Goals, Personal Growth

Everything you know about goal setting could be wrong

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?” – Quote often attributed to John Maynard Keynes

I’ve posted several times on the importance of setting goals and following through with them. Recently diving back into the subject, I came across some extremely interesting work by Michael Neill which forced me to re:think! Michael breaks down our usual goal setting habits into two broad components –

The first is mental and physical involvement – the extent to which we put our creative and physical energies into the pursuit of a goal.

The other is emotional investment – the extent to which we put our happiness, self-worth and well-being on the line in our pursuit of a goal.

We can choose to have higher or lower involvement and similarly higher or lower investment in every goal that we set.

Here’s a framework to help understand this –

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Low Investment/Low Involvement

This is when you don’t particularly care what happens and are also not doing anything to move towards your goals.

A person who doesn’t care about how well their business performs will be unaffected by the trials and tribulations most entrepreneurs go through. He/ she is also unlikely to do anything to change the situation.

Choosing this strategy is an extremely low stress and relatively easy way to exist. Unfortunately, not only do you miss out on the fun of creation but also undermine the potential impact you could be having in your life and in the world.

High Investment/Low Involvement

This is the realm of the ardent fans and the moral pundits. If you follow any sport, you will recognise the emotions associated with watching a play and at the same time watching our own emotions go through a roller coaster as our team does well or not so well. Usually, besides cheering our heart out (or praying perhaps), there is little we can do to affect the final result of the game.

This is a primary example of a situation where we care too much but have little ability to ‘do’ anything about it.

However, often our lack of real action boils down purely to our bad habits and our reluctance to take ownership of our situation. We get invested emotionally and realise that there is so much that requires to happen that we shock ourselves into helplessness and feeling overwhelmed, do nothing.

High Investment/High Involvement

This is the mantra you hear from most motivational Gurus. Work long hours, take massive action, do whatever it takes! And enjoy the emotional roller coaster through the thrill of winning and the agony of defeat.

For a person approaching life with this strategy, one minute they’re on top of the world and the next they are down in the pits of despair. In fact, how they feel is dependent entirely on which point of the roller coaster ride they are on when you speak to them.

While this is often a very effective short-term approach, it often leads directly to burn-outs and broken families and often times even scares people from setting any more goals for themselves.

Low Investment/High Involvement

Now what if you could actually choose to combine the best of both worlds – low emotional investment but high activities and involvement? There are two simple principles to help you do exactly that –

1) Identify which things are in your ‘Circle of Control’, which are in your ‘Circle of Influence’ and which are in your ‘Circle of Concern’.

2) Begin to consistently remind yourself that your happiness and well-being is not out there at the end of a rainbow but right here regardless of what happens and how things turn out.

Decide to do anything and everything required to achieve your goals but be gentle on yourself when things do not turn out the way they should – especially when these results are outside your ‘Circle of Control’.

This approach allows you to have all the excitement of being fully engaged in what you do without any of the stress of being emotionally invested. You do not need to continue taking pit-stops to refuel your emotional tanks and can keep going consistently.

In summary, an old story comes to mind.

Once an old wise cat saw a small kitten running around in circles chasing its tail. He asked:

“Why are you chasing your tail, little kitten?”

The kitten replied:

“I’ve been attending cat philosophy school and I’ve learned that the most important thing for a cat is happiness, and that happiness is my tail. Therefore, I am chasing it: and when I catch it, I shall have happiness forever.”

The wise old cat smiled and said:

“Little kitten, I wasn’t lucky enough to go to school, but as I’ve gone through life, I too have realised that the most important thing for a cat is happiness, and indeed that happiness is in my tail.  The difference I’ve found though is that whenever I chase after it, it keeps running away from me, but when I go about my business and live my life, it just seems to follow after me wherever I go.”

Often by letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable, we actually increase our influence and also make meeting our goals a lot easier.


About Shweta Jhajharia

Shweta Jhajharia was partner and principal coach in Europe’s largest Business Coaching firm in ActionCOACH and awarded the “London Coach of the Year” consistently from 2009 to 2020, when she exited ActionCOACH.
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4 Responses to Everything you know about goal setting could be wrong

  1. Richard says:

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  2. Divya says:

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