The Perils & the Promise of Goal Setting

Here’s a commonly understood definition of goals: “A goal is something you want in a certain way and by a certain time.”

Hmmm…I can’t actually think of much that I’ve gotten in the certain way, at the certain time that I wanted to. I’ve created many things that I’m proud of — books, charity events, and a great little boy who knows when to be polite and when to break the rules.

I feel deep joy on a regular basis. You could classify me as ambitious, but…I’ve rarely reached my “goals.” I’ve flat-out failed at a lot of them—did not even come close to my target numbers or that career-changing opportunity, or getting that particular relationship on track.

Or, along the way to my destination, I did a complete mid-course correction and traded in my original goal for something much more fulfilling. Like the time I traded in aspirations to go to a schmancy art school  — I was so convinced I’d be the next Rothko, and instead, started my own branding consultancy. Changed my mind, I want that instead.

Sometimes, I reached a goal way later than planned, and even though I attained it, I felt like a loser for taking so long to make it happen. (I generally feel behind on my major life aspirations. Everything that I’m accomplishing now — books, love life, profile, miles I can do on an elliptical — well, I figure I should have nailed it five years ago, at least. Anyone relate?)

And then there were those transcendent occasions where I managed to super exceed my goals, in which case I felt like an amateur for thinking so small in the first place. Should have asked for more.

Big book deals … a brutal business failure … collaborating with my idols … divorce … deeper love and liberation … criticism … critical acclaim …after enough failure, re-routing, and bona fide success, I finally considered that maybe goal-chasing wasn’t bringing out the best in me.

It made me a bit pushy. And you know what’s on the other side of too much “pushy”? Burn out. Adrenal fatigue and soul frustration.

Let me get back to goals for a minute. I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers: Tell me, how do you feel about setting goals? And here’s what came in:

Goals energize and invigorate me!… Goal-setting sucks…. I love to set goals…. Goals confuse me…. I am constantly writing down my goals, but I’m not so great at fulfilling them…. I feel energized…. Terrified…. Ambivalent…. If I don’t have goals I feel lost…. If I have goals I feel claustrophobic…. Yuck! … Awesome!

I’m glad I asked. Because here’s the whole cosmic, life-liberating a-ha revelation:

You’re not chasing the goal, you’re chasing the feeling that you hope attaining the goal will give you.

When we zealously go after dreams that don’t nourish our spirits, we’re headed for trouble. Anxiety disorders, betrayals, blindsiding break-ups. On the other hand, if your goal is rooted in your truth – if it’s tied to your “core desired feelings” then you’re going to feel energized and supported on the journey, even when the going gets rough.

And to cheer you on, life will keep throwing synchronicities your way – the universe speaks in synchronicities, you know.

So many of us have our relationship to success inside out. We come up with our to-do lists, our bucket lists, and our goals and we figure that when we “arrive” we’ll feel amazing and validated by the world. And then it’ll be okay to ease up on our selves.

But what if, first, we get clear on how we actually want to feel, and then we design our goals – intentions that are in sync with who we truly are, achieved in ways that are actually life affirming and nourishing instead of an endurance test.

Because every craving, aspiration or goal that you have – from what you want to eat, wear, and own, to all the great things you want to create in the world – is driven by an innate desire to feel a certain way. That’s it. That’s the bottom-line. The essence of your desire is a feeling.


For about seven years I had a sticky note in my day planner that said: In communion. Affluence. Divinely Feminine. Creative. I didn’t know what to call those words at the time, but I knew I wanted to feel them – everyday, anyway I could.

And those “core desired feelings” changed they way I did my life. I started desire mapping my way to my achievements. I flipped my goal-setting inside out. Now, my yearly goals & intentions are driven by my core desired feelings. I use my core desired feelings as the basis of my ambitions in my career, my relationships, my wellness plan. They inform what I say yes to, what I decline, and what I make in the world.

What do I need to do to feel “In communion”? Call my grandmother. Write a thank you letter. Make time to pray. It can be that simple and that profound.

What do I need to do in my career this year to feel “Divinely Feminine”? Do a new photo shoot, lead with my intuition, raise money for violence against women causes, write more about the feminine power. See how this works? It’s less about “pushing” my goals on my life and more about following my heart. Part art, part science — all desire mapping.

Maybe you don’t need to make a million bucks to feel abundant. Or be married with two kids by the time you’re thirty-five to feel joyful. Maybe feeling creative or energized or sexy has nothing to do with getting the VP position, a new meditation practice, or firmer thighs. Or maybe those aspirations are exactly the things that you need to go after to generate your core desired feelings.

When you get clear on how you want to feel and let those feelings be your aim, you might surprise yourself with some new choices. You’ll sign up for workshops you’d never considered. You’ll quit stuff. You’ll start the day differently. Planning your week will take on a liberating kind of simplicity. You’ll say no to the obligations and should-do’s that never felt very fun or freeing in the first place. You will feel much more integrated.

You need to have soul-centered goals. You need to go about fulfilling those goals in life-affirming ways. And it all goes back to feeling the way you most want to feel.

Feelings are magnetic. Each feeling is a beacon that attracts a reality. Love attracts love. Generosity creates a generous response. Anger creates more things that could make you angrier – if you let them.

What we focus on expands. So choosing to focus on life-affirming feelings is the surest way to create the experience that you want.

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