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We have come through that ‘New Year Resolutions’ time where we innocently (naïvely?) set goals that we fully intend to achieve, tentatively set goals that we hope we’ll achieve or, with a mocking laugh, avoid the whole thing altogether.

Having written a personal-development-styled novel for youth, I have suddenly found myself in the strange, and often uncomfortable, position of being an ‘expert’ on goal-achievement; a bizarre turn of events, given my own journey where goals are concerned. Recently, in the process of teaching goal-setting to others, I was struck by the actual spelling of the word ‘goal’ and its association with the word ‘gaol’. After all, the word ‘goal’ and the word ‘gaol’ are not that far apart. Flip a couple of letters and your innocent dream has landed you in the clink.

Nor are their meanings very far apart. To say that we merely want something is completely safe. There is no commitment; we just simply want it. We’re not likely to be embarrassed if we don’t achieve it because we didn’t necessarily expect to do so ourselves. We just wanted it! (fling arms wide and give a cheerful laugh). It’s a wish really, and you know how likely we are to be granted our wishes…

A goal, on the other hand, is Serious Business. When we talk about goals we often use the word ‘commit’. (Ever checked it in the dictionary? It means ‘carry out or perpetrate a crime; pledge or bind to a certain course or action’. In other words, ‘locked in’. No wonder we hesitate before committing to marriage; no wonder we call our spouse the ‘ball and chain’… Who wouldn’t be wary of imprisonment?)

It’s as if a want is an innocent heartfelt fling, while a goal is a cerebral, structured, till-death-do-us-part relationship. You can almost see it striding in, ring-of-commitment in one hand, checklist in the other…

Besides, when we talk about goals we are speaking of committing ourselves to something that is articulated very precisely. We will definitely be embarrassed if we don’t achieve it because goals are all about a specific achievement, as distinct from those nice, vague wants. Think of the goal hoop in basketball and netball games – there is no doubt as to whether the ball has gone in or out; you can’t fudge it the way you can with a want. It’s in or it’s out. It’s hit or miss. Same with the goal posts in football games. The area might be a bit bigger but it’s so clearly delineated that no-one is in any doubt as to whether you have succeeded or failed. There is a much bigger risk.

Testing our goal against the SMART criteria (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timed) equates to the same sort of entrapment. Measurable. Timed. Oy vey.

I was teaching an adult class a few weeks ago and heard myself say, “The goals I am sure of achieving are the ones for which I want the journey as much as the outcome”. As soon as those words had escaped my lips I clapped my hand to my mouth in shocked insight. That was exactly right! I had set a goal to complete the sequel to my first book and I was on track. I was on track because I love to write; I wanted the journey (the pleasure and pain of writing) as much as the outcome (a finished book). I had set a goal to create a program based on the book and I was on track. I was on track because I enjoy creating and because two people in the UK had contacted me wanting to teach my material; I wanted the outcome (seeing my book and programs proliferate elsewhere with little effort from me!) as much as the journey (the satisfaction of creation).

But my little ole book, which was launched in 2006 and had sold 5000 copies inside the first twelve months – no mean achievement for an unknown, self-published author in a small market – is still virtually unknown internationally. In 2007 I had set a goal to have it published in America and the UK but much as I wanted the outcome (books available for sale in bookstores in the US, Europe, etc.), I did not relish the journey (research, detailed admin, decision-making – ugh). So, five and a half years later, I’m still dreaming of international publication on a large scale.

When I made this connection between the journey and the outcome, I realised that I could no longer merely wish for my book to be published internationally; I must take responsibility for it myself. I must ‘SMART’ that desire and turn it into a real goal. I must help the baby wish grow up.

Dr John Demartini is a Behavioural Educator who says that ‘your dream is a fantasy unless you have a strategy’. I’ve heard him make that statement multiple times, but it didn’t land for me until I heard myself make the journey/outcome remark. He also says that we will lie to ourselves that our goal is not important to us when we don’t know how to get past our own barriers. Hm. Bingo.

Setting goals sets ourselves up for failure unless we have a plan. So, you see, really it’s much safer to just have wants – then we get to save face if we bomb out. I was discussing the exercise of writing a ‘Goals History’ with a girlfriend – you know, you list all the goals you have set and either achieved or not. You write it for the purpose of self-awareness, not to bash yourself up, but she told me that it was quite an upsetting exercise. It made her root out the fanciful goals she had set at so many personal development programs – the millions in the bank, the large portfolio of investment properties, the dream house on the Peninsula… and face the facts.

Yeah. To how many of those goals was she (are we) really committed? Really prepared to come up with a strategy and lock ourselves in?

The doco-movie The Secret gave us the impression that we could just visualise and our goal would materialise, but that is to deny the fact that we are here in bodies, in matter. It’s a snap to imagine achieving a goal; it’s quite another thing to persist with it through the delays and obstacles and setback of the physical dimension. Which brings me to another of my insights (in my frenzied reaction to being viewed as an expert I’ve had to deal with many of my fantasies about goal-achievement): there is no such thing as ‘straight line manifesting’.

