NON FICTION: Why Your Goals Might Be Failing You

Typewriter with paper with 'goals' typed on it

Photo: Markus Winkler

I’ve went through life just going through one goal after another. Every time I’d achieved something, I’d just relish it for minutes before moving on to the next one. It took a few tries before I realised that checking things off my bucket list wasn’t as exhilarating as I thought it would be. Then it hit me.

The goals were never the point. The process was.

After all, what good did becoming a salon supervisor do for me? Or becoming a travel writer? Earning my blue belt in jiu-jitsu? Finishing that book? Getting published?

They were all just goals at some point, and then they came true. But I would quickly learn that despite finally arriving, I was still exactly who I was two minutes before achieving the goal.

It’s about the journey, forever

The day I tied that blue belt around my waist was the day that I realised nothing had changed. I still had to put my work in and suffer just like the day before. The only difference was that I now I was getting my ass kicked with a coloured belt on.

I remember walking into the gym for the first time, and I remember how hopeless it felt sparring with the blue belts. It seemed like a good standard for me, so I went home and set a goal to practice long enough to earn my blue belt. It took about three years, but I got it.

It was really just a piece of cloth though. It didn’t imbue me with superpowers, nor did I get any more respect than I deserved—which could only be earned through hard work. I didn’t even get any joy from ticking it off my goals list, because that just meant I’d have to do the same thing to earn my purple belt.

What the belt did though, was signify my journey. All those hours spent exercising instead of playing video games, eating right because I wanted to remain in a certain weight category, fighting through exhaustion and learning that I had so much more in me—it’s a reminder of who I had to become to earn it.

But conversely, who would I be had I not been promoted? The exact same person, that’s who. And that’s what I guess the point of this story is. Luck has its role in determining if you ever achieve your goals, but you will always be you. Ever heard the term ‘Seek happiness within’? This is what the saying’s for.

We only control the things within our control

We all know there’s no guarantees to life. Your new business venture might get wrecked by Covid-19. An injury might sideline you. Technology might render your skills useless.

And it’s easy to let the outside world dictate what you can or can’t do, if you only rely on goals. Rainy season comes and suddenly preparing for this year’s marathon seems less realistic. Get one bad comment on your blog and that novel turns into a bad idea.

But what if, instead of aiming for goals, you become what you want? Throw away your desire to write a novel, become a person who writes novels instead. Don’t aim to just join a marathon, be a runner.

Sounds insignificant? Well, it’s the difference of doing something every day versus thinking you’re going to get somewhere someday.

Looking at it differently

Say that Covid-19 caused lockdowns in your area. It’s easy to skip a day of training for a marathon ‘as long as you get your mileage in later’. But as someone who runs, you could still hop on a treadmill, run up and down the stairs for a few kilometres, even do a couple hundred burpees a day to keep your cardio in check.

You’ll also notice this pattern among people whose goals are to lose weight, yet find themselves reaching for a that cupcake every time they’re faced with the choice. Losing five kilogrammes is a goal you can slack off on while you lie to yourself that you can make up for in the future. Being a healthy eater requires you to act in the now.

One perspective gives you tunnel vision and limits you. The other opens up a world of possibilities. Most importantly however, it highlights the fact that goals shouldn’t arrive as a final result, but as a byproduct. That’s the only way you can guarantee long-term success.

So the next time you’re thinking of something neat you’d like to achieve, don’t ask yourself how you’re going to get it. Instead, ask yourself who you have to become.

7 thoughts on “NON FICTION: Why Your Goals Might Be Failing You

  1. I think I get what you’re saying. I don’t write books, but I consider myself a writer. Maybe I’ll write a book one day. Maybe not. I’m still a writer regardless. I don’t need a book under my belt to satisfy me. I know in my heart who I am, and I’m going to enjoy the journey. Thanks for sharing, Stuart. It was an interesting and enjoyable read!


  2. Good points. I always try set goals I am in control of. One of the dumbest things I see bloggers talk about is the goals they have for how many views they get on their blog. So dumb. You can’t control that.


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