once the goal is achieved?
Everything has a cost. If all you can see is the positive side, you’ll need to take a hard look at what you’ll have to sacrifice for the outcome you’re imagining. What are your blind spots, like debt you can’t afford or being beholden to someone? If the change is drastic, are you allowing for the time it might take and the sacrifices you’ll need to make to achieve it?
- Are you taking on too much?
Consider your time, finances, strength, stamina and overall resources. How reasonable is this goal considering what you already have on your plate?
- Are you distracting yourself from your fear of uncertainty?
Is there another problem you’re trying to solve or distract yourself from with this goal, like your fear of uncertainty? Are you trying to control some aspect of your life that’s beyond your personal power to effect? Are you trying to compensate for another part of your life that feels particularly overwhelming or empty? Maybe you’ve convinced yourself about a level of safety or security that simply can’t be guaranteed.
How to Remain Flexible
It’s easy to get fixated on the outcome we imagine, the time we want it to happen by and the exact way it will happen. But this kind of specificity rarely serves us.
It’s easy to get fixated on the outcome we imagine, the time we want it to happen by and the exact way it will happen. But this kind of specificity rarely serves us. Often the deadline we set will need to change, along with the way we accomplish the goal. To accommodate this we have to be flexible enough to let go of these ideals.
The “big goal” I have in mind when I start out is rarely where I end up. As I begin moving toward the goal I’ve set, options become apparent that I wasn’t aware of when I started. These new options can be just as rewarding, and sometimes they’re far simpler or even more fulfilling than the original goal.
In my experience, lasting change is built on a series of small changes instead of some big, drastic shift. It’s a flexible trajectory toward my goal that lands me in a place of fulfillment. I take one step forward, then wait for the next step to become clear. Then I take the next step, wait for clarity, and take another. For this step-by-step approach to work, deadlines have to be flexible.
- Does it really have to happen NOW, especially if it corresponds with other pressures?
When you catch yourself trying to jam an outcome through, this is your cue to pause, if not STOP outright.
- Have you taken into account the unexpected?
You’re likely to encounter at least one unexpected obstacle on the way to achieving any goal. It can help to remember that speed generally doesn’t result in a sustainable outcome. Delays can be beneficial if I’m not rushing or pushing. They give me a chance to tweak what I’m doing, or make room for a new idea to drop in. A delay can provide a space for what’s unknown to become clearer, or give something new a chance to emerge from the fog.
- Use Essence to Keep Goals Manageable
Essence is a term I use to describe the feeling-experience something evokes. Focusing on the Essence keeps me tuned in to the feelings that are the most fulfilling, like ease or simplicity. This focus helps bring my goals back down to earth. Setting goals based in Essence, automatically creates more flexibility around the goal overall.
- Step back and consider the Essence you want to result from meeting the goal.
How do you imagine achieving this goal will improve your life experience? Will it make some aspect easier or more sustainable? More aesthetically pleasing? Will it provide you time or space for more creativity?
- What other forms could satisfy this Essence?
For example, is a bathroom remodel the only way to create the more inviting space you had in mind? Maybe a fresh coat of paint and some new towels can evoke an Essence of beauty and comfort without the disruption and expense of a full remodel.
The most important step in setting a goal is to run it through a fantasy check. Sure, you can achieve an unrealistic goal if you put the force of your will and significant resources behind it, but not without consequences. Be wary of goals that require overextending yourself financially, physically and energetically. Take the time to honestly consider the investment required to achieve a goal before you set your sights on it.
Once you’ve determined a goal is realistic and likely to deliver the Essence you desire, the challenge is to remain flexible as you move toward it, step by step. Deadlines may need to shift. You may discover along the way that a slightly different trajectory suits you and the overall project better. As you move forward, stay open as new information presents itself. If you’re not flexible you won’t be able to make adjustments to accommodate it.
One place I find fantasy still sneaks in is unconscious expectations. When I find myself thinking or saying: This is going to be wonderful! I add “or not” at the end. This helps me keep my optimistic expectations grounded and realistic which gives me a much better chance of achieving them.
Take good care : )