Finding Balance with Goals

I have always been a goal setter. Goals give me a point on the horizon to move forward. Goals give me focus. Goals give me something to achieve. I experience great satisfaction when I accomplish a goal I set out for myself. Read any productivity book or listen to any expert on this topic and you will find goal setting to be an integral part of their system. And believe me, I should know – I have researched just about every productivity system or hack out there. Make them S.M.A.R.T! Break them into tiny chunks! Keep them front and center!  At this point, I have accumulated enough knowledge on the subject, I could probably write the book on goal setting!

I agree with the research – goal setting can be a valuable activity. But what happens when the satisfaction of achieving your goals does not result in inner happiness? What if the opposite were actually true?

Two and half months ago I returned home from a 10 day personal yoga retreat to celebrate the year of my 40th birthday. I came back feeling at peace and my inner light shining brightly. My life’s purpose was clear. Afraid of the light going dim – I did what was familiar to me. I set some goals. And I followed all the “rules” of goal setting. I gave myself a two month window. I posted the goals on sticky notes to keep them visible. Each week I broke the goal into chunks with smaller tasks. I was the poster child for productivity!

The result?

Stress. Burnout. Feeling unconnected.

I paused. What was happening? Where did that peace go from my retreat? I realized that in my quest to achieve, I had created an imbalance. My energy was so focused on pushing through to an outcome and looking ahead, I sacrificed nurturing my current growth and receiving what was right in front of me. Eastern cultures call this the balance of yin and yang.

My A-type, goal setting, western brain likes to think of it as the difference between performance goals versus development goals. (A particularly relevant framing as we are in the middle of end of year review season at work!) To me, performance goals are the things we need and want to achieve in a given timeframe. They help provide us with focus, direction and priority. Development goals are about personal (or professional) growth. They help us to become better versions of ourselves. We need both types of goals to thrive. But each goal type requires a different energetic approach.

Performance goals are outcome oriented (yang!) With performance goals we need to be direct and disciplined. We need to push hard and be determined to achieve a desired outcome. Our modern world (and us A-types!) tends to place higher value and reward performance goals.

On the other hand, development goals are growth oriented (yin!) And require a different energy. We need to allow ourselves to be more open, receptive and adaptive to our growth. Growth is not something we can push through or achieve. Like a new flower seedling, our personal development requires nourishment, care and patience. Our development goals are the fuel to nurture our personal growth. And we need to be careful not to “overwater” our growth. To try to speed it along. That’s when development goals cross the line into performance goals. That’s when we lose balance.

And that’s what happened to me after my retreat. I pushed too hard to achieve growth.

I have dialed back on the aggressive goals I set for myself. I am working to find that sweet spot of balance between doing and being. Between performing and developing. Between the yin and the yang. At times it feels uncomfortable. But this is all part of my journey. And what I can say – so far it seems to be working. Today, as I write this post, I feel at peace, happy and content.

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