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by Carilyn on March 15, 2012

Most of us love to set goals.  Daily goals, monthly goals, yearly goals, life goals.  And I think runners like to set goals more than most.

I love to set daily goals and check them off my mental list, like a well-organized grocery shopper:

8 miles – check

breakfast made – check

lunches made – check

6 miles – check

and on and on and on….

You get the idea.  I’ve always sort of lived my days by “getting things done” and moving on to the next thing, with little time to think about the bigger picture. And this has worked pretty well – I have a standard formula for setting a goal, putting in the work, and accomplishing it.

But recent studies show that practical goal setting, while effective in day-to-day living, isn’t so great for actually creating a life you want to live.  In other words, chronic goal-setters are so focused on the trees, they get lost in the proverbial forest.  Map please?

Traditional goal setting involved defining a concrete, noun-based goal (think: run 100 miles, or lose 15 pounds), creating a plan to reach it, and then systematically moving towards that defined place.  The problem many of us have felt at the end of that process though, is the “now what?” syndrome.  You know what I mean – that feeling after reaching a goal of what do I do next?  The achievement of the goal itself, while satisfying, didn’t really create a lasting change in our lives.  Let’s face it, it was a temporary high.

So, how do we achieve goals that will actually alter our lives and help us grow and change? Experts say you have to change those noun-based goals into adjective-based goals.  This means, that instead of going for a target subject (mileage, weight, money amount) we start thinking about how we want to feel in the situation, because that is our true motivation for wanting the goal in the first place.

Easier said than done, I know.  Noun-based goals are easy peasy.  But trying to mine out what feeling, or experience, you are seeking when you set a goal is a little trickier.  But here are some of the suggested steps:

1.  Rather than thinking about a specific goal (a metaphorical tree), think about what your ideal situation would be (the forest).  Really think about it.  Let yourself get lost in the feelings of the situation.  Do you feel powerful?  Free?  Strong?  Capable?

2.  Write down the feelings you are drawn to.  Don’t get to caught up in whether the feelings are “right”, just note them.

3.  Start playing with scenarios that give you that feeling.  Don’t be too locked into what you think you should do to generate that feeling, i.e., make more money, win an award, get that job.  Just explore different imaginary situations where you get that feeling.

4.  Start trying out, in small doses, actions that give you the feelings you really want in your life.

5.  Don’t be afraid to modify 🙂

6.  When you come up with a broad, life scenario or situation, define smaller, concrete goals to help you .create those “feelings” in your day-to-day life.

When it all comes down to it, we probably need a little of both – abstract situational goals combined with concrete action goals – to get the most out of our daily lives.  But I do really like the new research that broadens the definition of “goals” and how to achieve them.

What about you?  Do you achieve goals with concrete steps?  Gut feelings?  Or a combination of both?

Happy Running! 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia March 17, 2012 at 5:16 am

Thank you for this! I love a good list to check off and I feel a certain stress if I’m procrastinating. But I do love some breathing room too. Good to know, that like everything else in life there is a balance.

Carilyn March 17, 2012 at 8:27 am

I liked it too – maybe that’s why the studies stuck with me. I tend to just want to “do” rather than “be”, so it is a good exercise for me.

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