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Five Reasons Not to Set Goals For 2015 - Set Processes Instead

04/12/2014 18:30 GMT | Updated 02/02/2015 10:59 GMT

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Are you one of the millions of people around the globe who wants to lose weight in 2015? Get in shape, take a course, get organised, save money or spend more time with your kids?

In my coaching practice we no longer help clients to set goals. Why? Well let's start with new year's resolutions: only 8% (1) of people that set them actually achieve them. We're in the business of making real changes, an 8% success rate isn't going to cut it. Of course recording them as SMART goals works if you have a coach, buddy or boss to report to regularly, but alone (and who can keep a coach on the payroll forever?) we slip back into old habits like ice-cream down a cone in July. But that's not the only reason we've stopped setting goals. Here are 5 reasons followed by some ideas that will help you achieve your dreams in 2015.

1. Goals are a constant reminder of what you haven't achieved

My son would love to get his 'pen licence' at school so he can move from writing in pencil to pen. It's been his 'goal' all year. Every week when his name is not called out another little part of him gives up on this dream. It no longer encourages him to write neater and try harder but is a constant reminder that he isn't good enough.

2. Goals force you to live in the future

Goals come with the expectation that you will be happier, healthier or more successful when you have achieved them. "When I lose weight, I'll have more friends, be able to love myself or be taken seriously by my colleagues." They give us a reason for not finding these qualities in ourselves right now. Qualities reserved for our future self exclusively.

3. Once you've set them they're hard to get rid off

If you haven't really progressed towards your goal once the initial motivation runs out it won't simply disappear, it will hang around and continue to generate negative feelings.

Joanne is a successful executive who came to us for coaching. She felt 15kg's overweight and loved nothing about herself. She brought along meal plans, food diaries, weight charts and a heavy heart. We discussed how she would feel without her history of failing to shed 15kg's. How she would feel without having that goal at all? Failing to lose weight had become a part of what defined her - her story. Read on to see how we changed that.

4. Giving up a goal is bad for your health

People who don't reach their goals tend to set lower, more achievable goals over time - a natural self-protection mechanism. But disappointing yourself even once takes its toll on your body too. Failure releases the stress hormone cortisol and raises your blood pressure, which is especially harmful if the goal is continuously on your mind.

5. Goals can lead to false conclusions

A failed goal can be seen as proof that things can't change.

There is a better way of achieving your objectives

Before I begin writing a new book. I go through days of paralysis when I'm unable to write anything because all I can think about is having to put down 80 000 intelligent words in the correct order in 6 short months. I drink too much coffee, my heart murmur shouts at me and I bite my nails as I sit and watch the earth turn and the hours drip by. Tick tock. Then I panic because my publisher is expecting more than the nothing I currently have.

I only move forward when I remind myself that a book is a collection of chapters that consist of paragraphs. Paragraphs are just single sentences of words strung together between periods. Today I have to write a paragraph, not a book. One idea, not 50.

Set Processes not goals

Our journey creates our destination and the actions that we take everyday create our future success. Instead of setting goals with our clients, we set processes. We agree on the small and detailed steps that they must take everyday in order to move forward in the right direction. We are aware of the final goal that they would like to achieve, but they have no power over that goal. They have power over what they do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. That's what I'm interested in. That's worth talking about.

How Joanne changed her life

Joanne's previous weight loss plans had involved going to the gym, eating half of what was on her plate and giving up Friday drinks. Losing weight became associated with giving up the things that she enjoyed. So when she felt stressed or angry or tired she reverted straight back to eating what she shouldn't - and then felt guilty about it.

So instead of focussing on losing weight, we focussed on the positive changes she could make everyday. Not changes where she would have to sacrifice anything but rather where she could add to her daily activities. To drink an extra glass of water between drinks on Friday night. Order a vegetable side dish and eat that before the main dish. Walk in the park on a Saturday morning. It wasn't long before Joanne stopped thinking about losing weight and focussed instead on being the caretaker of her body. She celebrated every successful week and corrected herself when she veered off track. Losing weight was no longer about shedding unwanted parts of herself but taking care of her future self, everyday.

If you want to achieve something special on your next journey around the sun, then why not gift yourself a weekly activity chart instead of a list of goals. Now each daily activity becomes the goal. Then celebrate each small step that you achieve. Remember that today is the only thing you have control over, today is real, the future is a work in progress.

(1) Source: University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Research Date: 1.1.2014

Tremaine du Preez is the author of Think Smart, Work Smarter, executive coach and lecturer in Critical Thinking based in Singapore. This blog series is from her upcoming book, Raising Thinkers - preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime. She blogs at www.tremainedupreez.com/thoughts-on-thinkingwhere this post first appeared.