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Five Ways NOT to Create Motivating Goals

Five Ways NOT to Create Motivating Goals

One of my bosses used to tell me that in the military, the rule of learning is “See One, Do One, Teach One”.  First you watch somebody else do it, then you do it, and finally you teach someone else.  The reason is that when you teach someone to do something, you can often learn new twists or depth to what you already “knew” about doing something.

And such has often been the case recently, as I’ve been coaching the Pathfinders group.  For example, it seems that setting motivating goals is one area that I’ve gotten so used to, that I forgot how difficult it is for most people.  And so I’m starting to learn a bit better how to teach what I know, about creating goals that are actually motivating.

Because the thing is, there’s very little point in having a goal that doesn’t inspire you to action.  A goal that merely seems like something you “should” do is not only unmotivating, it can be actively de-motivating, slowly draining the life from you as you beat yourself up about not achieving it.

And although a lot has certainly been written out there about so-called “SMART” goals, the truth is that you can have a goal that is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Tangible), but still doesn’t do jack to motivate you.

So, in the spirit of the current fad of writing “how NOT to” articles, I thought I’d take a crack at writing a list of five ways NOT to create motivating goals, in honor of the things my coaching clients have reminded me that I used to do, too when creating my own goals:

Way One: Make it abstract!

Be sure not to include anything you can actually visualize.  For example, instead of thinking of a specific business you’d like to get into, describe it only in abstract terms like “profitable” or “interesting”.  Keep your options open!  After all, if you settled on a specific thing you want to have, you might get excited about it, and maybe actually do something about it!

Way Two: Try to solve all your problems with a single goal

Why create individual goals or think deeply about how to live your life, when you can just solve all your problems with a goal like “become super rich and super thin”.  Focus on making goals that solve problems that you have, instead of doing things that you are interested in for themselves.  Why think of what kind of working environment you’d like to have, when you can plan your “career direction” instead?  Why plan what you want to do next, when everybody knows you have to plan your whole life before you start doing anything?

Way Three: Don’t even think about the results!

If you think about results, you might be motivated to act, and thereby lose out on a vital source of ways to punish yourself.  But if you think about what steps you have to take to get the results, you can make rigid plans to work out every day and then beat yourself up every single time you mess up.

Way Four: What do you mean, after?

Under no circumstances should you think about your goal as if you had already achieved it.  If you do this, you might discover what you really want, and then go after that instead.  You might learn that instead of working hard to become a millionaire, you really just want to be able to sail around the world, and you could probably find some way to do that without working hard or becoming a millionaire.  And that would be like cheating!

Way Five: Disturb the Peace Within

One of the best ways to get a good demotivational goal is to create goals to improve yourself.  Isn’t that why it’s called self-improvement?  Set goals to be friendly, brave, confident, and secure.  Or better yet, create goals to NOT be things.  Those are great for setting your brain into neurotically self-conscious infinite loops!  For extra credit, make goals about how you will feel about things.  It’s not enough that you do something, make it a goal that you not feel afraid or even uncomfortable when you do it!  That way, you can always snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory, because if you do actually do something, you can always say you should have felt differently while you were doing it.

But if you want MOTIVATING goals instead…

I’m not entirely happy with this list, because it seems to me that there is a deeper truth here, of which these ideas are only shadows.  That’s probably because creating powerful, mouth-watering goals is actually simpler and easier than doing the opposite.

Yet strangely, this seems to make it harder to teach, not easier.  At the moment, I just ask my clients to post their goals, and then I work with them to remove the stuff that gets in the way of motivation.  I’m working towards a more specific list of ways to recognize the kinds of goals that ruin your life, but in the meantime, the above list is a reasonable approximation.

But in this week’s “Procrastination Cure” workshop, and in the Motivation and Action workshops to come, I’ll be focusing on the things that you should do if you want to create goals that work.  Not goals that you beat yourself up about, create neuroses with, or dream about doing “someday”.  But goals that motivate you to do something, right now, today.

I talk about the first step in my book: the “mmmm” test, and the differences in visualizing for planning, and visualizing for action.  I’ve also posted a lot of articles lately in which I’ve given other pieces of the technique.  The Pathfinders, of course, are getting lots of direct instruction from me, on their specific goals.  And they’ll get a whole lot more information on how to do it right, in the workshops to come.

…then you need to take ACTION

So if you find that your goals resemble the examples above…  if they’re abstract, global, step-oriented, point-in-time, and/or internal…  you would probably do well to revisit the things I’ve written here before on this subject, and then join the Pathfinders in the Seven Days to Live Your Dreams program.

But you need to hurry: there are now only six seats left, AND the price is going up again on Saturday, October 14th.  That’s also the last day that you can get a FREE recording of the Banish Unwanted Feelings Forever workshop when you buy my book.  After that, it’s only going to be available as part of the Procrastination Cure multi-workshop recording package, which is going to cost a lot more than the book does.

(Meanwhile, I’m starting to run low on supplies of the book, too!  Soon there will be only fifty copies left, and thirty have been sold since September 1st.  You do the math.  I’m not planning any reprintings, either, as I’ll be focusing on selling recorded products like the Procrastination Cure package.  So get your copy while you still can.)

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Cover photo of "A Minute To Unlimit You" by PJ Eby
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