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Meaningfully Pursuing Goals

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The American philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals”.

If you type “achieving goals” into Google, approximately 190 million results are produced in one second. There are many logical approaches to achieving goals such as the SMART approach – i.e. ensuring goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. With so much information and documented advice readily available on this subject, you would think that achieving goals shouldn’t be so hard. Unfortunately, we know this isn’t the case.

A piece that can often be missing in the pursuit of a goal is that goal lacking real meaning. Consider a goal you are either currently working towards or perhaps one you are contemplating pursuing. How important is achieving this particular goal to you? What impact will it have on your life and perhaps also on the lives of those around you? Have you a clear vision of how your life will be improved by achieving this desired outcome? If a goal is not at least an 8 out of 10 in terms of being very meaningful, then why waste time pursuing it? We all have enough demands on our time as it is. How much time do we waste pursing goals that are simply not meaningful enough for us? Time is a very precious commodity so why waste it pursuing something that isn’t meaningful.

I believe that the meaning you attach to a goal should also extend to being present on the journey of trying to achieve it. Attaching real meaning and importance to enjoying and being truly present in the daily behaviour of pursuing your goal is not only critical to achieving it but it’s fundamentally essential for reaping the real benefit of the whole process.

As an example, take a goal that is very common such as losing some weight. While the goal of actually losing “x” number of pounds might feel important, I would suggest in reality it is actually somewhat irrelevant. If, over the course of pursuing this goal, you begin to enjoy the process and the benefits of the required behaviour (e.g. doing some exercise, eating better, being more hydrated and getting better sleep), then you will not only reach your goal but you will in all likelihood surpass it. More importantly, by being present in and enjoying this new behaviour you will dramatically shift your lifestyle, embed these new behaviours and so empower yourself to live a healthy life that is sustained by new habits as opposed to trying to summon huge amounts of willpower and discipline.

This requires a slight shift in mindset from “doing” to “being”. So being in the moment of your activity and enjoying this versus feeling like you are “doing” lots of tasks to arrive at a future point in time when you have lost some weight. This shifting from “doing” to “being” can be difficult as you embark on the journey of trying to achieve a goal. However from experience, I know with some conscious effort and focused attention, it does get easier over time.

If a goal is not particularly meaningful, then chances are the consequences of not pursing or achieving it is quite low. Having a little urgency, stress and some fear surrounding the consequences of not pursing a goal can be very beneficial. In the context of a goal you are considering, ask yourself what are the consequences if nothing changes? There may be consequences for you and there may also be consequences for others such as family members or work colleagues.

To revisit the words of Henry David Thoreau, my experience tells me (both personally and from working with clients) that what we get by achieving our goals is not as important as what we become by MEANINGFULLY PURSUING them.

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