Intentional Leader

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The purpose of a goal – the good and the bad

Before we get into goals, we need to be aware of our intentions. You can read my post on The power of intention

Our intentions can help us be mindful about what’s important to us and, done well, be aware as we flow through them to adjust, change, adapt. Intentions, by design, are meant to keep us in the driver’s seat.

However, we are human after all and we need to know we’re making progress. A progress bar can be a great motivator for actions borne out of our own intention. When I’m running, my running app tells me, “you have 1 mile to go” or “you beat your fastest pace” and the mind goes, “Yay!”.

Well, goals can help break down our intentions into measurable progress milestones. This is the great thing about goals. My making our intentions measurable, we can be concretely mindful and aware of our progress. They can motivate us by giving us not just something to celebrate upon achieving the goal, but also motivate us to continue, to power through e.g. ”Only 100 meters to go! Keep going!! You’re almost there!”

Thus goals can be powerful motivators and good goals go beyond individuals. Good goals also align teams across silos while guiding individual focus. They can push us to do more and the more consistent we get at achieving them, the better long term habits we build towards achieving our intentions, a virtuous spiral of growth. (More on this in a later post).

But… there is a potentially negative side-effect of goals that one should be mindful of. And, that is, that too often, our goals take over our intention and consequently, we get so consumed by the goal and measuring everything and then analyzing everything that was measured that we lose sight of the intention and that we started on this journey to enjoy it. Thus, while goals can be motivating, they have also have a really strong power to demotivate and derail.

Here’s an example. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too: Some times, when I don’t start a run right or start runs on stressful days, I might look at my watch after what feels like an eternity of running, only to have it say, “100 meters done”. My mind goes, “Ugh.. this is going to suck. I have 9900 meters to go and it feels like I’ve been running for much longer”. Many times, that simple doubt can derail the run early on. I would end those runs short or finish them, mentally and physically fatigued.

Did I start things right? Yes – I had good intentions. It was to run to gain patience and resilience for the day ahead and consequently, my goal was to do a 10K easy run. However, my goal took over and my intention was lost. I was no longer in the driver’s seat. I was so busy checking the numbers and letting them affect me that I wasn’t being mindful and aware of my intention.

Many of us are wired to be goal (or success) oriented and that attitude is generally reinforced from an early stage of our lives and professional careers.

Being too attached to the goal can make us feel that we’re in a state of failure (and resulting anxiety and self doubt) until we reach the goal. And what happens when we achieve it? After a short celebration on achieving the goal, we’re back setting even loftier goals or we are so fatigued by the whole thing, that we give up on our intentions. Sound familiar?

So, what did I learn from these running experiences:

  1. All goals don’t have to be big and amazing – their purpose is to help you with your intention
  2. Make it easy to start on your goals e.g. prepare your gear for your run the next day, the night before. A good habit is to remind yourself of your intention before you start executing.
  3. Find as many reasons to celebrate during your activity. This builds motivation vs waiting for success only at the end.
  4. Be aware of your positive and negative thoughts during the activity. They are but natural and we are humans after all. Don’t ignore or beat yourself up over them. Instead, experience them and try to step outside the thinking, measuring mind and remind yourself of your intention
  5. Check in with yourself regularly – is the stress coming from anxiety or from injury/physical discomfort. Stop, if you’re injured!
  6. Failing in your goals is okay as long as you learn from them and come back to the starting line. Recovery and reflection are as important as the activity itself. So try to identify and create a system of reinforcing habits (consider keeping a log)

As Coach Bennett says, “This is about running and this is not about running”.

Thus, you can see how important it to be mindful of the goal and your intention. Setting and working on your goals isn’t bad; becoming dependent on them can have a negative impact. Goals can help us build strong reinforcing systems and habits that help us move toward our intentions. And don’t forget to celebrate!

We’ll explore the key elements of a good goal in the next post.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and share your experiences!

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