Why setting goals can sometimes pull you down

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff”  http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/why-setting-goals-can-sometimes-pull-you-down-1.1128090

(Was published in the paper on Friday the fourth)


(image via source for illustrative purposes only)


The anticipation has ended, the parties have finished, and the fireworks have fizzled out too. The year 2013 is finally here, and some of my more ambitious friends have talked about their goals and resolutions for the year. As for me, I have spoken little about what my own goals are. That’s because I don’t have any. Perhaps you would like to know why.

The goals one sets out for oneself imply the obvious: The person hasn’t got to where they would like to be in life. Goals exist because they would like to do better, because they would like to achieve something more. Let me give an example for the sake of clarity. Joe works as a manager in a company, and dreams of becoming the CEO one day. In fact, he imagines his life would be perfect if he would only achieve that position. After years of toil, Joe finally becomes CEO — only to realise that he would rather be an entrepreneur. That becomes the new goal. Surely, when he is an entrepreneur, he might hope for something else, or better returns. It goes on, doesn’t it? Suffice it to say that no matter what we do, we’re never satisfied with our lives, our weight, who we are, and how much we make.

That begs the question — is it worthwhile to have a goal at all? I realise that goals are eked out so we can spur ourselves on, so we can keep aiming higher, but an over-reliance on them can sometimes be trying. Our self-image and our thought processes can get too dependent on them. A woman who is above what might be her ‘perfect’ weight constantly frets about it, and starts a diet at the drop of a hat to achieve her goal. She constantly compares herself unfavourably to magazine models and/or her counterparts and ends up feeling miserable. This takes her happiness away; this takes her satisfaction with her persona away. The goal interferes with everything. In the same way, someone who is too psyched about getting ‘the big promotion’ forgets to enjoy his current job.

Sometimes we set goals that are too lofty, and instead of using them to our advantage as mere guidelines, we end up obsessing about them, and belittle our current achievements. We forget to be thankful for what we have, and even as we set our sights on the summit of the mountain, we forget to appreciate the colourful rainbows and the beautiful scenery along the way.

One might ask a valid question: how would you achieve more in life if you don’t have goals? How can you be in a better place tomorrow if you don’t plan today? I am a firm believer that if we enjoy our lives, live them to the fullest, and are glad that we exist, things will begin to look up. If I am in a happy place, and am able to do my best, success will in fact find me. If we live our lives by some simple but important truths as a matter of principle, our goals become reality even before we realise it.

Consider a writer who wants to write a book. Every day she/he slaves away at the computer, producing little valuable output. One day, inspiration suddenly strikes, and within a few weeks or months, before she/he even knows it, a full manuscript exists. That is because the writer was enjoying what she/he were doing, rather than focusing on a goal of writing a certain number of words in a day. They probably wrote far more than the initial goal, and through the night too!

To each his own — setting goals may or may not work for you. Some people (like this writer) tend to get more stressed by them, whilst others find that setting goals unleashes their productive energy. Ironically enough though, as I sign off, I think I might have finally found myself a new year resolution: to be content.

With who I am, with what I do, to wake up every morning satisfied with myself and my life, and to go to bed every night thinking that the day gone by was perfect in its own special, imperfect way. To understand that even though I stumbled and made mistakes, I learnt something new and became a better person for it.


PS: Do you believe in setting goals? Please share your opinion in the comments!


13 thoughts on “Why setting goals can sometimes pull you down

  1. Reblogged this on Cabo de Gata Photography and commented:
    Some interesting thoughts here.

    I’ve always struggled with the idea of reaching “perfection” with my view being that there is a driving force pushing you towards this ideal of perfection but happens when you get there? Exactly as this blog post suggests, you move the goalposts, or worse, you have reached perfection and then there’s nothing to strive for. There is nothing wrong with aiming higher but too many people, including me sometimes miss out on enjoying the ride in favour of reaching our ideals.

  2. Setting goals can be motivating, but when you get obsessed with them you might be being to harsh with yourself! You have so beautifully expressed this scenario ….. We forget to be thankful for what we have, and even as we set our sights on the summit of the mountain, we forget to appreciate the colourful rainbows and the beautiful scenery along the way.
    Wonderful piece Mehmudah! To be content with what we have achieved in life is better than the frustration of forever trying to reach the skies!

  3. You make some excellent points, and it is all too easy to get dragged down by striving to achieve goals that are really beyond our reach or even our genuine desire. However, I find identifying goals to be a very useful way of achieving things. Last year I gave myself a goal to write and self-publish a book in 6 months. It was a bit of a struggle but I did it and I’m sure it still wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t given myself that deadline. I think it’s a question of working out what you really want and going for it, rather than making goals you think you ought to have when your heart may not be in them. Finding contentment is surely the ultimate goal. To be happy with what you have and who you are at any given moment will mean that you don’t need to strive to be something else, and that is a wonderful situation to be in.

  4. If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    Gtdagenda .com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  5. You are very right. I don’t make resolutions either. If I do it is usually something that I know in my heart I will not stick to, like sleeping early or exercising more 🙂 The rest I know will happen, because – as you rightly say – I enjoy it and hence will make the effort anyway.

  6. At times I get this feeling that ‘setting goals’ is a fake concept. What we really want in life occupies us anyway, whether we list it down or not. Setting goals might be a good idea but being a goals-maniac isn’t wise.

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