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Some thoughts on goal setting

john graham

One of my favorite pastimes is to pick up a Calvin and Hobbes book, flick to a random page and start reading.  I think it's such a clever cartoon strip, as well as laugh out loud moments there’s plenty of pathos and interesting takes on the world around him, I love it.

One of my favorite stories was when Calvin set his heart the goal of getting enough cereal packet vouchers to win a beanie hat with a spinning propeller on top. (it’s a long strip but I’ve included a couple below)

The tale led through the initial stages where Calvin worked hard munching his way through way too much cereal to get the vouchers, becoming sick of the contents of each packet.  He dreamed every moment of how exciting life with this hat was going to be, how the hats propeller would spin and have him flying through the air creating all sorts of amazing adventures, life was going to be so great!  

Once he had the vouchers and had sent them away the dreaming of how great it was going to be reached fever pitch.  His want for this to happen NOW created frustration and disappointment each day when the package didn't arrive, it was torture for him.

Saying that it was going be worth it when this flying beanie hat was finally his and on his head and he was air born. Wooo hooo!

The day came and it arrived….Well, the first disappointment was that it came in bits, so he was going to have to assemble it.  Then he snapped one of the bits!  Finally once it had been put together it wasn’t the experience he had thought about constantly over the previous weeks, it didn’t fly or lift him off the ground!  Poor fella.


  • Setting a goal and imagining how life will be when you achieve it
  • Thinking about nothing but achieving the goal and how it will be (revved up and blinkered thinking)
  • Achieving it and it not living up to expectations
  • Wondering what else to do to get more of that feeling, looking for the next thing

Does this ring any bells?

I’ve wanted to do something on my views on Goal setting for a while & I thought this illustrated some of the potential pitfalls beautifully.  Heres some more of my thoughts on the subject.

Know where you experience is coming from

What ever it is you would like to get in your life, its not the achievement that that’s giving you the feeling of happiness, confidence, satisfaction or what ever your want.  Your thinking in the moment that gives you the experience.

You might get a burst of happiness pride or whatever but because your looking externally for something internal I almost guarantee once its done you will be looking for the next thing to give you what your looking for.

With Calvins dream of the flying beanie he thought he was experiencing what it would be like when he had it.  Do you think he had the ability to experience the future?  Of course not, he was only experiencing his thoughts about the future, now.

If you had the goal to do some public speaking & were feeling nervous about how you would look.  Your not experiencing how you would feel at the time, your only experiencing your thinking about the future event in this exact moment.

Difference between Intention and a goal

With a goal there’s a mind made definition of success and failure.  That if we achieve, life will be better in some way.  The problem with that is, that if we don’t achieve, we can create feelings of failure, unworthiness and self doubt.  Examples of poorly formed goals that I’ve heard from clients would be

“I’ll be e.g. happy/confident/calm when I achieve (the goal)”

“Until I achieve (the goal) I wont be able to feel happy/confident/calm”

“If I don’t do (the goal) now I’ll never feel happy/confident/calm”

“I think I should do (goal) to help me feel happy/confident/calm” 

Intention is where we follow a dream and do it for the passion of doing it.  Nothing is attached to the outcome, we do it to follow of feeling of passion, creativity, the enjoyment.  It’s a natural path we would like to explore.

For example we learn to walk and talk from a place of intention.  Its something we are born to do.  If parents start testing kids on their walking skils, set stretch goals on how many steps they should have by a certain time and gave the toddlers clear signals of what success and failure was to achieve you can probably imagine the results.

From a place of no fear we are far more likely to achieve more naturally.  From this place we are more likely to work from a place of being in flow, clarity or in the zone. 

If we focus on the goal we can limit life

Try this little game.  Lift your right hand up as high as you can (do it!). 

Done that? 

Well now lift it another you managed!

This one struck me yesterday when I was in the pool. I’m currently learning to do the front crawl properly.  At first I had a goal of getting to the end of the pool.  There s a little mark about 3m out and I would feel myself start to relax there and when ever I made it I had a quick breather, I'd done enough.

Yesterday when I was swimming I was really concentrating on my technique, on relaxing and enjoying.  Before I knew it I had swam four lengths!  Focusing on the moment, my technique and enjoying myself lifted my performance way past what it was when I was thinking about my goal.

I’m not saying ‘never set goals’ they can help get some focus or measure progress.  Like any thinking tool though stay aware and make sure your using it in the right way for the right reasons.

I'd love to hear you views or any questions you have, just add them below & I promise to reply.