Why Goals Fail

In Podcast, Your Values by Sonja

Every new moon, I take a little time to set intentions for the month. I like to base it on the star sign that the Moon is in, mostly because it’s fun – I also feel there is a synchronicity between astrology signs and the time of the year.

A few days ago I was giving an online group session around setting intentions, and an excellent question came up, Why intentions and not goals.

I want to offer a challenge. In this world where goals are idealized. Don’t set any. Don’t set any this month, don’t set any for the new year.

What I mean by that is, don’t set any as motivators. Sure, you can set targets that you want to try to meet, but don’t make goals your motivation. Goals genuinely suck as motivators. 

Goals suck because they have been squeezed dry all of their life force. Specific, measurable, all the other things in the SMART goal-setting checklist. And that’s really useful when you’re putting together milestones for some project. It’s no good as a motivation. 

Goals have nothing to do with why you’re doing something. They don’t remind you of why it matters. And if they do, they’re probably too vague.

Goals train your brain to only feel rewarded when you hit this measurable marker. There’s no  joy in the process. And if you’ve been using goals as rewards for a while, you’ve also trained your brain to start looking for the next reward (because that’s where the good shit is, after all). And when you live that way long enough, you start to create stress in between all of the reward points. Because your body is generating stress to push you to the next reward. 

And switching goals? Holy pivot point, Batman. This often translates to a feeling of failure when you’re using goals as motivation. Because in order to switch, you have to let go of the initial goal that was motivating you in the first place. But realistically, how often do your goals change? How often do you realize that the goal you set for yourself doesn’t match where you want to go now that some time has passed. If you’re like me, it happens pretty often.

Now … motivation. When you know why something matters to you. And you follow that with all of your heart, goals just become mileposts along the trip, they’re still there, marking the way, but you can switch  freeways, or get on a boat or take a plane. You can change destinations easily when you realize that your motivation would rather take you to New York instead of Florida. The journey becomes the joy.

So as we head into a time when a lot of people start to reflect on what they did or did not achieve in the previous months, I invite you to think about the adventures you had. Think about what warmed your heart one Saturday afternoon. Think about the whacky decision you made in the middle of January, or June, or July, and how much fun you had that day.

Think about that, and then decide your intention for this month. Or decide your intention for the next year. Fuck goals, they’re just a measurement. New goals can come along at any time. Ask what motivates you, what inspires you, who do you want to be. That’s what matters. Figure out who you want to be, and then live into being that person with deepest intentions, and see what happens. 

If you want to read more detail about how goals differ from motivation, head on over to my website. You will find PDF ready for you called “Why Goals Fail,” ready to download in the Resources section. 

Have a great week, and if it if you’re in the US enjoy the long weekend. There’s a lot of twisty energy happening right now so remember to pause, and take in something wonderful near you. Even a pleasant smell or bold color can sometimes brighten up a tense moment.