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The Fallacy of Goal Setting

The Fallacy of Goal Setting
by Matt Thornton

It’s clear some people don’t understand my PERSONAL dislike for goal setting, (I get asked this a lot at seminars as well). . .so maybe this article will help clarify that, and maybe it will be useful to other people in some way… or not.

But before I post it let me clarify this…

SBGi is a HUGE organization right now. And very few people see the Org as a whole. In fact, I may be the only one because I have the great job of traveling to the different locations. So I can tell you that it is filled with all kinds of RADICALLY different people, with very different politics, ideas, and beliefs.

Which is perfect.

Speaking for myself. . .and ONLY myself. . .I do have a lot of problems with the way “goal setting” is often used, or advocated in the pop psychology world.

Rat Race

My main problem with it is that it is often, NOT ALWAYS, offered as a form of manipulation. IE: Anthony Robbins actually has a large section in his books devoted to mimicking the facial expressions of the person you are speaking with as way to gain empathy, as a means of manipulating them… manipulation = separation.

I can see some areas, such as interrogation rooms, where this may be a valid skill. But in day to day life, when trying to form MEANINGFUL relationships with people, it strikes me as sick, and extremely vulgar.

That is one of many-many examples. . .but it is a HUGE topic to discuss.

Again, speaking only for myself I can tell you that I try and make a practice of observing all the places/times during the day where I can catch myself trying to manipulate someone else. And I can tell you there are MANY. In fact, I find I really hide all the ways I use, or try and use, manipulation on many-many different levels. This is not to say I am not honest with people about what I do, or don’t want at the time. . .in fact, I think a lack of manipulation only leads to honesty… which is f**king scary, as they say in French… I feel that manipulation stands between self, and real meaningful relationships. Between self, and growth as a human. So given that PERSONAL context, you can see where I would find the Tony Robbins technique to be completely backwards from what it is I am personally trying to recognize in the moment.

I also write about this. I would encourage everyone to do so if it felt right to them. I think the stoic ideas of being strong and silent are outdated bullshit… again, just my thoughts. I’d hope that succeeding generations (especially men) find more honest communication routes, more ways to express their thoughts and feelings, not less. And it seems pretty obvious to me that the way things are evolving, that will be the case. And that is good.

But also note that at the top of my BLOG there is a disclaimer that says that these are MY ideas… not those of the Gym as a whole. In fact I make a great point, or I try to anyway, to write about the need for loads of skepticism. The need to question everything, every idea, every concept, every notion… to not accept anyone else’s at face value… ever.

So it would be honest to say I have my own opinions… obvious, as I write them down. But it would never be valid to say that the Gym as a whole has a party “line”… at least not one that has come from myself, or from Luis. Because the only line I have repeated over and over as a mantra for others is that everyone needs to find their OWN line!

Having said that, here is part of an article I wrote in 2004, but have yet to put online… (until now), on this exact topic. It is a little far ‘out there’… so you may hate it, or love it. But regardless don’t believe it… if it gets people questioning that is perfect.

It’s just a thought folks…

“Goal setting should come with a warning label, what you desire keeps you from achieving what you really want!”

I know as I sit down to write out this article that there will be a tremendous skepticism about the title, premise, and statement, which I am making with this piece. I have known that for a long time, which is why I very carefully wrote this particular article, after much thought and contemplation. Like many ideas which meet immediate barriers in the mind, the premise written in the title seems to defy ‘common’ sense, and go against what might appear to some of you to be first hand experience. However, I am confident that if you attempt to read this piece with an open mind, and sit with it for a bit afterwards, you just may begin agreeing with the points made, and understanding the reasons why I feel it’s so important to state them.

So with that I have to ask you to forget what you think you know, or have learned about “goal setting”, the force of will, and the concept of success, and move forward.

The 1953 Yale study:

There is a report that is often cited by the self help gurus who speak much about positive thinking, and goal setting. The study most cited is the famous 1953 Yale University report.

‘In 1953 a graduating Yale class was surveyed as to whether or not they had specific “goals”, and if they did, did they write them down? A certain percentage said they did have goals, but only 3% said they had their goals written down somewhere. After 20 Years they contacted these graduates and found some amazing results. The percentage that said they had goals did decidedly better then the other percentage that said they did not. But even more shocking, the 3% that had written down their goals were worth more financially then the other 97% combined!’

Sound good?

One problem, this study never happened. Yale University has no record of the study ever occurring. It was completely made up, and then re-told in countless books and articles by the self help “experts”.

Goal setting as a concept in today’s modern world has become so popular and common that nobody has bothered to question its validity. Like most of the false premises taught in this world, it is now passed on as just another form of conditioning, and accepted as a theory without much critical thinking applied to the matter.

I know that may sound crazy to some of you, as we are fed all the pop psychology nonsense of people like Anthony Robbins, on an almost daily basis in this Country. But no studies have shown any correlation to goal setting and material success. People will produce quotes and books that they sell which feature “successful” people speaking on goal setting. Or even some non scientific polling data. There is good money in that. But objective researchers can clearly show you an equal amount of quotes, or people, who measured in material wealth, meet or exceed those who set goals, and never followed such a paradigm.

