Who Do You Set Your Goals For?


There’s always been a lot of talk about how important setting goals is in the personal development scene. And for good reason too: setting goals and learning (or, more accurately in some cases, training yourself) to follow through and achieve them can have life altering effects that you might not have gotten otherwise. There are tons of different ways to set goals—it seems like everyone has their own “one size fits all” goal setting method—but what doesn’t get discussed very often is who you’re setting your goals for.

“Who?” you might ask. “I’m setting them for myself, of course!”

On the surface, I’m sure that a lot of people really believe that. Some of them are actually doing it, and good for them. But have you ever really sat down to reflect on what your goals are, and if they’re in place for the express purpose of improving your life, not someone else’s?

If your goals—no matter how mundane or lofty they may be—aren’t in place because you genuinely want them, you’ll have a lot harder time trying to achieve them (if you do at all).

husbandandwifeHere’s an example of what I mean. Picture a young married couple; the husband works in an office environment, and his wife is a homemaker. The husband isn’t at terribly ambitious guy at his job, because he always wanted to be a novelist. Riding the xerox machine at work all day isn’t necessarily as exciting as crime fiction. Nevertheless, he knows that his wife wants to live in a better house sooner rather than later, so he sets a goal to get a promotion.

The wife, while very pretty, knows that she could probably stand to lose a few pounds to be more attractive to her unambitious but loving husband. She sets a goal to loose 15 pounds before their anniversary, even though she thinks she looks pretty good when she looks in the mirror already.

So how does this story end? The husband doesn’t get the promotion and the wife doesn’t loose the weight. If they did, it was a lot harder than it should have been.

Now, before you start flipping out over the above example and using phrases like “traditional gender roles” or “how dare you call that nice woman fat,” keep in mind that this story is made up (but you’re kidding yourself if you think that a similar scenario isn’t playing out in thousands of households throughout the country).

The point is that these two didn’t set goals for themselves—they set them for other people. No matter how much you love someone, or want to impress someone, or think that “maybe they’ll like me if I…”, you’re shooting yourself in the foot before you even get started if this is how you approach goal setting. This is why in rehabilitation programs alcoholics and drug addicts are told that they have to do it for themselves. They have to want to get clean.

Setting a goal for someone else’s benefit doesn’t mean that the goal isn’t worthwhile. It just means that you need to sit back, reassess your situation, and change your mindset, which is perhaps the most important element of setting and ultimately achieving goals.

Instead of getting a promotion for his wife, the husband in the story could have changed his mindset and said, “I’m going to get a promotion so that I can save more money and eventually write that book,” or the wife could have said, “I’m going to loose a few pounds because I want to be as healthy as possible.” If this was the approach they took, they probably would have reached those goals, and had a lot easier time along the way.

The goals are the same. The end results are the same. The mindset? Much more effective.