By now, most people are coming off their eggnog high and gearing-up for the new year, which includes the annual pregame warmup of setting new goals and aspirations for a brand new season of life. Deep down inside many of us is the belief that somehow, someway, this year is going to be different from last year. Allow me to get your wheels turning with a few questions:
- What is the biggest source of frustration in your life right now?
- In which area(s) of life are you experiencing unrealized potential?
- If you weren’t afraid to make a change in one particular area of life, which would it be?
- If you could wave a magic wand over your life, what would you change first?
So how do most of us usually plan our attack of those questions?
We set goals. Lofty goals. Short-term goals. Wildest-dream goals. Seemingly insignificant goals.
But for the most part, does our goal setting work? I’d be willing to guess that it doesn’t. And it’s not because the practice of setting goals is inherently bad. Within itself, goal setting is a good thing (a really good thing). For one, it creates focus and the intention to hone our time and effort in a certain direction. But like the pull start on a snow blower in February, why then do we seem to repeat the same exercise year after year, targeting even some of the same goals as we aspired to achieve in years past?
I don’t think it’s because our best-effort goal setting tactics are working like a well-tuned engine. And I know it’s not because we possess the willpower to really make anything happen. So why (for the most part) do New Year’s resolutions absolutely fail?
Just a Bunch of Cash
Recently, I began meeting with a friend who—though very successful—said he felt that he lacked daily discipline to stay focused on the things that mattered most in life. As such, he asked me, “Can you help me set a goal of becoming more disciplined and give me a strategy to do so?”
“Sure,” I replied. “But what’s the end goal? What would be possible if you were more disciplined?” I asked. “In fact,” I added, “If you could have anything you want in life as a result of being more disciplined, what would it be?” “More money,” he stated. Confidently, he reassured me, “Not for me, though, for my family. I want to take care of them.”
Adding things up in my mind, I reasoned, more discipline + more focus on the “right things” = greater earning potential. While the rationale made sense, I knew there was a deeper issue. Continuing, I asked, “And if you had more money, what would that provide?” With assurance, he responded, “Security.” “And if you had greater security, how would that make you feel—in other words, what emotion is attached to that?” Pausing to reflect, he quietly replied, “Peace.” Smiling, I said, “Bingo. So, the pull you’re feeling right now isn’t truly for more money or security; it’s for peace.”
Misguided Motivation: Fulfilling an External Need First
Over the next two months, we worked on the pursuit of peace as an inward state of being—a place from which external circumstances couldn’t determine his internal state of well-being and couldn’t shake his identity. And it’s from that place that he would eventually feel more secure, less stressed, and believe it or not, more focused and energized on not only giving to his family, but developing his business with creativity, precision and ingenuity, which would ultimately lead to the potential of… making his business more profitable.
Here’s my point: There’s nothing wrong with having the desire for increase in life. But if the pursuit of anything external is motivated by a need to fix something on the inside (like finding peace in life or shaping your identity), the pursuit will ultimately lead to more stress. And that stress often comes from thinking and behaving as if your own willpower is enough to get the job done.
Allow me to explain.
The Wrong Source of Strength
Typically, when we endeavor to set goals, we determine what the end result looks like—what outcome we want. Next, we determine our course of action. Finally, we muster up enough willpower to take the first step. But after that first step, that willpower quickly fades. Why? Because our subconscious beliefs are nearly a million times more powerful than our conscious beliefs.
Let’s apply that reasoning to my friend’s desire for more discipline in his life. Despite his best efforts to incite change, if his belief system and internal “dialogue” said, You’re a wreck. You’re not disciplined now, nor will you ever be, no amount of purposeful goal setting on the conscious level will unlock his true potential because his internal dialogue is faulty. So, while helping him become more disciplined in order to become more financially prosperous is a noble pursuit, without fixing his internal dialogue first (the need for peace and a greater sense of personal identity), his external goal was sure to fail.
And that is precisely what most people fail to recognize.
Your soul is your mind, will and emotions, all of which function subconsciously as well as consciously. Therefore, the miscalculation that often happens within a lot of us produces incongruence between an underlying internal need in our “root system” and the pursuit of an external desire.
My friend thought a disciplined life and more money would solve his problems, but his real ache was for a shored-up identity and for peace that would resonate through every area of life. Proving that point, once we fixed the underlying issues, his business has boomed.
If you’re tracking with me, what’s the real motivation behind most goals? An internal state of well-being, whether it be happiness, peace, joy or love. It is precisely why traditional goal setting won’t last. The “silver bullet” fix is a smoke screen for a bigger issue. Most importantly, pursuing external change without corresponding internal change puts you in a constant state of stress because you’re working with the limited commodity known as “willpower.”
Call It “More With a Purpose”
Success seems like a moving target, doesn’t it? Hear me: The pursuit of “more” for the sake of more is short-lived, but the pursuit of “more” for a purpose is respectable, required and lasting. Speaking about success, Dan Cathy, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A, said, “Success is becoming the total person God wants me to be and accomplishing the goals God helps me to set for my life.” In which areas of life does this principle encompass?
All areas of life.
Therefore, my friend, ensure that your practice of setting meaningful goals comes from either a foundation of wholeness or the pursuit of wholeness in your life—mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially and relationally. Go after those audacious goals, but know that as you pursue “more with purpose,” the fulfillment of your goals should reach far beyond yourself and touch the lives of those around you.
This article originally appeared on chriscookis.com.