Read more in the Setting Feel-Good Goals 101 series:
While having creative goals is helpful and a natural manifestation of the drive towards self-actualisation, not all goals are worth pursuing. We all have a finite amount of time here on this planet and no crystal ball to tell us how finite that time is. So the quality of our goals matters, especially because how we pursue a sense of meaning and purpose impacts the overall quality of our lives.
Creating goals for the sake of it (or because you think it’s what you should do) is a shortcut to dissatisfaction. If this becomes a regular pattern, you might even end up internalising the identity of being “someone who sets goals but doesn’t achieve them.” Instead, as you think about what the most meaningful use of your time could be, it’s important to dig deep and discover your intentions, hopes, and history with each potential goal.
There’s a saying that the quality of our life is defined by the quality of our questions and the same principle applies to our goals. Here are six important questions to ask yourself when thinking about what your most important goals are:
1. What is your motivation for pursuing your creative goals?
When I work with a new client, one question I ask is: “What has motivated you to focus on this particular habit or goal now?” I want to understand: what has brought someone to where they register for coaching? Why is this habit or goal relevant to them now? What does it mean to them, their lives and their future?
These are big questions and they are important. Motivation comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavours, but it’s always internally generated. You can use all the apps, reminders, life hacks and coaches in the world, but if you’re not clear on what your motivation is for pursuing a certain goal, they won’t make any difference. You’ll still struggle to stay on track and make it through the inevitable challenges and inconveniences that come with any big goal.
So take your goal and ask yourself: Why this goal? Why now? What do I hope to gain from reaching this goal? How will my life be different if I accomplish this? Are my expectations of how it will change my life realistic? (or am I falling into the trap of “when I reach X goal, then I’ll be happy/confident/enough” thinking?)
2. What have you tried so far in your pursuit of this goal?
It’s common to have several false starts before finding your rhythm with a goal. If you’ve already had a few false starts, it’s worth noting what you tried and what didn’t work so far so you can do something different this time around.
It’s also common for people to talk themselves out of a goal before they’ve even taken a single step. It feels too big, too scary, too “out there,” and will require them to take up more space than they feel comfortable with.
The number one reason I’ve talked myself out of committing to certain goals in the past is the “But what will everyone think of me?” voice. I’m sure you’re familiar with this. It’s the voice that lives in eternal fear of the generalised other: the “everyone will think this about me”, the “no one will like me.” This generalised other is often one or two negative experiences or people projected onto the entire world. So ask yourself with honesty and compassion: what have I tried so far in pursuit of this goal?
If it’s nothing, now is not the time to talk yourself out of it. Now is the time to say to your inner critic and your inner worrier “Thanks, but no thanks, I’ll check in with you later.” and shelve them while you experiment with your options, keeping your mind open and optimistic, your approach playful.
And if you have tried various things and none of them have worked? Good. Now you know what not to do and you’re that many steps closer to figuring out how to make this happen.
3. Are your creative goals SMART?
SMART is a well-worn acronym that sees a lot of action in the corporate world. It’s somewhat cheesy and not particularly thrilling, but it’s a useful checklist to help you set yourself up for success with your goal.
SMART stands for:
- Specific: what exactly will you be doing?
- Measurable: how will you track progress, how will you know when you’ve reached your goal?
- Attainable: Is this realistic? (two variations on this letter are “Ambitious” and “Attractive:” is it something that stretches your perception of what you’re capable of? Or is this something you want to do, something that feels exciting?)
- Relevant: How does this fit in with the bigger picture of your life? Like the questions I shared above, why now? Why this goal?
- Timed: When would you like to achieve this goal by?
4. Are you approaching your creative goals from a place of avoiding pain or pursuing growth?
As I’ve written about before, there is a subtle but important difference between pursuing a goal because you’re avoiding pain and pursuing it because you’re seeking growth.
If you approach a goal wanting to avoid pain, you’ll work at the goal until the pain has gone.
Then, you’ll stop.
For example, if you notice you’re a little heavier than you’d like to be then exercise to shed the excess weight, you’ll ease off once you’ve reached that point.
If you approach the same goal motivated by growth, however, your reasons for exercising change.
Instead of wanting to lose weight, you might be motivated by wanting to take part in a specific physical challenge, because you want to do things you can’t currently do, or because you want to see what you’re capable of and surprise yourself.
One of these approaches leads to Yo-Yo habits that wax on and wax off and usually come with a not insignificant amount of emotional baggage. The other leads to a shift in lifestyle and, more importantly, identity.
Which one do you want?
5. If you don’t achieve your creative goals, what is most likely to have gotten in your way?
If you look ahead 3 years from now and you haven’t achieved your goal, what will have gotten in your way?
If you’re reeeeeeally honest, the answer is probably: excuses. As humans, we are masters at coming up with all kinds of excellent reasons to justify why we cannot do the hard, uncomfortable thing. This is called resistance and guess what? It never goes away (a great book on this topic is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield).
So, if you want to reach your goal, you need to learn to deal with your resistance in all its manifestations.
This starts with asking yourself: What are my biggest excuses? Become familiar with the stories you tell yourself about why you shouldn’t work towards this goal today and see them for what they are: resistance to change, not reality.
If you would like extra support in creating and fulfilling happy-making creative goals, I would love to help. I’m a certified digital coach with Coach.me, where I help clients gain momentum with their most important projects. If you’d like to see how coaching could help you, you can find out more here. Use the code HANNAHBRAIMEWEEK to try a week’s free coaching.
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash