Goals: Great for Sports, Lousy for Life – Part 2

In this series, we will make the case against goals and goal setting. Why? Because the commonly taught practice of writing down your goal and working a plan toward its achievement generally does not produce the desired outcome. More importantly, you will be given a better alternative to goals and goal setting. 

In the articles that follow, we will work through… 

Many of the problems with the goal and goal-setting paradigm offered by leaders in the self-help industry for decades

An alternative to goals that will 

  • Help you achieve what you want to achieve at your own pace, not according to some arbitrary timeline (which includes a way to pick up the pace if you want to!)
  • Not invite you to think less of yourself if things begin to seem “off track” 
  • Give you a sense that the sky is the limit and that, in the grand scheme of things, accomplishing what you want to accomplish is no big deal
  • Never again leave you feeling guilty about not achieving what you say you want to achieve
  • Include the most powerful way to give yourself permission to accomplish far more than you ever thought possible

Be patient! Each installment represents an important piece of the puzzle.

So, did you read Part 1? If so, did you try to think of a few reasons why goals are great for games but lousy for life? I hope so because, in this installment, we will add some dimension to our anti-goal-setting outlook by considering this topic through the prism of sports. 

Much has been said about how much sports can teach us about life. But we don’t hear so much about how sports are not like real life. Regarding goals, here are at least three ways in which sports are not at all analogous with the bigger picture of “real life.” 

David Madison / Getty Images
  1. When a goal is achieved in sports, the ball or puck stops… and often becomes entangled in a net.
  2. When a goal is achieved in sports, the entire game stops, and the action does not resume until there is some kind of reset.
  3. When a goal is achieved in sports, at least half of the participants in the contest were actively striving to prevent that outcome.

Those are all goal/sports elements that do not transfer very well as an analogy to real-life accomplishment. That said, all too often, it happens by default. 

What do I mean by that? 

First, when and if a goal is achieved, it is not uncommon to feel a little stuck, not knowing what to do next. Moreover, a person pursuing a goal can get hyper-focused on bursting into the figurative endzone, so much so that a healthy perspective on other essential things gets misplaced. For a game, that’s okay! But for playing the game of life, not so much. 

Second, when and if a goal is achieved, time is lost while a new plan with new goals is formulated and laid out.

And third, the “sports is like life” metaphor invites us to see goals and goal achievement as a competition. It is no wonder that some people adopt the attitude that anyone and anything getting in the way of the goal is seen as an opponent or even an enemy. And that is not productive.

In short, goals belong in sports, not in real life. Not all sporting terms and concepts are reliable metaphors for life accomplishment. “Goal” is one of them.

When you achieve a goal in real life, there’s no pause. Time does not stand still while you get set to continue the struggle in hopes of scoring yet another goal. And the rest of the world isn’t waiting for you to do so.

That’s the bad news, but the good news is that, unlike in sports, you don’t have actual opponents seeking to undermine your efforts to achieve great things. And if others achieve their goals, your status as a winner is never threatened. In real life, unlike in sports, everyone can win the game because the only genuine opponent is a self-defeating mindset. 

If you say this is all about semantics, you’re right! Words mean things. If you’re serious about accomplishing things that are meaningful to you, my advice is to avoid words and concepts that carry negative baggage. This would include terms such as “goals” and “goal setting” – words with more than one definition and where at least one of those definitions elicits limiting or negative imagery, such as the three sports-related ones mentioned above. 

Yes, there is an excellent alternative to goals and goal setting! It is centered around a real-life metaphor that works so much better. Soon, we will begin taking a look at that better alternative.

But first, more must be said about semantics. In the next installment, we will more definitively answer the nay-sayers who insist this whole criticism of goals and goal setting is nothing more than a petty pick-apart of word choice. You may believe that offering alternatives to goals and goal setting is like saying “six” instead of “a half dozen,” but it’s not. You’ll see.  

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