It took me about 27 years to realise that goal setting was bad for me.  Every New Years Eve I would dutifully put together the most immense set of goals you’ve ever seen.  Then I would break it down into 90-day plans and monthly and weekly and daily plans.  I was the very best at goal setting!  However, I’d then be so disappointed when I only achieved about half of them – which was still about ten times more than the average person did.  But that didn’t matter, my obsessions with goals meant that I had failed.  And that created significant challenges in my life and a workaholic mindset.

Are my goals creating failure?

It wasn’t until I met my counsellor when she asked me to do an experiment.  She set out two quoits (those sticks in the ground that you chuck rings over) and then asked me how many out of the four rings I had that I wanted to get over the spike.  I replied, four of course.  She then turned to my then-husband and asked him.  He said that he would be pleased to get one over the spike.  That alone surprised me as I always thought that everyone always targeted the highest possibility of success.  She then asked us to throw our rings over the spike.  I got three of the four over the spike and was really disappointed.  My ex-husband threw two of the four over the spike and was super pleased with himself. 

It was the best wake-up call to understanding the immense pressure that I used to put myself under.

So fast forward twenty plus years, and I see clients with those same beliefs about goals – or no goals at all.  Each time I tell them my story about the quoits they always ask the same thing – but does life without goals mean you are floating in life?

Vision versus Goals

My answer is no, definitely not. Because what I now focus on is creating a vision for my life that I move towards.  Past experience has shown me that it’s not the “things” that I used to think would give me happiness, but what I was craving was contentment and fun in my life.  Therefore, my vision is about creating a picture in my mind of what I want and how I will feel when I get it. 

Focusing on my vision also means that I widen my goal posts.  Rather than being narrow and rigid in my focus, it allows me to be more creative as I flow towards the goal and allow other things to come into the picture that I might never have considered.  Rather than being so focussed on the goal that I am blind to the other options presented to me. 

Because the focus is on how I feel, my vision aligns me with the feeling of achieving a healthy life, rather than focussing on achieving “things”.  By default it means that I start living my life by tapping into what feels right for me- and what truly makes me happy.

How do I define my vision?

The easiest way to do this is to play with what you want.  Because it takes time to work out a vision that works.

A useful way to start this process is to sit down with an A4 page and draw a line down the middle of the page.  On the left hand side write down ‘What I DON’T Want’, and on the right hand side, “What I DO want’.  

Step 1: What do I want my life to look like?

Then think about what you want your life to look and feel like five years from now.  And ask yourself the following questions and then write the answers into one of the two columns depending on whether it’s what you want or don’t want:

  • What would my life look like in five years time?
  • What sorts of things would I be doing?
  • How would I be having fun?
  • Who would be important in my life?
  • What types of people do you want to surround yourself with?
  • What gives you a sense of purpose?
  • What do you love doing in life?

To ensure that you have an overall vision, think about the different areas of your life and apply the same questions to key areas such as: love/relationships, family, friends, home, work, social, hobbies, sports, and any other areas that are important to you.

Step 2: Use the Concept of Contrast to Get a Better Picture of What You Want

Don’t panic too much if your list is bigger in the ‘what I DON”T want’ column, because the second part of this exercise is to look at that list and then ask for each item, ‘so what do I want instead of that?’

For example, if you say ‘I don’t want to live some where cold’, then you would reframe that as ‘I want to live somewhere warm’ or ‘I want to live somewhere tropical’, etc.

Step 3: Create the Picture

Once you have your list, you will be in a better place to create a picture in your head of what your vision is.  Simplify the picture so that ideally, it’s a freeze frame picture that encapsulates everything in your life.  Once you have the picture, tune into how you will feel in those different areas of your life when you have it.  Then write those feelings down.

Step 4: Practise Tuning Into Your Vision

To bring your vision alive, you need to practise seeing it in your head and feeling into it!  You want to be so clear in your vision that you know exactly how it’s going to feel being there.  Then everything is about moving towards that feeling.

What I mean by that is that every decision should be aligned with your vision – and in particular how it feels.  So, it might not necessarily match your vision, but it matches the feeling your vision gives you.  For example, if you see the house you want to live in and it gives you a feeling of safety and cosiness – does it really matter what suburb it’s in?  As long as it provides the same feeling you want it could be something to move towards.

Ideally, every question you have in life should be answered by your vision.  Keep tuning in and fine tuning your vision – it takes practise. If you haven’t got something covered, go back to whether the feeling fits with your overall vision.

Don’t forget that your vision may change as you change and as life changes around you.  And that’s a good thing because as you get better at defining what you want, you move towards what makes you happy.  On the flip side, sometimes you realise that what you thought you wanted, isn’t actually it.  So, keep fine tuning the vision until it works!