Have you ever set a goal or made a decision, such as a New Year’s resolution, and not achieved it? Do you set similar goals each year, each time determined you will finally succeed? If that’s the case, then maybe it’s a part or inner self of yours setting your goals, but those goals may not be what you really want.
Discover how to get a clearer picture of what goals are right for you, and you will be far more likely to achieve them.
W hen deciding on what kinds of goals to set, such as setting New Year’s resolutions, you probably consider all the things you would like to achieve or change in your life.
For instance, if your body is no longer looking as trim as it was a decade ago, one of your goals might be to lose weight and begin an exercise programme.
If you are struggling financially, then you might set a resolution to expand your wealth/income/investments/financial knowledge.
If you work as a salesperson, one of your goals might be to meet higher sales targets.
If you are single, one of your goals might be to meet someone to start a relationship with.
If you are a parent, you might decide to spend more quality time with your children.
The reason we want to make changes in our lives is because we want to live our lives better than we have been living them, and also because we believe we should be living our lives in a better or different way.
The word ‘should’ is one of the keys to why most people find it difficult to achieve the goals they set for themselves, and it is why people make the same New Year’s resolutions year after year.
Who in You Sets Your Goals?
The word ‘should’ is a word used by your primary self, which is that part of your whole self that you identify with most of the time, and which has particular rules, values and ideas about what kind of person you ought to be. (It works closely with your Inner Critic who compares you to others and sets benchmarks for you).
For example, if your primary self is achievement-oriented in the world of business and it wants to be successful in that world, then one of its values would be to have you achieve whatever it is that is required of someone who is successful in your line of business. So your ‘shoulds’ would involve things like meeting certain sales targets, growing your business/department, increasing your company’s share value, and so on. And you would set goals from this high-achieving business self of yours.
Your primary self might also be concerned with appearing attractive, healthy and well-groomed, and if you have been on a holiday, eating and drinking more than you normally would, with little exercise involved, then you might set a resolution to diet and eat healthily after you realise you no longer fit into your pre-holiday clothing. You may even look back to how you appeared before you went away and believe that you were not as attractive as you could have been, and so you plan a serious lifestyle change.
When Goals are Set by Your Disowned Self
Sometimes, however, goals and resolutions are set by your disowned self, which includes the inner aspects of yourself that you repress and do not allow into your life – or your ‘shadow self’ as it is sometimes called.
So, for example, if you have a work-focused self as your primary self, then one of the goals on your list might be opposite to the kind of goal your work-focused self would make, such as to take time out to do a yoga teacher training course, to rest and go fishing, to go on an extended holiday, maybe even to take a year off and write a novel.
At the time of setting such a goal, you would probably feel excited and enthusiastic, as if you had discovered a new path or a better way to live your life.
The excitement and determination to achieve your goal would propel you to research how you might achieve it, you might talk to your friends and family about it, you might daydream about it.
Why People Struggle to Achieve Goals
But what often happens is that after the initial excitement wears off, such as when you return to work after a weekend during which you set a goal, your work-oriented primary self also returns to control your psyche and says: “You want to go on a holiday? Time off? You’re kidding! You can’t afford a holiday (not if you want to send your kids to that private school) and you have no time! You’re not going anywhere until you achieve x, y and z.”
Before you know it, a whole year has gone by (again) and it occurs to you that you need to take a break and so you set a new goal for that holiday…
The other thing that can happen is that you might not achieve the goals your high-achieving primary self sets for you either. You might start out fully motivated to improve your sales targets, but as you set out on that path, distractions get in the way.
You find yourself suffering more headaches than usual, or just plain tiredness. You sit at your phone, intending to make a certain number of calls but suddenly calling your mother, sister and cousin seem more important and you tell yourself that you’ll make up for it the next day. After a few months you look back and realise that much hasn’t changed. You’ve achieved what was necessary but there aren’t that many ticks on your resolutions list.
And if you are someone who often sets, for instance, a New Year’s resolution to start a healthy lifestyle, you probably start each new year doing all the right things but soon find yourself sitting in front of the television with a bucket of ice-cream and a bag of popcorn.
