Goal Setting in an Inside-Out World

Here’s what goal setting looks like when you believe in an Outside-In World:  You believe something “out there” in the world will make you happy, so you set a goal to achieve it. 

Sounds pretty typical, right?

The thing is, when you’re chasing down a goal because you think it’s going to make you happy, you’re on the hook.

You’ve set it up so that you can’t be happy until you get the thing. Or you’ve set it up so that you will be happier when you get the thing…but not before.

And since happiness does not actually come from stuff out there, that’s not an accurate view.

Being on the hook creates all kinds of problems.

You end up with tunnel vision, blindly acting in service of your goal. Pushing, working, pursuing…it doesn’t feel good and you’re not happy. So this thing you are doing in order to be happy is making you miserable along the way.  (You’re often okay with that fact because you’re so convinced that you’ll be happy when you reach the destination that a little torture along the path seems like “the price you pay”).

Or…you use the process of working toward this goal to beat yourself silly. You didn’t stick to the workout plan or the budget. You didn’t meditate every day or things aren’t moving along exactly the way you believe they should. Now, not only are you at risk of not realizing the happiness that is yours if you meet your goal, you’re once again miserable in the process.

Or…you achieve the goal. You did it! But wait a minute…where’s the feeling? Where is the lasting happiness the new job, perfect mate, “right” size jeans was supposed to deliver? It was there for a minute or two. Then you adjusted to your “new normal” and you feel just like you did before the goal.

Inside-out Goals

Here’s what goal setting looks like when you believe in an Inside-Out World. Because happiness (security, confidence…) are created from within—specifically, from your thoughts—not from anything out in the world, you don’t set goals to achieve things because they will make you happy.

Instead, you simply do what feels good.

You’re off the hook because your happiness is not at stake. You do what you want to do because you want to do it, not because you need it to feel good.

This is radically different than the outside-in way.

Inside-out, the journey is at least as important as the destination because now is all there really is anyway.  Thought is what drags us into the past or the future—when thought takes a back seat, there is nowhere to go. You are here, now, much more often.

You stay flexible. A goal is just a thought about something you want and thoughts change. Rapidly and often.

You might change your mind and change your goal. Great.

You might choose to stop working toward your goal at some point. Great.

You might stay the course and achieve your goal. Great.

You will not torture yourself in the name of achieving your goal. Why would you?

If you do achieve your goal, you’ll probably be pleased with yourself. Then you’ll go right back to feeling the way you used to feel.  Same as if you believe in an outside-in world, except you get to skip the disappointment that comes from expecting the goal to change you.

My Recommendation

Here’s what I recommend: Feel for what would feel good if no one else would ever know and do that. In other words, focus on what’s important to you, not what you’re doing for approval or status or security or happiness or anyone else.

Do that, but only if you truly want to. If you don’t want to, don’t do it.

Make sure you’re only pursuing goals for the fun of it. They aren’t going to ensure any feeling, so don’t put that pressure on them.

Change your mind as often as you want. Make a game out of it. Don’t take it too seriously and for the love of God, please don’t beat yourself up for not meeting some arbitrary standard that you made up to begin with.

Do what you choose to do because and only if you truly want to do it. And watch how much easier it all becomes.

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