In Defense of Goal Setting

My post 5.5 Self Development Techniques I No Longer Believe In caused a bit of a stir, a few misunderstandings and a handful of death threats.

Even though I listed goal setting as one of the things I had lost faith in, I did explain that I by no means meant it was wrong for everybody.

The reality is, I happen to think goal setting is veeeeery cool and highly useful for a good proportion of the population and as a Life Coach I am not about to abandon it any time soon, although as I said in my post 5 Myths of Goal Setting, I do think the process can be misunderstood.

What percentage of the population it’s great for is the part I’m honestly not sure about. My gut instinct and hands on experience tells me it’s around the 75% mark, but I only have my own anecdotal evidence to support that belief, which is far from scientific or conclusive.

Shortly after the post went live I had a back and forth on Facebook with Tony Bedford about the relative merits of goal setting, with Tony looking to set the record straight and defend the ancient art against my malicious, brutal and unprovoked attack.

Well ok maybe I didn’t quite go that far and we soon concluded we were at cross purposes and hugged and made up. Prior to that however, Tony sent me a guest post stating his point of view and I thought it would be cool to share it with you today because, whisper it quietly, I pretty much agree with everything he says.

In Defense of Goal Setting

Although I agree with most of what Tim says, there’s one area where we seem to disagree strongly, and that’s on the topic of goals. Tim has identified that as one personal development tool that he thinks doesn’t work, but I believe goal setting to be one of the most powerful and effective personal development tools there is.

Why goals are important

It’s too easy to just sit on the couch, watch TV and let life go by. I happen to think that’s a waste. Life is precious and short and we should do our best to make the most of it.

The most important feature of a goal is that it is a call to action, it is a stake in the ground and setting a goal lays down a challenge. Taking up the gauntlet and striving towards a goal can lead to great changes in your life. I have experienced this first hand.

Since I started to set and reach goals my life has been richer, more satisfying and happier. I’ve also noticed where I helped friends to set goals, their enjoyment of life has increased too, and I believe that most people can benefit from goal setting.

Why goals are effective

In life we need feedback. We learn from feedback. If we don’t have feedback to process we can’t really progress in life, because we have nothing to base our decisions on. If you are in a career you hate, and want to switch, but aren’t sure what new career to jump into, you need feedback. Lots of it.

But here’s the thing, feedback is a result of action.

You only get feedback when you take action. You will only find that new career by taking lots of action, such as trying new things, generating lots of feedback and filtering it. So no progress really happens until you start taking action.

It almost doesn’t matter what action you take, because any action generates feedback, even if the feedback is “this sucks”. That’s also why doing nothing never works. So here’s where goals come in handy:

Goals are a call to action.

That action generates feedback, and that feedback helps you solves problems, make decisions and move on with your life.

Goals make it simpler to do the right thing

When you have a list of goals, it makes life simpler. It’s too easy to pass on life’s opportunities. I’m not saying if something isn’t on your goal list you don’t do it, but having goals does help you make the most of opportunities, and keeps you focused.

When I was recently in The Philippines, I had goals of wreck diving and climbing a live volcano (among others).

It would have been all to easy for me to just kick back by the pool, or pour myself another cold beer and chill, but I had some goals and they helped me to make the effort to make the wreck diving and volcano hiking happen.

Those experiences greatly enriched the holiday experience, and my life, and there was still plenty of time left over for eating ice cream and splashing in the pool. So let’s get into how I set goals.

How To Set Goals – Tony Style

Tim has talked in the past about SMART goals and SMARTER goals and it’s all good advice. I have a simple scheme for setting goals. It seems to work for me and others.

1. Goals should be fun

If you set a boring goal that really doesn’t excite you, you aren’t going to be motivated to take any action. This should be something that is fun, at least to you. Running a marathon is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I like running, for me it’s fun.

Maybe some goals will be serious, but you should always try to bring in a fun element wherever possible.

2. Goals should motivate

Hopefully, if you pick a fun goal, that should provide a lot of motivation in itself. But if you pick a goal that directly motivates you that’s even better. Pick something you really want to achieve. If you set a so-so goal that you’re not really bothered about, you just won’t be motivated to take any action. No action, no feedback, no progress.

3. Goals should match your values

This almost happens by default, but it’s plain common sense that your goals need to correlate with your values. For example, one of my main values is health and fitness, so any goal related to that area has a good chance of being acted upon.

Setting a goal to be a millionaire or make a lot of money wouldn’t work very well for me, because money is not an important value for me (Tims note: Money isn’t a value for anybody, even people that think it is).

It’s not a good motivator. I do have a goal to create £1000 a month passive income, but that’s more because I’m interested in the mechanics of how that’s done, it’s not the money itself that motivates me.

If you take a look at my goals page, you can probably work out what my most important values are for yourself. If you are not sure what your values are, that’s something that Tim can definitely help with. Don’t set goals that don’t correlate with your values, you will run into conflict.

4. Goals should fit into the bigger picture

I think it’s really important to have a “big picture” of what you want your life to look like. I have that worked out in my head, and if you ever look at my goals page you’ll get a good idea of what that looks like.

5. Don’t be afraid to set sub goals

When I set the goal to run a marathon I didn’t start working directly on that. I split it down into sub-goals of being able to run 4 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles. When I got to 10 miles I entered and trained for a couple of half marathons. You’ll get frustrated if you set a ginormous goal and start working on it directly. Most likely you will abandon the goal.

Goals are a journey, not a destination

In many ways, when you set goals, it almost doesn’t matter whether you achieve the goal or not.

Many who set goals and subsequently don’t achieve them believe they have failed. Usually, they haven’t.

They only failed if they took no action, since it’s the action that provides all the benefits, not the goal itself.

Last year I set the goal of running a marathon in less than 4 hours by my 49th birthday. I still don’t know whether or not I will achieve that goal.

It doesn’t matter!

I’ve already received many benefits from setting that goal. I took lots of action and I’ve generated lots of feedback, and enjoyed the process. I’ve trained by running some beautiful trail runs, once running 23 miles across the South Downs.

I’ve completed two half marathons, with more scheduled. I’ve made new friends, faced new challenges, and learned many new things about diet and training, and about myself and what I am capable of.

It’s helped to keep myself fit and lean, while relaxing my mind and energizing my body. It all happened because I set a goal.

I wish you all the best with setting your goals. Remember, with goals, the journey is the reward. Good luck!

Tony writes about his journey to freedom at Regards From The Balcony


As I said in the intro, I actually think Tony makes some great points, and I would love your feedback to his method, or any methods that work well for you personally.

I think he encapsulates a lot of what I talk about in SMARTER goals, but uses different terminology. Maybe the only thing I would definitely want to add would be the second ‘E’ of ecology. If you have no idea what I mean, check out the video below.