I’ve always been a goal-setter, a planner keeper (not to be confused with a Trapper Keeper because I don’t think I’ve ever been that cool), and am currently attached at the hip to Google calendar.
Spontaneity and Arminda haven’t traditionally been synonymous. My college boyfriend laughingly assured me any children I brought into this world would likely arrive sporting matching Franklin planners.
I’ve even taught classes on goal-setting, its significance and how to achieve more than your neighbor through better techniques and the adept use of colored pencils on a grid (I haven’t actually taught that part about the colored pencils; I’ve mostly kept that trick to myself).
But yesterday I read something that rocked my calendar a little bit. Okay. A lot.
Supercoach Michael Neill thinks there’s an inherent problem with goals:
- they’re future-based (always ahead of us like the carrot on the stick)
- they’re results-focused
- they’re successful only upon completion (meaning failure is your only option unless, or until, you reach it)
I haven’t stopped thinking about this. I can’t stop thinking about this. And after my obsessive thinking spree, I believe he’s right.
This is a game changer for me. Remember when I wrote about the definition or meaning we attach to words? This is one of those moments for me. One of those words.
What’s in a name?
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2)
Or would it?
If what Michael Neill says about goals is true, and I believe it is, then my focus on setting and achieving goals is misplaced effort and energy. In fact, based on the above list of problems, it’s a wonder any of us goal setters ever accomplish anything. This could be the very reason February is consistently guaranteed time for me to have the entire gym to myself. Every single year.
I don’t want to suggest I never accomplish anything or that I fail before I even get out of bed in the morning. On the contrary, I think up until now I’ve successfully checked many many things off my ever-lengthening list of goals.
But the point isn’t about what’s in my past. It’s really about what future I’m creating.
Because when you really want something, the question isn’t “How will you get it?”; it’s “What could possibly stop you?” (Supercoach, Neill, 74)
With this question in mind, and a determination to shift my thinking in order to create a new definition I realized I only need substitute a different word with its own meaning intact: project.
Again, Michael Neill provides the structure for this mind-shift toward project-based behavior:
- they’re in the present (happening and being worked on now)
- they’re action-based
- they’re always successful until you fail
Here’s what happens in my world, and probably for many of you, too: I set goals, I create timelines, I tell someone else about my goal so I feel accountable, and I write it down. And then something happens. Or comes up. Or I get tired. Or I slip up for a day. Or I don’t feel like it. Or company comes for a visit. Or my daughter needs something. Or I need to walk the dog. Or whatever.
These are called excuses. And they consistently pop up into the space between us and our goals. We’ve all used them. They’re always in abundant supply when we need to justify our failure to achieve our goals (remember #3 in the first list?).
Projects feel different to me. A project is in motion from the moment I say “Go,” and if I’m an effective project manager I will look ahead at what barriers might stand in my way of completion and figure out how to minimize, work around or even eliminate them before they arrive so that the project stays on course.
Juliet’s rose would still smell as sweet given another name, and perhaps goals are just another word for projects, but I’m abandoning goals and the false belief that I will only be successful if I achieve them in favor of projects through which I can create my future from the future, rather than from the graveyard of abandoned attempts and faulty restarts in my past.
If you really want what you want, there’s always a way for you to create it (Supercoach, Neill, 77).