Is goal-setting bad for us?

This idea popped into my head the other day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Here it is:

With all the personal development material out there—books, audios, seminars, gurus (especially all the gurus)—why are people still so stressed-out, overwhelmed, and confused about their lives?

I mean really, doesn’t that sort of blow your mind? For decades now we have been basically DROWNING in self-help programs, yet we still feel like our lives are slipping out of control.

What is going on?

For one thing, life is different now. It just is. The levels of stress and distraction today are unprecedented, so the things that have worked in the past simply aren’t enough anymore.

But the other big reason has to do with the goals we set for ourselves, and that’s what I talk about in this week’s post.

This is something I see all the time, and I bet you recognize it in your life, too. So, I think you’ll find it a helpful perspective.

Anyway, check it out. I hope you enjoy it.

Keep up the good work!

[ transcript ]

Hey, David here.

If you are at all into personal development, I bet you can relate to this. You’ve read a bunch of books, maybe gone to seminars or listened to audio programs. You may have tried meditation. And these things you know they’ve helped.

But at the same time, you still feel like something’s missing. Life is just so crazy now. Even with the things you’ve done, you’re still feeling stressed out at times, overwhelmed, there’s no balance in your life. No time. And it sort of feels like there’s something holding you back that you can’t quite put your finger on. Life doesn’t feel like you though it would, and you think it should. And you really don’t know how to get things back on track.

Now maybe that’s not you, but if it is, I can tell you that I felt the exact same way. It was a while ago now. Like 25 years ago. But I was right there.

So here’s what I discovered. The problem isn’t any of the things I thought it was. It isn’t that I’m weak, or a loser, or dumb or lazy, or any of the painful things we tell ourselves. The problem is just that, when we are looking for ways to improve our lives, we pick the wrong goals.

?So the question was, is goal setting bad for us, and the answer is, it depends on your goals.

Here’s what I mean. Here are the typical kinds of goals we set for ourselves.

Physically, we want to sleep better, eat better, lose some weight, be more active, take better care of ourselves.

Emotionally with our relationships, we want to be more present and positive with people. A better role model. Not get so stressed out and overwhelmed.

Intellectually, we want to have more focus and get more done. Be more creative and productive. Not get so distracted.

These are the typical personal development goals we have for ourselves, and they’re great goals, by the way. I’m not saying we shouldn’t want these things.

The problem, is that they’re secondary goals. Meaning, there’s something else required in order to achieve them.

To have more focus and be more productive, we need to be able to control our thoughts and attention. It’s called cognitive control.

To be more present and positive with people we need to be able to regulate our emotions – keep them from taking over like they do. That’s Emotional self-regulation.

To eat better and take better care of ourselves, we need more willpower so we can resist the drives and appetites and keep ourselves on track. It’s called impulse control.

These three self-mastery skills are what enable us to reach our goals.

But we don’t focus on developing these, we focus on the secondary goals instead. And this is sort of like having a goal to take a big road trip across the country but not putting gas in your car. Without the underlying self-mastery skills, we’re simply not going to reach our goals. And that’s exactly what happens. We set these goals for ourselves, and we fail, over and over again.

And the worst part is that when that happens, we compound the problem by blaming ourselves for the failure. We think “God I’m such a loser. I’m so weak. Why can’t I get my shit together?” when what we should really be thinking is, “Hmm, I guess I need to do a little more work on my self-mastery skills.”

So again, it’s like we didn’t put gas in the car but then we blame the CAR for not being able to make the trip. It doesn’t really make sense. But that’s what we do.
?So when we set secondary goals, back to out question again, is goal setting bad for us, it can actually be bad for us. It sets us up for failure, and then we make it worse by blaming ourselves.

The good news is, it’s easy to fix. We just need to start setting self-mastery goals instead.

Leonardo da Vinci said “The height of a man’s success is gauged by his self mastery.”

That’s what we’re talking about. Self-mastery goals lead straight to success, and no matter how you define that — happiness, fulfillment, relationships, health, impact, financial success, legacy. Whatever it is. If you can develop these skills, you can do whatever you set your mind to.

But when you don’t have these skills, it’s very difficult to have the success and the feelings and the life you want.

So how do you do it? How do you develop these skills?

Well, it just so happens that my book, Raise Your Inner Game, is about exactly this. In fact, it’s the world’s first and only practical system for developing these skills. So that’s a great way to go. Get the book. Come to the workshop. Join the Academy. It’s all there.

But you don’t have to do that either. You can find other ways to do it. You just need to know what you’re working on. Cognitive control. Emotional self-regulation, Impulse control. Break them down. Develop your own practices. Develop the skills. You can definitely do it.

So that’s the message I take from this. As you look to improve your life, it’s fine to set secondary goals, those are the things we want. But as you do, just make sure, especially as you’re starting out, that you first develop these primary self-mastery skills. Goal setting like that is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.

All right, that’s it for this week. If this was helpful, you might want to pick up a copy of my book, Raise Your Inner Game. The book retails for $19 but you can get it on my site for $15 with free shipping. If you’re into personal development, I think you’ll really love the book. So pop on over there — — it’s right on the home page. Grab your copy. If you are hearing this somewhere other than my site, come on over, put your name on my list. Otherwise, thank you. Keep up the good work. I’ll talk to you next time.

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