How I kept to my New Year's resolution - The problem with goal setting.

by on 01 February 2017 | filed in Leadership Productivity Self Development

For those who have seen me seen me speak, or who have attended any of my sessions, the title of this little post may come as a surprise. I talk about goals, a lot. That’s because the simple process of deciding on my outcomes has changed my life. Leadership coaches and speakers have been speaking about setting specific goals for years and with good reason. It works, nearly all of the time. But in my experience, there are times when relying on a very specific goal can be counter-productive, and for me that’s usually when a lifestyle change is required.

Don’t get me wrong, the goal will usually be the thing that kicks you into action, but maintaining a new habit that can be a challenge if we’ve decided to only reach a certain level. For me, running is a good example as it does not come naturally at all. My body is designed to run only under conditions of necessity - to avoid danger or catch something - and without training and heaps of discipline, I can only run effectively with a shot of fear-induced adrenaline. Until I was about 35, I was convinced that running was the devils work and a punishment for misbehaviour in PE. For years I had tried to create a habit of running, because as a form of exercise it’s just so handy. It costs nothing and if with a spare 30 minutes I could just get my trainers on and go. I was doing everything right, I was setting my SMART goals, reaching a certain distance, and then quitting.

Then something shifted, suddenly I was running all of the time. I was going out in the rain and snow, early mornings and late at night, whenever I got the chance. The main difference here was that I had no specific target and my approach had changed. I had two young children, a new house to renovate and a struggling business, so I was a little overwhelmed. I didn’t just need to run, I wanted to. It wasn’t just about fitness of the body, it was about peace of mind. I was appreciating the river, the woods, the trees, the air and the space and the beauty of my surroundings that were going completely unnoticed in my day to day life. This is what I was missing as I headed towards many of my goals. Though it was motivating to feel improvement in my fitness, it wasn’t the main objective. Like Forrest Gump, I just wanted to run. I was enjoying the process and was doing it for it’s own sake, I was in flow. My goal had changed, it was no longer to run 10K by February 1st, it was to become a runner, for running to be part of my life and to become a habit.


See the Blossom


This isn’t just about running of course, it’s about seeing things a little differently. After this shift I then began to stop and take stock of all other aspects of my life that I had previously viewed as ‘hard work’. I made myself stop and enjoy the areas of my work that were a challenge, the chores I had to do and to enjoy the small victories of putting myself out of my comfort zone. The goal is always there, but I try to make sure I enjoy getting to it, so please don’t think I’m telling you that specific goals don’t work, they really do. But if it’s long-term change you want, I highly recommend finding the joy in what you do, rather than just reaching your objective with gritted teeth. If you want to reach a certain weight by March that’s brilliant, but concentrate also on the positive effects of living a long-term healthy lifestyle and find a way that is sustainable. What I’m trying to say is that you will sometimes have much more success, in your work and home life, if you enjoy the journey and not just the destination. Enjoy the ‘now’ and you will have way more chance of getting to the ‘when’.

In 1994 I read the interview of Dennis Potter gave to Melvyn Bragg shortly after learning he had weeks to live. It stuck with me, so I though I would share it.


“… at this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west early. It’s a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying “Oh that’s nice blossom” … last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance … not that I’m interested in reassuring people - bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.”


― Dennis Potter, Seeing the Blossom: Two Interviews and a Lecture


Click here for a video excerpt of the interview (will open in new tab)


Thanks for reading everyone and please comment, share or just have a wonderful day.