So the idea that there is any scientific data to back up the concept of goal setting is simply false.

Isn’t trying to get what you want pretty much what everyone is doing?

And the fact that this strategy has gone unquestioned and unexamined, except in the most superficial ways is itself pretty amazing.

For those interested in further reading on this subject I would suggest a book called ‘Stop setting goals?’ by Bobb Biehl. In it he shows the dangers or pitfalls people who find themselves attracted to goal setting often fall prey to.

Among the most common is the loss of meaningful relationships and connections.

The use of goal setting as poor replacement for fluid problem solving in the moment; and the common effect of driving creative people away, which many goal setters create.

As we enter an Age and economy which will be impacted most by creative ideas and concepts, this effect posses an extreme danger to modern corporations, and Countries hoping to compete in the global market in the coming Years.

How about this idea… “The only thing you ever need is a true awareness of what already is.”

What about first hand experience?

First hand experience is an amazing phenomena. What our awareness is focused on is almost always what we will find.

This is what I mean.

Imagine you are on a long road trip with three friends. You are all tired as you have been on the road for many hours, and you begin to pass through the city center of a small town. You, the driver, are focused on getting to your destination. You awareness and mind remain on this ‘goal’. Your friend in the passenger seat is hungry, and has awareness is clearly on his stomach. The two passengers in the back have been discussing women and relationships for several hours. The one behind you just recently broke up with his girlfriend, and his awareness is tuned to that. Your friend next to him is single, and is clearly looking forward to meeting new women on this trip. His awareness seems focused very much on that desire.

You pass through the town without stopping. It was a busy Sunday afternoon, and it took maybe ten minutes to drive all the way through, stopping only at a few stoplights. All four of you passed through the same town, the same ‘reality’. All of you obviously have the same five senses.

As you exit the town you are pulled over and quizzed by the ‘reality police’. The RP want to know what each of you saw and ‘experienced’ as you drove through the town.

You, the driver, where impressed with the time you are making. You comment regarding how rapidly the trip can go by when you just focus on your goal, and drive non stop to your objective.

Your friend riding shotgun witnessed at least eight restaurants that where open for business and looked good.

The passenger behind you saw three different women, two shops, and heard one song in another driver’s car, all of which sadly reminded him of his former girlfriend.

And your friend sitting next to him in the back seat noticed at least fifteen very attractive women who where walking through the city.

The point? Where your awareness and thoughts are focused, directly affects what you see, hear, feel, touch, smell, and taste, and therefore it directly affects what you perceive to be “reality”.

If you believe thoughts regarding goal setting, then you will find what you believe to be evidence for that concept within your perception of reality. If you believe instead in pre-destined synchronicity, then you can seem to find evidence which supports that concept within the very same reality. And if you believe in helpless chaos, then you will again find assumed evidence to support that concept as well.

Bottom line, what IS, is.

Getting as much of as many things as I want is pretty much the given strategy for happiness in today’s world. So it’s time for an honest question, how well does that really work?

This is one of many problems with the idea of “goal” setting. A goal in and of itself is simply a thought based on desire for a future outcome.

Are you your thoughts, or are you thought?

Imagine that you are sitting at a large table, and there are a dozen or so other people sharing the table with you. Many of them are speaking with each other, and several conversations are taking place. As you listen to the noise around you, and individual from across the table calls your name and engages you in a direct talk. In that moment you shift your awareness from the broader noise around you, and focus it on the individual who is trying to speak directly with you. In so doing you hear what they say, while at the same time tuning out, or turning into background noise, the voices closer to you. This type of situation has probably been experienced many times by everyone reading this article.

Now in that above situation what do you identify with?

That may seem like a strange question if you have never thought deeply about it before. Identification with the human body as “I” seems like the ‘normal’ state. Yet that is not what most people do. If we were to identify solely with the human body then our lives would be far more objective then they are. Dealing on a daily basis with what IS NOW, in an almost animal like natural sense. But if asked, people will say, “this is ‘my’ body. In much the same was as they may say, “these are ‘my’ clothes”, or “this is ‘my’ house”. Are you your clothes, or are you your house?

No people don’t identify the body as “I”, with just a little inspection in becomes clear that people identify their thoughts as “I”.

Their thoughts about what they think they have accomplished, what they think they like, what they think they dislike, what they think they believe, what they think they can do, what they think they cannot do, etc.

This is simply measurement.

And the important point to remember is that ALL measurement must by its very nature be relative. No down without an up, no left without a right, no light without shadow, no front without back, no better without worse, no smarter without dumber, no nice without mean, no bitter without sweet, no desire without fear.

The subject of one becomes absolutely meaningless and non-existent without the context of the “other” to measure against.

In truth, both extremes exist as two sides of an inseparable whole. You cannot have a down without an up, a left without a right, light without a shadow, a front without a back, a better without a worse, a smarter without a dumber, a nice without a mean, a desire without a fear.

