After a decade of trying to goal set “correctly” I’m over it.

My friend Clay, whom I’m scheduled to meet in person for coffee in just over a week (!), after almost 6 years of being pen pals, recently wrote a post about life purpose entitled “passion never worked for me.”  I’m still noodling on it.

As I said in my comment to him:

I like this one. I spend too much time poking at goal setting, motivation, BHAGs, values, purpose, vision, mission, blah blah blah.

I think at the end of the day, you have to find the questions, the processes, that work for you, and as I’m learning, these may change over time.

I have found that I am more successful at meeting my goals if I am running away from something that I fear and/or abhor vs. striving from a place of good/OK/mediocre to shoot for someplace better, even magically better. Similarly, I’m much more focused if I can see only one outcome that is acceptable. If it is the only option that is viable, I will get there. MUST NOT FAIL compels me much more urgently than MUST WIN. And if there 10 options, 50 even, and they are all interesting at some level, I feel driven toward none and yet suffused with a feeling of Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

The funny thing is that after I went to business school, I thought I was going about my goal setting all wrong. It was all about the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal); seriously, if you didn’t have some BHAGs personally or professionally you were doomed. Just doomed. And BHAGs need to be things you are striving toward.

And at about this time, the whole law of attraction thing  had a resurgence epitomized by The Secret where if you are thinking about what you DON’T want, or what you DON’T want to be, then most certainly you will attract that stuff to you, become that thing you hate because you’re so focused on it. Therefore, instead you need to again be striving toward some other thing. (see BHAGs above).

After a decade of trying to set goals “correctly,” I can finally admit that fear drives me, compels me forward, away from what I don’t want.


Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Fitness example – I started exercising most days a week in 2004 after my grandmother developed macular degeneration (a cause of blindness) likely secondary to obesity, high blood pressure, maybe diabetes. My goal – don’t lose my vision – i.e. do not develop all of those medical issues that make macular degeneration more likely. Whenever I switch my fitness goals to be more proactive (whether it’s run faster or lose a few % body fat or an inch off my waist) – I almost always plateau and/or begin to lose ground. But when I switch back to focusing on my fears, my terror even, of getting fat or sick or going blind, I get back on track.

And this is true for me for almost all goals. Sure, I tend to pick a destination, but my motivation, my power, my drive and tenacity come from the fear of inaction, the outcomes that inertia would bring to me if I did nothing. MUST NOT FAIL.

Which to me at least is interesting, as I’m attracted to and surrounded by people who are most definitely motivated by winning.

What motivates you?

2 comments on “Motivation
  1. Clay Lowe says:

    I am an ‘toward’ person. I’m not super goal oriented. I tend to set an intention and either I do or do not (as Yoda would say). And I am generally very laid-back about the outcome. I used to give myself a hard time about not be passionate about things. Having the experience was enough for me and I could walk away from whatever it was without a feeling of loss or failure. The question in the subtext of my actions was “Is this really going to matter on my deathbed?” And most things I could answer in the negative.

    It’s like you said in your reply – choose the question that works for you.

    That reminds me of an old saying, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view from the top is all the same.”

    • Catherine Kunst says:

      Clay – I wish I were a toward person.

      But I do this bit all of the time!

      “Is this really going to matter on my deathbed?” And most things I could answer in the negative.