Why Setting Goals Isn’t Always the Secret to Success
Feeling like you’ve achieved success can make all the hard work worth it, whether you’re hustling on your own business or owning your role on a team. Are you feeling stuck or lost on how to reach your next milestone? Sasha Heinz, a psychologist and life coach who focuses on emotional and behavioral change, recently reminded us that growth and achievement require much more than simply setting some goals. Your values, relationship with fear and failure, and the questions you ask yourself along the way all have a big impact.
Brit + Co: We’ve always relied on goals to point us in the right direction. When do you think setting goals is useful, and when, if ever, can they cause harm?
Sasha Heinz: Goals are important because knowing where you’d like to go is useful when setting out on a journey. But too often goals are something people do to themselves as they doggedly try to outrun their shame, rather than something they do for themselves to grow, develop, and challenge themselves to their edge.
When I work with overachievers, I ask them to wait on setting a big goal until after we’ve spent a significant amount of time exploring and identifying their 10 core values (what I call Vital Values). Think about it like this: If your goal is the destination, then your values are the navigation system. Life is unpredictable, and you may not arrive at the exact location you pinned on the map, but if you’re following your Vital Value Navigation System, you’ll like and respect the person you grow into no matter where you end up and — trust me — you’re far more likely to enjoy the ride.
B+C: In addition to pinning down our core values to be more successful than ever before, what else can we do to grow this year?
SH: As a life coach, I’m in the business of helping people change their behavior and optimize their mental health. But knowing what to do (or not do) and actually implementing that knowledge isn’t the same thing! We have to get to know ourselves — our thought process, our core beliefs and assumptions, our emotions, and our response to emotions — in order to make a truly lasting change. That said, one of the best places to start is self-inquiry and learning how to ask better questions.
B+C: You hear heaps of questions each day while working with clients. What types of common asks are generally unproductive? Why are these questions, in particular, most problematic?
SH: The quality of the world we see is (to a large degree) determined by the quality of our questions. So what kind of questions do you ask yourself? I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d guess that they might often be judgmental and therefore unproductive. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- What’s wrong with me?
- Why do I always say the wrong thing?
- Why is he such a jerk?
- Why is everything always so hard?
The problem with these questions is that the answers to them are extremely unhelpful; they narrow your focus to what you perceive *isn’t* working. Then you’re more likely to drop into a shame spiral, rather than feel motivated to take action.
B+C: That makes perfect sense. Can you give us some guidance on reframing questions for more inspiring results?
SH: You need to practice asking powerful questions that offer you useful, expansive, and creative answers. So, instead of asking why nothing ever goes your way, try asking a question with a positive assumption already embedded into the answer. For example, “How much evidence can I find that things have gone my way?” Once you practice asking this kind of question, you’ll stop hitting dead ends and find yourself less stuck.
B+C: How about failure? Why do you think we might feel afraid of being stuck, missing out, or making mistakes in the first place?
SH: The mere anticipation of failure (and its two handmaidens, disappointment and shame) can dissuade the best of us from going after our big goals and dreams. I believe we’re afraid of failure because we can’t stand to sit with the negative emotions failing can generate.
I mean, when’s the last time you thought, “Disappointment, sadness, embarrassment, and shame… Whatever, no biggie”? Never. People are uncomfortable with these emotions. So in order to avoid them, what do we do? We fail in advance. We quit. We give up. We distract ourselves. We pretend not to care. But no matter how hard we try to numb those feelings, they remain deep, buried, and still powerful.
B+C: How do you think we can improve our relationship with failure? We’d love any tips you have for ditching fear of it and sitting with tough feelings when they spring up.
SH: I know it’s a tough sell, but to improve our relationship with failure, we have to open ourselves up to these deeply uncomfortable emotions. The more we are willing to sit with negative feelings — disappointment, anxiety, fear, doubt, and the most dreaded of all, shame — the more we’ll be able to achieve.
So how can you intentionally become more open to negative emotion? Start small and feel safe. Set a timer for two minutes, and visualize a time in your life when you experienced a failure. Ask yourself:
- What emotion do I feel?
- Where do I feel that emotion in my body?
- What color is it?
- Is it fast or slow?
- If the emotion were a substance, what consistency would it be?
Spend a few minutes observing how you feel the emotion physically. After the buzzer goes off, come back to a warm, safe place in your mind, and thank yourself for being willing to dive into the shadows.
Do you use goals, your value system, or other strategies to set yourself up for success? Share your go-to methods and tactics with us on Twitter @BritandCo.