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« Getting to Your Goals: Step One | Main | Listen to Your Heart »

Guilty Goals

Do you really want your goals to come true?

My second book How to Make Your Dreams Come True seemed to be a book that people either loved or hated. It never sold particularly well, although many people thought it was brilliant. In the end I came to the conclusion that one of the main problems was the title. It didn’t have the immediate “yes, I need that” factor of Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play.

In fact the more I thought about it the more I realised that people would be very ambivalent about the idea of making their dreams come true. Dreams are funny things. I think we are always haunted by the fairy stories we heard as children in which people are given three wishes which always end in disaster. “Be careful of what you wish for – you might get it”.

Some dreams are nightmares, and some dreams we suspect would be nightmares if they came true. It may be great to have dreams of being rich and famous and surrounded by lovers, but what’s your spouse or partner going to think about it if it starts to turn into reality – or your friends – or your parents? In fact do you really want the responsibility of being rich and attractive all the time? Look at the mess so many “celebrities” get themselves into.

So what can we do about our “guilty” dreams? If we try to turn them into goals, they are just going to become “guilty” goals. If we are guilty about them then we will be half hearted. Yet they probably contain some very important truths about the things that we value so it would be a shame to just sit on them for ever and feel that we had wasted our lives.

One exercise I’ve always found valuable in this sort of situation is to examine the negative feelings we have about a goal. It’s a good idea first of all to examine why we want the goal in the first place. So let’s have a look at a fairly common goal: “I want to start my own business”. First list all the reasons why you want to do this. Then list all the reasons why you don’t want to do it. The two lists might come out something like this:

I want to have my own business because:

I hate working for a boss

I want to be able to set my own working hours

I’ve got some great ideas for products

I want to make more money

It’ll give me a greater sense of achievement

Etc etc


I don’t want to have my own business because:

It’ll involve a lot of work

I won’t have the security of a regular salary

My family won’t like it

It’ll take a long time to get going

I might lose all my money

Etc etc.

The secret now is to turn all these statements into positives. The question to ask yourself is “That’s what I don’t want. What do I want?”

In the first list all the statements are already positive except for the first one “I hate working for a boss.” So you don’t want to work for a boss. What do you want? “I want to work for myself”. You now have a positive statement in place of the negative one.

 I hate working for a boss I want to work for myself

The second list is full of negatives. Try the same technique on them. Take the first item on the list “It’ll involve a lot of work”. So you don’t want it to involve a lot of work. What do you want? You may have to think a bit before coming up with the right answer for you. It might be “I want my work to be challenging and rewarding” or “I want to have a good balance between work and play” or whatever is important to you.

It’ll involve a lot of work I want to have a good balance between work and play

Be careful though if your answer is another negative, e.g. “I don’t want to do any work at all”. In that case you need to ask the question again: So I don’t want to do any work at all, what do I want? Your answer might be “I want to sail round the world” or “I want to lie in bed all day”. Either way, you have discovered something important about yourself!

Once you’ve completed the exercise, you will now have one list of positive things which you want about this goal. Looking at these you can begin to see how you could create a goal which you could be one hundred per cent committed to rather than guilty about.

Reader Comments (2)

A related issue is goals that come from fears vs goals that come from desires to express more of what we are, to grow towards our best self shall we say. A lot of "wants" are fear driven. Good to identify them so as to get out of the fear-driven and into the truest desires.
January 16, 2014 at 10:26 | Unregistered Commentermichael
Seth Godin makes a remark that the real purpose of setting goals is to overcome fears. the reason for writing goals, he says, is that you are more afraid of letting yourself down once you write down the goal than you are of doing the thing you said.

So, what do you not want to be afraid of? Being afraid of ... being a fraud, making honest connections, making an impact, being vulnerable. He says the goal helps us to hide from what we are afraid of. He also suggests looking at the trail you want to leave behind.
February 6, 2014 at 18:59 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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