I’m highly structured and organized, but I hate setting goals. I hate SMART goals, SWOT, SOAR and any other goal-setting tools. I find them boring, exhausting and frustrating.
However, I do occasionally set goals. I set a goal to scan and reorganize all my photos during the pandemic and I’m well on track to finish by Christmas as planned. Some time ago I set a goal to write a complete manuscript in three months by writing 1,000 words a day which I did.
So why would I hate goal setting?
Goals give the impression that we have control over our circumstances
Setting goals to achieve something within a given time frame is fraught with danger as there are so many things we don’t control. James gave this piece of advice to his readers:
“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that’” James 4 chapter verses 13 to 15.
At the moment, there could well be many people who set goals for 2020, but no one imagined the amount of disruption that has happened this year. Those goals will now have to be reset or changed altogether to suit changing circumstances. I prefer to hold my goals loosely and allow more time than I need as unexpected situations often occur.
Goals assume I have a lot of wasted time in my life
When I was writing assignments for Bible College, sometimes I would get comments about additional information that I should have included in my essays. I wanted to ask the lecturer, “and what should I have left out?” My assignments were often at the upper end of the word limit, so if I was supposed to include further information it would mean leaving something else out.
Likewise, if people suggest to me that I set goals to add activities to my life, such as a more intense exercise regime, more spiritual disciplines or cook more health-conscious meals, something has to go. I don’t watch a lot of television, play many electronic games or surf the internet. When I do engage in these pastimes, it’s generally because I want to share an experience with a loved one or because I’m too tired to do anything else, though not quite tired enough to sleep.
It seems to me that goal-setting assumes I have a lot of wasted time in my life that could be used for more beneficial activities, which isn’t the case.
Goals stunt my creativity and spontaneity
Goal setting makes me feel driven. As if I’m being pushed to complete a certain amount of work in a set amount of time, regardless of the quality of my output. As if the end is all-important and the process is irrelevant.
Some writers aim to complete a certain number of words a day or a week. There is a writing challenge called, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where the aim is to complete a 50,000-word manuscript during November and many writers are successful.
If I were to set such a goal for myself, by the end of November. I would be tired, irritable and frustrated, even if I managed to complete the word count. To complete such a goal, many other things would stop, like cleaning, washing, shopping. My house would be a mess and I would be living on snacks. I work best when my house is tidy and my chores are up to date. Some people manage to put the rest of their lives on hold to complete a manuscript, but I find I need space in my life to be creative. Often, I get my best ideas when mopping the floor.
I also need space to be spontaneous. I work on more than one project at a time, and to be able to capture an idea on paper when it comes means I might have to take a break from a current project to do it. It’s worth this change of direction to improve the quality of my overall work and taking a break from a current project means I often come back to it with a more objective perspective.
Some find goal setting a helpful way of motivating themselves to achieve but it doesn’t work well for me. If I set goals I will deliberately hold them loosely. I’m self-motivated and prefer to complete tasks at a pace that suits me. Nevertheless, I’m happy for those who enjoy this form of motivation, but please don’t ask me to set a goal.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html