The Paradox of Goal Setting

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"Live for your goals without your goals controlling your life."

Reading that quote, you may find yourself a little baffled. You ask yourself, "How can I think BIG, set goals, and pursue them without giving into them?" Impossible. No. It's far from impossible. It's necessary. While on the surface there appears conflict between pursuing goals and not allowing goals to control life, especially in this age of "unselling" and age of authenticity where we as entrepreneurs must act like we don't need the business when we really do in order to attain our goals, there exists no contradiction. This- the goal paradox- setting goals while not being overly pushy and not being invested only in outcome - is the secret to success and a fulfilling life. Further explanation required, I know.

Although seemingly paradoxical, this message of making sense of what appear to be opposites provides meaningful and significant answers. Finding substance in the gray areas- between fiercely pursuing goals and not being pushy- is paramount to success. Remaining unattached to the outcome almost seems undoable, but here's the crux of it: Firmly set goals; walk strongly and with conviction; and most importantly, accept that you alone are not in control of the outcome. By remaining unattached but deeply committed to your goal(s), no failure looms and there is no way to fall short of expectations. Without the burden, weight or worry about the outcome of your goals, you allow yourself to remain steadfast and more positive; and in turn, by maintaining that upbeat attitude and drive, there exists a greater likelihood of achieving your goals.

The goal paradox presents another interesting dichotomy between intention and goals. Intentions are passive and less tangible whereas goals are more concrete. Often the two are confused especially as they relate to success and outcome. For example, I intend to be successful- intangible, passive, and vague. Inherent in intention is expectation which builds a collapsible ceiling that likely leads to disappointment and failure. However, by striving without the resistance caused by intention and expectation, in other words, without regard to a specific outcome, you give yourself the best chance of reaching your goals and achieving success. I know. This entire idea necessitates an example, and I have the most profound one to offer- one which will stay with me forever.

I had a yoga teacher for many years, the lovely and lively Mary Dunn. Unfortunately, several years ago, Mary was diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of cancer. Mary could have easily buckled under the weight of the diagnosis and prognosis, but instead, she decided to wage battle. She endured chemo and radiation and myriad medications and treatments. Her wherewithal and stamina baffled and amazed me and others in her classes. One day after class, I approached her and gently inquired, "Mary, how are you really doing?" She paused, took a breath and then quite matter-of-factly replied, "I'm learning to walk towards life without being attached to the outcome." Mary's big goal was obviously to live and beat cancer, but she understood and accepted that if she invested too much in that outcome, she would miss out on living life- living in the present. (It's like waiting all year for Christmas and not enjoying Easter, birthdays or any other celebration throughout the year.) Mary's commitment to live life strongly, boldly, and with peaceful acceptance allowed her to achieve her goal- to live the life she had at the moment in front of her. By not being attached to the outcome, she walked towards life in the time she had left. Mary and her story taught me and teach me to this day that while you live for your goals, you cannot let them control your life.

The goal paradox. Set goals and work hard towards them, but don't become attached to them. Don't let your goals control you.