These scenarios are common. They occur because it is not us that decides what we want for ourselves. One part of us sets a particular goal, and another self resists it, or even outright sabotages it. We get stuck in the middle and find all sorts of excuses for not doing the things one self has determined we ‘should’ do, yet we also can’t do the opposite with full commitment.
If we do follow the wishes of one self wholeheartedly and ignore the desires of opposite selves, then we can suffer symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, body aches and stiffness, which are our unexpressed selves making themselves heard through our body, or we feel anxiety or guilt or suffer low self esteem because we were not able to achieve ‘our’ goals.
Set Goals with Greater Consciousness
The solution is to set your goals with more consciousness. So rather than accepting without discrimination an idea that you have about what you ought to do, first get in touch with the opposite way of thinking or feeling.
Question the rule that feels so certain. Spend time sitting with an idea before acting on it. Allow time for other parts of you to make their way to your conscious awareness and to have their say.
Also listen to what other people around you are saying – for if you feel completely certain about something, chances are someone will come into your life who will express a totally opposite viewpoint. Take what this person says or does seriously, particularly if you react to it strongly, for this indicates you are currently identified with a self and its viewpoint, and have no consciousness about that or of the opposites functioning within you.
Delay Setting Goals
Contrary to what is often advised regarding goal setting, which is to act quickly on an idea, I would suggest to not act.
We all know or have heard of someone who bought a house on a whim because it felt 100% right at the time but then later discovered that it didn’t suit them or was riddled with expensive-to-fix problems.
We’ve all had the experience of shopping and finding an outfit that we felt was so perfect for us, only to bring it home and realise we will never wear it.
You will save far more time, money and energy in the long run if, before you decide to act, you take the time to consider, to ponder what you are drawn to acting on.
It may even mean that one of your new goals or resolutions is to not set any goals or resolutions but to explore some options, to allow yourself to be in a state of not-striving-to-reach-any-particular-goal, but instead to listen inside to the different parts of yourself and to see if you can get in touch with a deeper sense of what is right for you.
You can do this process both with small issues you are considering making decisions about or larger ones.
By allowing yourself to not act, you might even find that new options become available to you, options that you had not previously considered and which could take your life in a direction that satisfies you far more deeply than the original goal you wanted to achieve would have allowed for.
Goal Setting Awareness Exercise
- Write down or key into your computer all the goals you would like to achieve for yourself. Write each one on a separate piece of paper or on a new page on your word processor.
- Then after each goal write the reactions you have about it. Give yourself time to allow any reactions to come to your awareness. Some might be supportive of your goal and some might be against it.
- Review what you have written and you will have a fuller awareness of how the various parts of you – your various selves – feel and think about each goal. Make a decision about each goal if you wish to, but remember to hold onto the opposite viewpoints. Don’t push them away, but take them on the journey with you – just as you would take a toddler to a supermarket even though she would prefer to go to the park.
If you are not sure about what to do, then wait. Just sit with the issue.
Maybe you need more information, maybe you need more time to become aware of what feels best for you.
Keep doing what you have been doing in regard to your resolution, and be mindful of the thoughts and feelings that arise within you as you do this. Then explore those thoughts and feelings.
Enjoy the process.
The Goal With Goals
Fulfilment in life comes not so much from setting goals and being able to stick with them, but from discovering more of yourself and what is important to you so that you can move in a direction in your life which will bring you greater fulfilment.
One year that might involve learning to stick to a goal, but another year it might mean unhooking from an old rule that says you ought to achieve a particular goal.
If you feel the need to achieve a particular goal, then go ahead and do it, but at the same time stay open to discovering why you feel such certainty about that goal. Re-evaluate it as you go about achieving it and be open to changing direction.
Consider where the rules about your goal come from. Who set them? Have you chosen those rules or has someone else? Will the achievement of that goal work for you and the kind of life you want to experience? What are the alternatives?
If you have setbacks as you pursue your goal, be gentle on yourself. The old saying about it being the journey that counts is true – it’s all a journey!
If you approach the setting of goals in this way, you’ll find that you’ll feel better about any resolutions you set for yourself – even if you don’t achieve them. And in the process you’ll keep enhancing your understanding and acceptance of yourself, and you’ll start to naturally gravitate towards the kinds of life experiences that matter to you.
Learn about 45 selves of the human psyche and discover which ones run your life and set your goals in Which Self Are You?