Confession: I find goal setting to be a bit of a bore. It just doesn’t float my boat. I am much more fascinated by helping people get clarity on what they REALLY want, what is killing their joy and how to build a daily life and career that is deeply fulfilling. In my own life, many times, I crushed my goal only to find that my sense of fulfillment was momentary.
Now don’t fret, I am not taking a stand against setting goals. Rather, I encourage you to think PROCESS first and goal setting second. Often, we create goals because we crave the temporary feeling of satisfaction when we reach the OUTCOME. Sweet, I made $100,000 in my sales job. Awesome, I crossed the finish line of my marathon. Amazing, I got a fancy big office and the job title Director of Important Shit. The satisfaction of the goal, however, is primarily based on two things.
1. You proved to yourself that you are capable of reaching your goals (BTW, this is great, and as a coach, I want clients to know they are capable).
2. You earned something external-- You got the money, title, accolades, etc. There is NOTHING wrong with any of this. In fact, goal setting and achieving your goals has a myriad of benefits beyond what I am discussing. But, if you have ever achieved your goal only to find that the satisfaction quickly fades you are likely ignoring the most important part of goal setting, which is: identifying a PROCESS that serves you. If your motivation is coming from the goal or outcome you will likely find that you can’t sustain hard work and focus. Let’s back things up. Do you find satisfaction on the daily runs that prepared you for the marathon? Do you enjoy the tasks associated with being Director of Important Shit? Are you motivated by hustling for the sales that led you to earn $100,000? Ask yourself this--if you never reached your goal, would you love the process of chasing it? Let me give an example from my own life. I love to coach. It makes me feel alive, focused, useful and in the flow. So if you told me that I would never reach the goals I have for my coaching business, I would certainly feel a huge sense of disappointment. BUT, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t stop coaching. Even if I spent time building another career, coaching people informally or formally would continue to be a part of what I LOVE offering to the world.
While clients report amazing outcomes from my coaching, and these accolades temporarily feel good, the selfish truth is this -- I am deeply fulfilled by the PROCESSS of coaching. I feel rewarded each time I work with a client. Now of course doing this with financial success is a huge bonus but the outcome really is just the icing on the cake. My coaching cake tastes down right delicious even before the icing is added. One the flip side, in my former career, I was driven primarily by my goal-oriented outcome. I gritted my way through my Ph.D. program because I wanted that outcome (I said I would earn a Ph.D. and damn it I was gonna reach that goal!). When I became a professor, I was more motivated by the paycheck and flexibility then I was about teaching academic information. I liked the OUTCOME of my job, but not the PROCESS. The focus on my goals motivated me for some time. But eventually, I became completely depleted. The daily PROCESS was not feeding me.
As I was approaching my next goal of tenure, as a way to reach more external outcomes (money and flexibility), I had my big HOLY SHIT moment. I realized that none of these goals were changing the fact that this wasn’t a PROCESS that felt aligned for me. If you had asked me if I would continue to study, write about and teach academic material, even if I wasn’t going to build a successful, flexible, lucrative career, I would have laughed in your face. My answer would have unequivocally been a HELLS NO! The bottom line is this: get clear on a PROCESS that feels rewarding in and of itself, and THEN set some amazing, big and juicy goals. It becomes much easier to find motivation when you have goals that are not about the outcome but rather about mastering the PROCESS. If you do it the other way around, you will likely find that your daily life feels like an unbearable and desperate attempt to reach the finish line.