The One Reason You Should Not Set Goals This Year

Filed in The Writing Life by on January 6, 2015 • views: 2280

goalsThere are a lot of blog posts published at this time of year telling us how to set goals.

It’s rather of a useless activity, though, if you’re doing it simply because you think you should, or because everyone else is doing it, or because you did it last year.

When we set goals, we do so with the intention of making our dreams come true. If your heart isn’t in it, the task is likely to do little but waste your time.

The question you need to ask yourself is this: Do I need to set goals this year?

There’s an easy way to answer that question. Bear with me while I explain what that is.

It involves the story of three individuals and their outlook on the year to come.

Just for fun, let’s call them Dick, Jane, and Spot.

Dick Likes the “Idea” of Setting Goals

Dick has all the best intentions. Most years, he sets one single goal for himself. He doesn’t write it down, but commits it to memory by making it rhyme. “I’ll get lean and mean in 2015” is an example of a goal Dick might set.

Dick thinks about this goal only sporadically. If he finds it difficult to come up with something that a) is a real goal, and b) rhymes with the year, he soon abandons the process. Some years, he fails to come up with a goal at all.

Most years, though, Dick does decide on a rhyming resolution. Acting on it is another matter. He usually does little to follow through on it. He remembers with wistful pride one year when he actually did experience some success, but that was many years ago.

The result? Dick’s life stays the same, year to year, for the most part. He talks about things he’d like to change, but those changes rarely materialize. It’s only when life circumstances intervene to make him change—such as losing a job, for example—that he responds.

Dick is an example of a person who imagines himself improving his life, but actually changes only when acted upon.

Jane Doesn’t Set Goals At All

When I asked Jane about her New Year’s resolutions, or goals for 2015, she just shook her head.

Nope. She doesn’t set goals.

Never has. Never will.

Jane’s life rarely changes. For the most part, she likes it that way. She hates change. The only time she’s changed her life is when she’s been forced to.

When the owner sold the house she was renting, for example, she was forced to move. When she lost her job, she was forced to find a new one. But Jane doesn’t cause change to happen in her life.

Instead, Jane complains. She whines about the wages she earns at work. They’re too low for her skill set, she says, but she fails to ask for a raise, or to look for a higher-paying job. She doesn’t like how she’s gained thirty pounds over the last ten years, but she doesn’t plan to do anything about it. She’s experiencing more aches and pains in her joints, but refuses to consider stretching exercises or changes to her diet that may help.

Jane is an example of a person who feels she’s a victim of life’s circumstances, and like Dick, changes only when acted upon.

Spot Sets One Goal—And Goes After It

When I asked Spot about his goals for the new year, he answered clearly and immediately—he plans to make significant improvements to his home.

This is typical behavior from Spot. He usually has one thing in his life that he’d really like to change. He focuses on that one thing until he finds an answer, and then moves forward to make it happen. Sometimes it takes more than a year, but he gets results.

Spot has already taken action toward his goal. He’s hired workers to clear out the unwanted trees growing wild on his land. He’s moved and restored some of the outbuildings to a better location. And he’s finalized plans to lease some of his acreage.

Spot is an example of a person who sees what he wants to change, and then causes that change to happen.

The Answer to the Question

Do you need to set goals this year?

To easily answer this question, ask yourself another:

Is there anything in your life you want to change?

If you answered “no,” everything in your life is exactly how you want it to be. There’s nothing you’re dissatisfied with. You’re happy with your work, your family, your relationships, your leisure time, your health, your finances, and anything else you can think about.

In other words, your life is perfect.

If this describes you, congratulations! You don’t need to set goals this year. Enjoy the ideal life you have.

If you did come up with something—or more than one thing—you want to change, though, your answer to the question above is a resounding YES!

Goals = Motivation

Why, if you want something in your life to change, do you need to set a goal?

Because goals motivate you to cause the change you want to see.

I’ve read several articles bemoaning goal-setting this year. Some people have given up on the idea—probably because they’ve failed to cause change to happen, and feel discouraged.

I think sometimes we lose sight of what goals are really for.

Goals are all about motivating yourself.

If you’re content to be like Jane and keep your life exactly the same—until outside circumstances force you to act—you don’t need to set goals.

But if you want something to change, you have to motivate yourself to cause that change.

And that’s where goals come in.

Goals are motivation.

Writing down a goal helps you see it clearly. Writing down the action steps you need to take to reach that goal helps you see how you might actually accomplish it. Setting deadlines for those action steps increases your odds of succeeding.

With each step in the process, you motivate yourself to act.

And it’s only with action that we make change happen.

Causing Change to Happen

Let’s say you didn’t sell as many books as you wanted to last year. The change you want to see happen is to sell more books this year. How many more? Once you determine that, you’ve got your goal:

I’d like to sell five thousand books this year.

Setting the goal isn’t enough, however, as we illustrated with Dick’s story. You need to follow through with a plan of action to cause the change. Fortunately, creating that plan is easy, too. All you have to do is ask yourself another question.

How will I sell five thousand books this year?

List all the ways you can influence book sales, the action steps you’ll need to take, and a deadline for each of those steps, and you’re well on your way to causing the change you want in your life.

A Year is a Long Time

If you have other ways to motivate yourself, don’t worry about setting goals. But remember—a year is a long time.

Without a clear, visible goal in front of you—and a plan to accompany it—your good intentions in January may be forgotten by April. Without the focus a goal provides, you’re more likely to drift aimlessly, reducing your chances of causing any change to your life at all.

Still unsure? Ask yourself one more question: How badly do you want to change your life?

The answer to that question may be the most motivating of all.

Will you set goals this year? Do you find they work for you? Please share your thoughts.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Chere Hagopian says:

    I usually write out 25 or so goals that I often can’t remember by the end of January and laugh at when I look at them at the end of the year as I consider my next set of resolutions. This year I’m sticking to one big goal, and hopefully that one goal will affect all of the other areas of life that need changing.

    My yearly list of 25-ish ludicrous goals has actually helped me to improve a little, if only because it forces me to take stock of what needs changing. Even if I don’t remember the goals (and I don’t), I remember a fair number of the problems and work on them. So it was a little bit worthwhile.

    • Colleen says:

      Wow! That is a lot of goals! I’ll be interested to hear how it goes with the one big goal—if that works better for you.

  2. Paula says:

    I don’t think I’d call Jane “content,” actually. But I get your point about focus and action steps toward a goal. This time of year a lot of goals are resolutions, and these often involve getting rid of a habit or forming a new one. Do you think the approach to that is different from the approach to remodeling a house or finding a better job?

    • Colleen says:

      Perhaps you’re right, though in this scenario, Jane’s not “discontent” enough to make a change—and sometimes it seems we need to get really uncomfortable before we take action. Great thought on the resolutions/goals potential difference. I think one can use the same approach—the key is wanting to make a change. Whatever that change is—to stop smoking, for example—can be turned into a goal (or resolution), and you can break it down into action steps, such as checking with a doctor, reducing your number of cigarettes per day, etc. Sometimes if we think in terms of resolutions—i.e., “I will stop smoking,”—it may sound too overwhelming, whereas if we think in terms of change—I’d like to change my smoking habits—perhaps we are better able to follow through? Open to other thoughts! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Karen says:

    I will most definitely set goals because I’m a compulsive goal setter who loves the whole process of thinking about and working on goals all year long!

    • Colleen says:

      Ha ha. I’m with you, Karen. Love the process of making things happen! Especially when the results turn out surprisingly good. :O)