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3 reasons goals are overrated (and what you can use instead that feels even better)

First off, lets define a goal and why on the surface they feel good.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, apart from the thing football players are aiming for, a goal is “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or a desired result”.

In coaching goals are often defined as the thing someone is looking to work on during a series of coaching sessions and have attached to them an emotion or a feeling. And on one level that’s great – there is something to aim for, an outcome that will help define success and a motivational reason to put the work in. So, goals are great then, right – what's my problem with them?

Delayed joy. Goals come with the suggestion of “I’ll be happy when…” I’ll be happy when I’ve launched this business; when I meet my dream partner; when I get a new job; when I lose some weight” etc. The problem with this is – where is the space for you to be happy now?

Delaying happiness until a particular goal is reached limits your capacity to fully appreciate what you have now and how much there is to be grateful for.

A goal with deferred happiness creates an environment of lack. It suggests that only when the goal is achieved can you be happy/worthy/a success and that until then, only the opposite can be true.

Is feeling unhappy, unworthy and like you are not yet successful going to make you feel good moment to moment?

Built in failure. Another issue with goals is the yes/no win/lose binary that comes with them. You either achieve a goal or you don’t. You either win or you fail – and it’s not often we reach our goals first time round exactly as we wanted, so that leaves a lot of room for feeling like a failure.

Fear of failure can be a powerful motivation and for many people, it can be a strong driving force to show up and do what needs to be done.

But is that really a friendly way to treat your nervous system? Being driven by fear is soul sucking, anxiety ridden, waking in the middle of the night with a cold sweat territory.

To keep yourself fuelled by the win/lose narrative is going to be highly stressful whilst you are working towards your goal, and then really going to suck if things don’t work out as planned. Not reaching your goal = I am a failure.

External driven success measure. A lot of life’s goals – getting certain grades; going to the “right” university; meeting your perfect life partner in time to have the desired number of kids and of course climbing your chosen career ladder in the meantime – typically have societal, external drivers of what success looks like.

As we get swept up in these tick list life goals from a young age, it’s easy to believe that these goals you hold dear are your own and it’s only when you start to pay attention to the feeling of something being missing, or something shakes you out of autopilot that you realise you've been set on a path that does not actually align with what you really want (Hello 20+ years in a corporate environment I was not suited to before finding coaching as my true calling after repeated burnouts).

So, now I have made you miserable and got you questioning everything you thought you wanted – let me bring in a concept that I think is an excellent alternative to goals.

Cyclical, intentional living.

This is a combined way of being that includes aspects of cyclical living (living in tune with cycles – both your own and those of nature) and being more intentional about what you want, why you want it and how you move towards it.

Living with intention and in tune with cycles means that goals stop being the be all and end all, and instead become useful milestones and markers of the path you are on. They guide the journey rather than becoming the destination.

An intention could be to have more time with loved ones; to run your business in line with your values; to eat in ways that make your body feel good.

None of these have a set target or goal, it's more about being able to mindfully check in and ask – does this action bring me closer or further to my intention? Does my intention from 6 months ago still feel good or is something else now true for me?

And intentions are not airy-fairy woo-woo ways of not having something to aim for. They simply enable you to step out of the limiting narrative of goals and take a wider view of your life in a holistic way.

If you want more ease in your life – what does that mean for how you work, how you run your home, how you show up in your relationships?

Intentions become a flexible framework to build plans and actions around whilst keeping you focused on how you feel rather than a singular win/lose end result.

Nature moves in cycles and we are part of nature, so we have our own cycles too. Circadian rhythms; hormone cycles; the aging process – all have cyclical energetic profiles which match the seasonal cycles of nature – Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn.

This wheel represents many things, all linked through the patterns of cycles - the seasons; the menstrual cycle; the Celtic wheel of the year markers; energy levels and masculine/feminine balance of light and dark.

When you can tune into your own cycles, you can bring intentional focus to them and honour both your needs and your dreams. Living with intention looks like being mindful of what you want and why it’s important to you (not anyone else, YOU).

When you are clear on the what and the why, then you can focus on the how and the when.

Here’s a few tips on living with intention and in tune with cycles.

  • Get really clear on what you want your life to look like and why this is important. You can do this by tuning into your intuition; using meditation and journaling to explore your feelings and desires.

  • Get to know yourself and your cycles – when is your energy at its peak, when do you need more rest, how do your honour the need for reflection and introspection; how do you practice both release and celebration? Building this sense of self connection will support you to move your energy in ways that ebb and flow rather than overwhelm.

  • Get use to learning hard lessons and meeting yourself with grace and compassion when things do not work your way. Intentions are about setting a direction and then moving in alignment, but there will always be times when you go off course – that is human nature. When this happens, see it not as failure (because that belongs with the win/lose binary of goals) and instead treat it as an opportunity to connect and understand yourself even more.

Goals belong to the linear, logical world of yes/no right/wrong win/lose.

They have their place, but do they need to be the main driver for how you live your life?

Tuning into yourself, reconnecting with who you really are and what you really want so you can live on purpose and with intention – that can be truly empowering and rewarding.


If you would like to know more about how I can support you with living with intention, contact me to ask about 1-2-1 coaching and my cyclical group programmes – Reconnect (beginning Sept 22)) an Full Circle (Starting Feb23)

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