I used to think that the whole process could be tracked with a ruler: step one, set goal; step two, take action; step three, achieve goal. Tick the box and proceed to next goal. But it’s not like that in ‘real life’. Real life is circuitous; it travels in circles and spirals and triangles and all sorts of other shapes that are not straight lines. In fact, there’s no such thing as a straight line. That’s a myth from the imagined mathematics of plane geometry. In fact, in Universe, (as Buckminster Fuller points out), we are actually participating in spherical geometry. Lines on earth all curve.

Curve. Take detours. Do learning curves… We set a goal and before we know it we have run into the Law of Action and Reaction: each action sets up an equal and opposite reaction. We are challenged and tested. We need much more guts to achieve real goals than we do for fairy wishes that just call for a snap of the fingers or some fairy dust. We need commitment and a plan and resilience and accountability. We must face ourselves, recognize our escape tactics, change self-defeating habits…

For some ten years I had added the words ‘Europe trip’ to my goals list. When I was brave, I named the destinations: France, Greek Islands, Italy, Spain… I reinscribed those names year after year until mid 2010 when I got sick of writing them down and not achieving them. And then a friend was diagnosed with a tumour and the wake-up for me was ‘you never know what’s around the corner. What are you waiting for?’ Within a few weeks I had organised passports and was meeting with a travel agent. In September of that year my daughters and I spent a marvellous month in Europe (the Greek Islands, France, Italy, Germany… we’re saving Spain for next time. You’ve gotta have a goal.).

And so my wishful dreams are beginning to grow up. Yes, goals require commitment and all the scary connotations that that brings. But flip another couple of letters (and get creative), and you get ‘gold’. Commit to your goal and there lies treasure: the treasure of personal accomplishment, the satisfaction of having been accountable, the rewards of growth and achievement.

To me a SMART goal includes a check that it is truly Meaningful, truly important to me; the ‘Realistic’ criteria includes a check that I have a balanced expectation of what it will bring and what will be involved in achieving it. No goal delivers only pleasure – even my beloved writing, and every goal includes a journey; the goal is not just a disembodied outcome, so we must be up for the journey as much as the destination. In fact, as my favourite quote from Ralph Marston goes, “The value of an ambitious goal is not measured by what it will bring to you. The worth of a goal is measured by what it will make of you in the process of following and attaining it.”

I would never have dreamed of having an international organisation a few years ago but today it’s beginning to happen. It began with a twinkle in my eye, the dream to write a book. When I allowed myself to be distracted from that dream because of lack of belief in myself, the desire went underground and kept niggling at me from there. It was a mere whisper for years. Finally I wrote the book, and then grappled with publication decisions and marketing and websites, and then responded to interest in programs, and then entertained the possibility of training others to deliver the programs. Step by step, my goals have grown as I have grown. What you feed, grows.

Carla Zampatti confesses it was never her plan to create one of Australia’s best-loved and most successful fashion brands. “There was no grand vision – I had no idea we would end up where we are today. It’s really just been an adventure and something that I love, and each step has been exciting. I love working like that – it means things never stop. There’s a new event and a new challenge every day.” Zampatti merely did what spoke to her heart, what was truly ‘emportant’ to her. (M in SMART = meaningful.) And she persisted. As she achieved one thing she saw a new and bigger possibility.

I have found the same thing to be true: my book business grows when I’m doing what I love, what energises me (writing and teaching). Years ago, when I was distributing health products, my business flourished when I was focused on sharing an important health message, having fun with it, and being of service. When I shifted focus to achieving higher ranks and income, my business slowly foundered. Power Vs Force author, Dr. David Hawkins claims that the nature of our intention literally determines how much power we have to achieve our goal.

And so here is the rub: we must love our goals, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until… we achieve them. No giving up at the first fright or distraction. If we truly love our goals, we won’t be drawn into distracting affairs; we’ll remain committed all the way, even if we hesitate or take a circuitous route. If we enjoy the how (journey) as much as the why (outcome), we’ll be much more likely to succeed. And if we don’t naturally relish the journey, we’ll find a way to do so or to delegate it rather than just avoiding it.

My goal for 2012? To achieve publication of my book in the US and UK. Suddenly those tiresome administrative processes and decisions are becoming way more attractive…

And you? What are you going to commit yourself to in 2012?

This article was first published in Insight Magazine in March 2012

(My original title was 'Are Your GOALS Landing You In GAOL?' – I'd love to know which title you prefer.)

Liliane Grace is a Melbourne-based writer, writing coach and speaker. Her prize-winning ‘personal development novel’, The Mastery Club – See the Invisible, Hear the Silent, Do the Impossible, is for readers of all ages. It’s also available in China, but that’s another story. www.themasteryclub.com; www.lilianegrace.com.

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