The unexpected things you can learn from goals

There are plenty of blogs out there about the power of goal setting. As a leader, you’ve likely read a tonne of them already.

So, instead of describing the power of setting goals, this blog is laser-focused on the unexpected things you can learn while on the path to achieving a goal.


First of all, let’s consider what we learn from choosing to set goals in the first place.

Right now it’s the beginning of the year. We’ve dived headfirst into the murky waters of the new year, not knowing what’s lurking below the surface.

If you’re like every other person on the planet, this new calendar year will give rise to you thinking about what you want from 2020.

Perhaps you’ll set a new year’s resolution, or two.

You might choose to set an intention or choose a word for the year.

Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll claim that resolutions are for losers.

However you dice it, you’re probably thinking about what you want to use this year for. How you’ll spend your time, and who you’ll spend it with.

As you begin to set goals, the unexpected (and incredibly juicy) thing you can choose to focus on is the goals you shy away from.

You know the ones; the goals that pop into your mind that you immediately dismiss or ignore. Sometimes the things we are afraid of pursuing are the very things we need to pursue.

If you look into how the human brain operates you’ll quickly learn that we’re operating on an ancient and out of date operating system. Our brain is quick to stamp out change, pursue what’s safe and stay firmly out of harm’s way.

The fear of not achieving a goal will quickly trip this ancient wiring into action and you’ll find it coming up with a whole lot of reasons why you shouldn’t set that scary thing as a goal.

What do you notice as you observe what you are shying away from? 

What does this teach you about what your fears are? 

Does this help you have a better understanding of the areas of your life you may have a fixed mindset towards? 

Instead of listening to your initial response to a potential goal, step back and get curious about it. What are you really afraid of?

Next, let’s consider what we learn in the pursuit of a goal.

Have you ever set a goal, didn’t achieve it, promptly gave up and declared yourself a failure? Maybe you set a weight loss goal but ended up only losing a few kilos and then put them back on (with a few extras to boot).

Maybe you set a career goal and got no-where near the targets you set.

Were these failures? If you believe they were, they were, but they don’t need to be.

You see, each time you mark a stake in the future, set a goal and aspire to go there, you are engaging in forward motion. If you don’t get there, don’t forsake what you can learn about yourself along the way. Maybe an even more powerful reward sits in that space. It may even be more rewarding than achieving the goal itself; perhaps that golden nugget is self-discovery?

Take the weight loss goal that wasn’t reached; what rose in you as you struggled with that? What did the wrestle teach you about your self-belief, your habits, or your relationship with food?

And the work goal; did you learn anything else along the way? Perhaps you learned new skills and processes you wouldn’t have learnt without the pursuit of that goal? Get curious because there’s learning in all areas of this… if we look for it along the way.


Finally, here’s what we can we learn if we do achieve the goal.

If we approach goals in a binary way, in that the only point of them is to achieve them, we are truly limiting their power. This is seen most poignantly when we achieve a goal and what follows can only be described as a deep depression.

This is a common experience for people.

Take the example of Australian Olympic swimmer, Grant Hackett. He had massive goals to be the world’s best swimmer. He achieved that, and what followed was a sad and difficult period of depression and helplessness, including a public downfall where he turned to substance abuse.

When all we focus on is the goal itself, we lose sight of the purpose of the goal in the first place; to make us or the world around us better.

If we can hold onto that being the ultimate goal, then we see that life is a perpetual state of growth. One goal achieved, or not achieved, is simply the antecedent to the next lesson along the way.

So, when you do achieve a goal, take the time to think about what you learned along the way. What surprised you, and where does this inspire you to go now?

From all of this, we hope you can see we are hinting that there is far more to goals than a checklist. There is a powerful lesson in the whole process if we look for it along the way.

If setting goals is something you would like to learn more about, then give this TED Talk a watch.