Surprisingly enough, setting goals may actually hinder your chances of life-long success!
Let me begin by saying that goal setting is wickedly effective. In other words, if you desire an outcome, and make it a goal, the odds are extremely likely that you’ll achieve it. And therein lies the problem.
Let me explain.
If you decide you want to drive your car from your house to the city, that’s a goal. You likely don’t give it a second thought. You just decide and then execute. We all set and achieve hundreds of these kinds of goals every day. These are not the goals I’m referring to.
The goals that may actually hinder your chances of long-term success are the crucial life-changing goals that are improperly set. These are the big goals that require significant focus, and, if achieved, can have a monumental impact on your life, but if slightly missed, they can have a devastating effect.
Setting a goal is a powerful tool, and like any powerful tool it must be used properly. If misused, it can have seriously negative consequences.
I discovered the potentially destructive force of incorrect goal setting somewhat by accident.
Martial arts has adopted a simple and effective way to motivate students on a step-by-step, or a goal-by-goal process through the use of colored belts.
When a student begins studying a martial art, he wears a white belt. Nobody enjoys wearing a white belt because it’s a visual sign of one’s achievement and mastery. It clearly depicts that one’s a neophyte.
The belt system in most martial arts goes from white to yellow to orange then green, blue, brown and black. In many respects this belt system provides massive incentive. It’s a simple and ingenious way to keep a student motivated through the long, arduous process of discipline and practice.
Having studied several martial arts, I can attest, from first-hand experience, the effectiveness of the belt system in motivating students. If everyone went from wearing a white belt until they achieved the “coveted” black belt, many more students would drop-out along the way. The mileposts of belt attainment have a magical way of breaking the goals into manageable steps. With each new belt students get a strong motivational lift that keeps them striving toward the next color.
Although this belt system is extremely effective, it also has an underside that perfectly mirrors the danger of incorrectly setting a goal.
Almost all martial arts students begin with the same goal in mind … to achieve a black belt. Amazingly enough, and in the majority of cases that I’ve personally witnessed, when a student finally achieves the long coveted black belt, very often within a few months, or even weeks, he’ll drop the sport. I’ve witnessed this happen time and time again, and I always swore it would never happen to me.
If you’re not familiar with martial arts you might be thinking; “Well why wouldn’t he drop the sport if he’s got a black belt? What else is there to learn?” In reality, achieving a black belt means that one has only mastered the fundamentals of the art. Following the attainment of a basic black belt, there are ten more degrees, or dans, that represent the path to true mastery and lifelong study.
The last martial art I practiced was jiu-jitsu. Like all students I was striving to achieve my black belt status. Although that was my “first” goal, I had always thought that I would pursue my studies well beyond the basic black belt level.
Interestingly enough, each rank and each belt I received, strongly motivated me toward striving for the next and the next. When I finally achieved my black belt ranking I had a distinct feeling of having reached a definite goal. I had seized the proverbial brass ring. When I first began wearing my black belt I had a defining sense of accomplishment and a desire to pursue my studies further, but then within a few weeks a very subtle disinterest began to settle in. I found myself making flimsy excuses to miss a class here and there and incredibly enough, within a few months I had dropped my classes completely.
As I said earlier, I witnessed this happen to so many students over the years, but always vowed it wouldn’t happen to me, but it did, nonetheless. Since then I have given this matter a great deal of thought.
Let me say that if I really wanted to resume my studies of jiu-jitsu I obviously could, but at this point I’ve simply lost the desire, and THAT, is the whole point.
How is it that martial arts students can passionately pursue their study for a number of years, and almost from the moment they achieve their goal of a black belt, with so much more to learn, they can lose interest so quickly?
I believe it’s because of the underlying power of goal setting. As long as we are striving toward our goal, we have an invisible sustaining force. The moment we achieve our goal we have a natural tendency to let-up.
In this example, consciously or subconsciously, I was totally committed to achieving my black belt status. After that, I think I had a vague goal of continuing my study of the art, but the real, defining goal was definitely achieving the rank of black belt.
How often have we witnessed someone who vows to lose a certain amount of weight. They’re charged up and ready to go. They get on a diet, start exercising and within a few months they manage to shed the unwanted thirty or forty pounds. They reach their goal. Now what?
Using weight loss as an example, studies have shown that up to 97% of the people who lose weight through diets will put all the lost weight back on, and even more, within two years. This is both an alarming and an appallingly statistic. Clearly the problem is not in having the ability to achieve a desired outcome, or goal, but rather the problem lies in an ill-conceived goal.
The person who sets a goal to lose thirty pounds, and then loses it, has reached his goal. Now what? What happens next? Where do you go from there?
Rather than setting a limiting, and potentially dangerous goal, such as losing thirty pounds, suppose the same person decided to set a goal of achieving and living a healthy lifestyle. In this case losing the excess weight is only a part of the goal. It changes the entire perspective. It changes the time dimensions. If one’s goal is to achieve a level of health, then rapid weight loss no longer fits into the equation. Slow, steady, sensible, and “sustainable” weight loss becomes the goal. In fact, goal is no longer the right term. Now it becomes an intention. A way of life.
This is a subtle, but crucial distinction to long-term success.
From the time I was fourteen until I was twenty-seven, I was a seriously heavy chain-smoker. Exercise and a healthy lifestyle were the furthest things from my mind.
When I eventually quit smoking I decided to pursue a life-long, healthy lifestyle of frequent exercise. Part of my plan was not to associate quitting smoking with the initially uncomfortable feeling of exercise, so I waited a full six months before I started.
When I finally began to incorporate exercise into my life, I started very slowly. I began with a running routine. I never set a goal to run a marathon, or to run ten miles or anything like that. My goal was to incorporate exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact the word goal in this instance is actually the wrong word. What I really did was switch my thinking from that of a “goal” to that of an intention.
As a result I have managed my exercise program for over twenty-five years. It has been such a part of my life that I simply couldn’t imagine living without it.
Setting a goal such as cleaning the garage or painting the house are perfectly fine because they’re an end in themselves. Setting goals around things that we would like to incorporate into our lifestyle can be both limiting and dangerous.
The next time you consider setting a goal, and by definition, you would like it to be a part of your life, you might want to consider how you can incorporate your new desire into a permanent way of living.
Intending to live your life a certain way is infinitely more powerful and lasting than setting a goal. You see, there really is no goal when it comes to a lifestyle because it’s so much more than that. It becomes something that you are. It’s an intention to live your life the way you choose to live it.
For this simple reason why not change a life-time goal to an intention?
Goals represent a finish line, but intention represents continuous achievement and a lifetime of mastery.
Richard Fast is the author of 29 DAYS … to a habit you want! To learn more see http://www.29daysto.com