Goal focus – good or bad?

By John Shackleton on June 20, 2017 in Blog
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I’ve been a goal setter for more than 30 years. Like many of you I’ve always had a major goal that drives me, something I’m passionate about and dedicated to achieving. At times I’ve focused on the financial side of my life, other times it’s been the physical side. Sometimes it’s been my swimming, sometimes my business, sometimes my health and sometimes my relationships.

Recently however I’ve changed things a little!!!

Now, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting there’s something wrong with having goals. I think it’s really important that we know where we’re going in life, because if we don’t, we probably won’t like where we end up!

However I do believe that some of us occasionally approach goal setting in a way that has the potential to harm us.

If you’re a dedicated goal setter then you may have experienced a time when you’ve become obsessive. So inspired by, and focused on, your goal that it becomes all consuming and takes over your life. Some of the athletes I’ve worked with have become so obsessive about winning that they neglect the people or the things that also matter to them. Some of them focus so hard on their goal that they become completely out of balance and are extremely difficult to live with.

Some of the business and sales people I’ve worked with have also taken a similar route, becoming so fixated on achieving their own goal that they lose sight of everything else around them. Goal obsessive business people often forget the needs of their clients because they are striving to achieve something within their own business. Goal obsessive sales people can become so inward facing and so ego driven that they aren’t nice to be around and can end up repelling prospects rather than attracting them.

What happens when we become goal obsessed is that we live our lives in the future rather than in the present. We think thoughts like:

‘Life will be great when …….
I’ll be happy when …….
Things will be perfect when …….’

Goal obsession is all about the destination rather than the journey. We become rooted in the future and forget to enjoy the present. If you think about it, all goals are about creating happiness for ourselves. We believe that when we’ve earned the money, bought the car, won the race, regained our fitness or found that special partner then we’ll be happy.  This has always been my approach, but my recent forays into MINDFULNESS has shown there are different, more positive ways to achieve goals and be HAPPY!

Unfortunately happiness doesn’t happen in the future.  Happiness is a NOW thing. When you’ve finally earned the money and bought the new car, you may be happy but only FOR A SHORT WHILE. Within a few weeks that happiness will fade and the new car will be just like the old one. Full of used coffee cups, needing a service and expensive to fill with fuel. Even though it’s a great thing to achieve, in the long run buying a new car won’t make you happy!

I’ll always remember the summer of my 21st year. It was after University and before my first job and I spent the entire 3 months as a garbage collector emptying household rubbish bins to earn enough money to buy my first car. By the end of the summer I’d achieved my goal but I remember very little about buying, owning or driving that car. What I do remember though is the fantastic time I had doing all the hard work and making big sacrifices so that I could achieve my dream. I vividly remember the massive sense of achievement I got every Friday paying my wages into my bank account and watching the total grow. It’s the journey that makes us happy not the destination because happiness only happens in the NOW.

At that time I was task or action obsessive rather than goal obsessive. I had a goal but I was completely focused on doing the day-to-day work necessary for the achievement of the goal and constantly thinking about my financial progress. Psychologically there’s a huge difference between the two approaches but let’s think of it this way: Goal obsession is focused in the FUTURE whereas action obsession is focused in the NOW.

I know from past experience that when I’m goal focused I live my life in the future and become difficult to deal with. Focusing on the future makes me turn inward and I stop considering others and how I can help them. However, when I become action or task focused, I am always trying to do the best job I can for others and so I’m more considerate of their needs.

What about you? Are there times when you’ve become goal obsessed, focused on the future and not IN THE NOW? Do you find yourself looking inward all the time, ignoring the needs of others, focused on yourself and your own achievements? When you experience this situation what do you do about it?

As Deepak Chopra says, we need to have goals but once we’ve set them we need to lose our attachment to them and turn our attention onto the activities that will create them. The key for me is once I’ve set the goal I immediately create the action plan for its achievement. I ask myself the question ‘what consistent activity do I need to do every day in order to achieve my goal?’ I then focus all my attention on the activity, only occasionally looking up to see if I’m making the progress towards the goal.

Try it – it could bring you more happiness and it might make you easier to live with too!  And if you like to learn more about mindfulness and how to incorporate it into your life to reduce your stress and boost your results then click here.

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John ShackletonView all posts by John Shackleton