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Are you a goals victim? by Richard Ingate

I have been setting goals since the heady days of 1990 when I first became an NLP Practitioner. Master Practitioner and a year long hypnotherapy diploma followed and I continued to set goals. Looking back over my notes, I have pretty much failed to achieve any of them.

I have devoured self help books (including Brian Tracy’s “Goals”) I have written lists of goals, following each author’s formula and the results have been fairly, uniformly dismal and at times depressing.

I have had private sessions with famous names in the NLP world, meditated, created and attempted action plans, vision boarded, tried the Secret and Cosmic Ordering (ha ha), followed a proactive approach, zero cleared, reiki-ed, worshipped Tony Robbins. You name it and I have probably tried it, and am still paying off the loan.

One thing I can definitely say is that much of what I have read about goals is complete tosh, at least for me. This can be a very disheartening place to be. The books and audios are so positive; and speakers like Wayne Dyer seem to find everything so easy and amazingly effective. When I could not reproduce the same results, feelings of guilt and failure were common house guests.

The other thing I can definitely say from my own experience is that the only time that the whole goal setting and achieving thing has worked for me is when I was working with a coach.

From this point there are two places I would like to direct your attention. The first is to ask the question, what was different about having a coach? The second is to outline how I am engaging with goals now, during a time I am not working with a coach.

The difference that made a difference

My first experience of coaching was a blessing. My first experience of coaching changed my life. The nurturing, caring, challenging, joyful accountability was unlike anything else. Goals were set and actions taken.

Why? Why this change when I had tried so hard on my own? Was it that just that I was being held accountable?

Partly, yes, and this is part of the leverage of having a coach. I believe a fuller answer is that in the coaching process my own creativity was rebooted and, more importantly, sustained. I became what I always had the potential to be, a creator rather than a victim of my conditioning. That for me is the primary power of coaching.

Unfortunately when the coaching came to an end due to the new government cutbacks, and a business partner parted company, I lost momentum. Was it to be the same old victim story?

Letting go

How many times does someone have to hear the same message before they ‘get it’? An unanswerable, and in this case, rhetorical question. One morning I woke up completely knowing that everything was ‘thought’. I had understood this as an idea way back in the seventies when I first learned about Buddhism and meditation. I had read the idea over and over without it becoming any more than an idea. It’s a theme that has become one of the underpinnings of transformational coaching in the style of Michael Neil, and now I ‘got it’. What did I get?

My experienced understanding of life is that it’s all mind, and impressions in the mind. Success, failure, wanting, not wanting, elation, depression. All mind stuff.

Now there is a relevant story about an intellectual who was explaining this idea to a more pragmatic friend. The friend remarked that if everything is in the mind, then the speaker must be imagining the pain in his nose…and then punched him on the nose!

It’s all in the mind and it’s all real. It’s just that ‘it’ does not mean anything unless I decide it does, because it is all thought. It also means that whatever ‘I’ am, is malleable… The world of success and failure is the world of the mind, no more, no less.

Where does this leave me with regard to goal setting? As Michel Neil and Steve Chandler advocate, I now understand that I want something because I want it, (and there are things I don’t want, and that is just because I don’t want them). Goal setting has become a play, a creation, a game to engage in because it is an interesting challenge that lights up my energy.

I don’t need to achieve my goals in order to succeed, be happy, or anything else. My goals are like a garden. I choose to plant it in the way I want. No right, no wrong. It is a creation and none the less wonderful for being that.

So I have let go of goals. I have thought carefully about what I want and what I don’t want in my life and I have planned my garden. Now I do what is in front of me to do and notice whether that takes me towards what I want or towards what I don’t want, and because it’s my creation I am actively engaged.

There is nothing magical about this. There is no ‘ultimate purpose’ bestowed by the Universe, in this. There is knowing the nature of the mind and doing what needs to be done. For example, I want to write. I want to earn most of my income through writing. I am not passionate about this, I am committed to this as a goal. It’s something I want and because I want it I take action towards it. So I write everyday. It’s a routine I have in place now.

