The Dangers of Goal Setting

Ah, the 1984 Ferrari 308 GTS Quattrovalvole. That was one of the first, and longest lasting, goals that I have ever had. The one pictured just sold for US$ 181,500 at Bonhams and was used on set for Magnum P.I. I may have wanted one since before I could drive — if not, it was pretty close to that kind of timing. Through the years I eventually became ‘successful’ enough to afford one and then thought of needing the garage space for it — which, of course, became another goal to accomplish before buying the car. The exact target model changed through the years and the extra garage space is going to be available soon, however, eventually I discovered one daydreaming day, only about a couple of years ago, that it was not the car I wanted so much as the idea of pursuing the car.

There’s nothing more frightening than having a dream come true. — Hernando Fuentes, Sense8

In The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed On Your Own Vishen Lakhiani touches on this dilemma from a slightly different angle:

…modern goal setting, as it’s explained in countless college courses or to high-school kids, is really not about teaching you how to pursue what will really help you lead an extraordinary life. Rather, it’s about teaching you to pursue common Brules of the culturescape — Brules that often lead to your chasing things that you’ll ultimately find do not really matter. It’s about safety rather than about truly living.

His term ‘Brules’ is shorthand for ‘bullshit rules’. He suggests replacing means goals with ends goals.

End goals speak to your soul. They bring you joy in and of themselves, not because they confer any outward label, standard, or value attached by society. Nor are end goals undertaken for the purpose of pay or for material reward. They are the experiences that create the best memories in our lives.

About end goals Vishen goes on to further say:

I love this advice from author Joe Vitale: “A good goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.” Scary and exciting are two beautiful feelings that good end goals often bring out. Scary is a good thing because it means you’re pushing your boundaries — that’s how you take steps toward the extraordinary. Excitement signifies that your goal is genuinely close to your heart — not something you’re doing to please someone else or to conform to society’s Brules.

All of those years wanting the car as an end goal eventually evolved into a life experience that represents all I imagined sitting behind that wheel in a real Ferrari would be. Upon that realization the car disappeared from my mind and was replaced with further joy to grow myself and help others around me do the same.

Means goals usually have an ‘in order to…” after them: I need to get this degree, in order to…get this job, in order to…make this much money, in order to afford… If you focus on the experience (the ends) your desires on the means become flexible. With flexible means, your brain becomes open to other, and possibly more fulfilling opportunities. Without this flexibility be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. To change the Sense8 quote slightly, “There’s nothing more frightening than having a means goal come true that is disconnected from your ends goal.” When this happens achievement is met with emptiness instead of fulfillment. We are all free to waste the time given us. The only question we need to answer for ourselves is if that is an acceptable way to live.

(Originally posted on Medium)