The practice of setting goals has probably been around forever, but reached prominence a few decades ago. In the ‘70s every business, every government department and every solo professional was admonished to set annual goals and long-term goals. It was preached as the only way to achieve success.
In the past decade, goal setting has again arisen to popular prominence, this time in the guise of practicing the law of attraction. And it works.
In 1979 at Christmas time, I resigned my tenured teaching position at the University of Guelph. I had always lived in southern Ontario. Now I was about to be unemployed and I was going through a divorce. So I decided to set some personal goals. I wrote down ten goals and put them in a binder.
I decided to be fanciful and outrageous in my goal setting. One of my goals was that I would fly across the continent in my own airplane. Another goal was that I would “live with my family in a contemplative setting overlooking the ocean.” The ocean? I had only seen an ocean a couple of times.
I dutifully read my goals daily and felt what it would be like to achieve them. Then I lost interest and put the binder away.
Fifteen years later I stumbled across the old binder and, to my amazement, six of the ten goals had been achieved. I had owned a couple of airplanes and flown to Cape Cod and Tofino. At that time I was living with my wife in our home on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Wow! This stuff works!
But then I asked the question, “So what?” I realized that I had long since stopped setting goals, not because the process didn’t work, but because when I reach a goal, it is never an answer. It just led to the question of – what next?
However, the alternative of not setting goals could mean drifting through life. Not setting goals could make a person a victim of life, rather than a creator of life.
“Can you get the benefits of goal setting
without setting goals?”
So the real question for me became the following: When you don’t yet know your life purpose, is there some way of getting the important benefits of goal setting without actually setting goals?
What I decided on was a life direction, rather than any specific goals. It had to be a direction that fit with where I was and that I could pursue with passion. I also recognized that my direction would probably continue to shift over time. I have pretty much stuck to choosing life direction over goals for the past 20 years, and it has worked well for me and for others who have adopted the approach.
Having a clear direction is a way of staying in charge of creating your life and not being a victim of life. And you’re not locked into fixed goals, which might turn out to detract from your life direction.
I’ve found that setting a life direction is much easier than figuring out what goals to pursue or identifying your life purpose. It doesn’t matter if your direction is a little off, because you keep adjusting it.
Life is full of choices and having a life direction makes it easier to make those decisions. With anything that comes along and requires a decision, there are three questions to ask.
Does it feel right?
Does it support or contribute to my life direction?
If it requires action, can I pursue it with passion?
Using your life direction as a lens through which to view your choices is a great tool for assuring a purposeful life.
Dr. Neill Neill is a registered psychologist in Qualicum Beach. He helps capable people who feel stuck… trauma, relationships, addictions.