The word itself ‘MEASURE’, actually comes from the Sanskrit word Met`r’, which is also the root from which we derive the words matter’, and meter’. This is a very important point because once again everything we perceive as objective reality’ is perceived as such through a process of measurement’. If you say you have become smarter, then you are comparing, or measuring’ yourself against something else… smarter in comparison to what? If I say I am better, or faster, or stronger, then it is always a form of measurement. As simple as this concept may seem, it’s very important that we understand it, because the very act of measurement itself is how we as human personas define ourselves.

Within this universe of objective reality, it’s simply not possible to have one without the other. The simple concept of duality, it is what IS.

Who is “I”?

So in understanding that, then it should be clear that my “self” as I normally consider it is simply a collection of HIGHLY edited thoughts, all of which are based on measurement, and all of which are stored as a set of memories I call “I.”

And the person speaking to me? Same-Same… another mind/body organism, alive on this spinning rock, which identifies itself based on it’s own selected set of memories, again HIGHLY edited, and again ALL based on measurement.

Please read this again, and see if this rings true for you. Then ask yourself this, how many memories do you remember from Oct 1995? Can you remember what you where doing at 4:21pm on Oct 4th 1995? If not, what do you remember from that day? What do you remember from that Month? How about that Year?

To see for firsthand just how small, selective, and restrictive the little string of memories is that we put together in an order and call “I” can be mind blowing.

Many people wont even allow themselves to go there, for fear that this “me” story they have been clinging to with such attachment may not actually be real upon closer examination.

All this is considered ‘normal’ behavior, and this is what the average person calls “I”. If you don’t see how subjective this process of “me” creation obviously is then think back to the example of the passengers in the car.

Now back to the table.

When the person across the table catches your attention and engages you in a conversation, and in that moment you shift your awareness from the broader noise around you, and focus it on the individual who is trying to speak directly with you, and in so doing you hear what they say, while at the same time tuning out, or turning into background noise, the voices closer to you… now in that above situation what do you identify with as “I?”

Are you the thoughts you remember, your “me” story, or are you the awareness itself that has focused its direction?
Quite obviously, the “me” story cannot focus it’s awareness, it’s consciousness. The “me” story IS just a thought. If it was not, then whose me story would it be?!

If we abandon time, that is, let go of obsessively thinking about ourselves in the purest way possible to simple, open awareness and kindness, we set into motion something that is without bounds or limits, something that immediately and eventually touches everyone.

Into the hamster wheel!

So in understanding the reality that what most people call “I” doesn’t really exist we are left with a fundamental question… who is the “I” that sets ‘goals’ ?

The only answer I have been able to come up with is this. . . the same being which is created by measurement and identifies itself as thought sets up an artificial series of objectives based on it’s own “me” story by which it will seek to further measure, and therefore CREATE, it-self.

What an endless hamster wheel that is.

Consider this: Is it possible to be afraid without holding beliefs? This brings us to the second major problem with goal setting.

I Remember the reality of measurement, and I understand that desire cannot exist without fear. Therefore, the stronger the desire, the greater the fear. Fear of failure to achieve the desire, fear of losing the object of desire, attachment to the desired object, or need for the object… ALL of it leads to suffering. But only always.

Everything we call the “past” is nothing but present memory, and highly edited memory at that. Everything we call the “future” is nothing but fantasy and commentary, that is, present memory recycled and rearranged.

NOW is the only “time” we can ever be awake, free, honest, wise, intimate, and compassionate. NOW is the only time we can be happy and at peace.

No entangling alliances to any system of belief, mythology, or authority will set you free.

The motive to be generous, to give, and to share, and the ambition to acquire, possess, and control, are two radically different approaches to living.

The ‘power of positive thinking’ sounds good. You can seem to control things until you can’t.

We take our health for granted until we lose it.

We take loved ones for granted until we lose them.

We think we will live forever until we are about to die.

We can hear we should be able to heal ourselves if we have enough faith and think positively, a great theory unless your one of those for whom it doesn’t work.

What is really required is a sit in against the voices of conditioning that say you should have control. The control we think we have is in reality the control egocentricity has over us. The voice that says you should have control, controls you utterly.

To restore order then would mean to liberate oneself from the spell of what SEEMS, and come back to what IS.

And that is why I dislike “goal setting”. It is just not practical.


ps: If we abandon time, that is, let go of obsessively thinking about ourselves in the purest way possible to simple, open awareness and kindness, we set into motion something that is without bounds or limits, something that immediately and eventually touches everyone… and we still get to keep our day planner.   : )

Amantium irae, amoris integratio est. in saecula saeculorum

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Valentine Rawat
Personal Trainer · S&C Coach · Official Trainer to Sky1 Obese A Year to Save My Life & SkyLiving FAT: The Fight of My Life I'm a father and a husband, and my girls are my inspiration to be better, do better & continually help others achieve better of themselves.

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