One of the valuable exercises I have found in The Coaching Academy Personal Performance Coaching Course is in the Advanced Grow “GR” module. It is part of the long ten step goal setting exercise and is the part where you make two lists for each of your goals. One list is what you need to do and one for what you are prepared to do.

What a totally brilliant exercise! I saw instantly why, previously, I had not been achieving my goals. The disparity between the two lists was incredible. I was simply not willing to do what was needed to achieve my goals… now, was that ok, or not?

Wanting, not wanting

When I came to understand that I am exactly as I am and any judgement is just a story, wanting just became wanting, not wanting just became not wanting. They are very real feelings, and at times require great mindfulness and awareness not to act unwisely on their basis.

And they are just feelings: wanting is just wanting, and not wanting is just not wanting.

So where does this leave me with goal setting?

The first point is that I want something and it is completely ok if I get it or don’t get it. It is not my purpose or destiny. It is something I want, and that can be, really, really want!

If I want it I can choose to create it. I can work out what needs to be done and what I am prepared to do. If what I am prepared to do matches what needs to be done, it’s a goal worth working on. If there is no such match, it’s just a want and I am not going to do anything about it. This decision takes out all the frustration and illusion of failure out of ‘not achieving a goal’.

Doing what needs to be done

Choosing to create an outcome, and choosing not to create an outcome. Dealing with what is in front of me to do. Success, failure, ‘it will make me happy’, are all stories, all part of the mind stuff that we create our lives out of. I am learning to hold an awareness of wanting and not wanting without being compelled to move in to fight, flight or fright.

Then, when I am prepared to work on a goal, it’s a choice, a garden to cultivate. It’s an enterprise of joy and work and joyful work and work that leads to joy later!

Recognising wanting and not wanting as feelings rather than judgements on my level of achievement saves me the heartache of frustration. When I feel quite strongly, (Monday morning?) that I don’t want to go in to work, I don’t have to take it to heart. I don’t have to let the feeling build and slip in to fantasies of having a really bad day and how many really enjoyable things I would do if I didn’t have to go into work. They are thoughts and feelings and I can allow them to come and to go and get on with what I have committed to do, by which I mean, have installed in my routine.

The feelings can (come and) go because I have already planned my day to create what I want to create and I am taking action. The heart of goal setting is a creative awareness and action. Doing what needs to be done, that is right in front of me to do. Being right in front of me means that it is available to do right now, (not only if I didn’t have to go to work, or do the washing up).

Commitment = Passion?

I recently had the chance to put a question to supercoach, Steve Chandler. The question was essentially, is there a difference between commitment and passion? Do all our goals have to be 10’s in order to have a chance of achievement? His answer was that there is a distinction between passion and commitment. Commitment takes action whether I feel like it or not. My goal is scheduled in to my day and I ‘just do it’. I don’t have to be passionate about it, or highly motivated. I don’t even have to ‘get myself in the mood’. That just makes my goals depend on how I feel. Commitment takes action (and trusts that the good feelings come later through my action, not before it). Commitment does not wait around for the muse to arrrive, (I could be busy creating, taking action, now).

So, don’t be a victim of goals. The goals are just a skilful means, not something to be attached to. Know that the power of a goal is in engaging and sustaining you as a creator. The power is in you doing what needs to be done, today, now. It is your creativity and the action that flows from that creativity that takes you where you want to go.

by Richard Ingate

2 Responses to "Are you a goals victim? by Richard Ingate"

1 | Malcolm Lugton

March 9th, 2011 at 11:31 am


Thanks for sharing these thoughts Richard.. not only helpful for me but (I strongly suspect) for a number of my clients and also fellow coaches!! It makes sense to me!!

2 | alan clarke

April 22nd, 2011 at 8:32 am


I certainly found this helpful in taking the pressure off. Goal setting can feel so daunting for many of my clients. Your struggles with this have produced insights of great value. your reflections prompt me to consider what goal setting can be used for and what meanings are attached to the process.

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