Dec2017: How Goals Hold You Back

by Brad on November 29, 2017

“In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold into it.” – Ben & Roz Zander, The Art of Possibility

You know the story: “You’ve got to have goals. They’ve got to be big. And you’ve got to achieve them. I mean, how else will you be a success in life? You’d be lazy or unproductive without them.” This story is so pervasive it’s like the air we breathe. Only after blindly living this story for 30 years did I stop long enough to realize that holding myself to goals had left me totally stressed, and that when I did achieve a goal, all I felt was relief! Something was very wrong.

This and a few other life events led me to become a student of how and why we do what we do. As the inquiry relates to goals, here’s my conclusion: Goals hold you back. Controversial as it may seem, here’s evidence for my claim:

  • goals limit the very possibility you’re seeking. Defining an outcome beforehand narrows your thinking, blinding you to different choices along the way, so you actually miss other, often bigger, possibilities that materialize.
  • goals create negative energy.  The very nature of a goal makes it an expectation to live up to, obligating you to push yourself toward its achievement – a source of self-judgment and stress (creating even more negative energy).
  • goals deny you the experience of the present. By fixating energy and consciousness on a point in the future, you miss “right now” altogether, thereby losing sight of the fact that “right now” is the only thing you can experience.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of a full and productive life. But I’m also in favor of a life of meaning, peace, joy and inspiration. (Force and stress don’t lead so well to these things.) What’s the alternative; how do you have it all?

The environment in which we live is a constantly-shifting platform. When you “get there,” the future won’t look like it appears today. It may even render your goals obsolete or meaningless. Being open to possibility along the way is a far more productive strategy than setting a goal. So look at what inspires you. If you want to do it, you don’t need a goal. If you don’t want to do it, chances are a goal can’t make you! Learn how to “become your inspiration,” a source of free energy already inside you. Possibilities are everywhere; only your consciousness determines if you notice them. The more inspired you are, the more you see. Frame your future in a way that evokes your inspiration. Release the stress and judgment. As Ben & Roz Zander say, “life is a possibility to live into, not an expectation to live up to.”

Examples Goal/Expectation Inspiration/Possibility
lose 15 pounds by April exercise often and eat healthfully
get a college degree by 2019 be a life-long learner
save $xxx. for my child’s college create a sustainable financial life

Notice that by living in “possibility” instead of in “expectation,” your energy is sustainable, perhaps for a life-time, (not just until April), allowing you to blow right by your intended goal, achieving far more yet with far less energy.

Exercise: Play pretend for a half hour a few times a week. Let go of what you think “should be.” Imagine instead what “could be.” Imagine big, so it evokes what inspires you. Find that energy. Get to know it. Let it guide you. It will. Then take one purposeful step into your inspiration each day. Just try it out. With each step: stop, listen, feel, ponder. Allow your experience of yourself to teach you. Do it again. Life is what you put into it, not what you expect to get out of it.

Life lessons from nature: Winter is approaching here in New England. Like clockwork, it’s preceded by all manner of complaint. If you listen, you’d think nature has a specific, and sinister, goal to ruin three months of our lives each year. It’s that unconscious goal-oriented thinking, run amok, but in reverse. All the while, nature’s way is one of inspiration and possibility instead: refreshing and renewing life through natural rhythms and cycles. Which do you find inspiring?

Book of the month: Courageous Dreaming, by Alberto Villoldo. We possess levels of consciousness far deeper than what we need to handle an ordinary day. Learning to tap them, we evoke our innate potential to create a world we love. Villoldo helps open you to natural, and expanded, ways of seeing, to the point of “dreaming your world into being.” Powerful. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


Download December 2017 pdf

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Elaine Johnson November 30, 2017 at 7:27 am

I reposted your message here Brad to FB to share with friends. Both of us share the legacy of a “goal-driven” childhood. I remember my Dad telling my brother to go up to his room and come down with a goal. HA. I didn’t need any prodding as I was a starch pinafore goal driven perfectionist. Too many decades later I came to realize the neurosis of this behavior. Setting expectations can be a trap, especially when they are not realistically shared by others. Thanks for another thought provoking message.
Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.
In light of this post, I have very few expectations for Christmas except spreading love and peace.


Deb Busser November 30, 2017 at 10:17 am

Love this post, Brad. I’ll be thinking of the re-frame of what ‘should be’ to what ‘could be’. Possibility feels so much better than expectation!


Arianna Alexsandra Collins December 9, 2017 at 8:11 pm

Oh wow! This article is juicy with quotes! I shall be scheduling FB posts on Offerings for Community Building and linking to this article. Thanks, Brad! Miss you!


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