Why setting goals can make you unhappy


As a happiness coach, my main concern is that goal setting can actually DECREASE your happiness. Here’s why…..

Goals can postpone your happiness to the future.  
Goals (wanting to improve your future) are not consistent with contentment (being happy with where you are). It is very easy to get hooked into the “I’ll be happy when…” game and continually postpone feeling successful and fulfilled until you reach some future desired state.
When we are fixated on achieving a future outcome, we are not happy with where we are.

Goals focus on action steps not passions.
Rigidly following the action steps you have mapped out can be restrictive and limiting. Your path is chosen and you are not as free to explore new opportunities or follow your passions.

Therefore I encourage my clients to follow their passions and do things that they love. In the end they usually achieve more than if they had fixed action steps, because they are always doing something they are excited about.

Goals have a narrow definition of success.
Goals, as I define them, are having a set outcome … but why is that outcome the only good outcome? When we are too fixated on reaching just one set outcome, it can create a lot of pressure and stress. Instead the more great outcomes you are open to, the more shots at happiness and fulfillment you get.

Goals don’t measure happiness.   
It is considered important that you make your goal measurable, so you can tell when you have achieved it. This measuring is often based on some arbitrary ideal. For example, I need this income/ number of clients to be successful, I need to weigh this much to be attractive. I need this many friends to be popular. Really, who said? When we fail to reach this arbitrary outcome we feel bad.

Therefore I encourage having a much broader and more motivating perspective on success, by also noticing and appreciating the less tangible benefits of what you are doing. How do you measure joy, pride, having fun, relationship building, satisfaction, happiness, personal growth and peace of mind?

Goals can keep you perpetually discontented.
Even if we achieve the goal it doesn’t end. Our future-orientated mindset immediately looks for the next thing that will make you happy. The problem is when will the improving stop, when will you finally be “good enough”?

The irony is that we believe that we will finally achieve happiness when we achieve our goals, while the reality is that our constant self-improvement, and striving can keep us perpetually discontented.

So instead of setting goals I encourage my clients to take a more direct and reliable route to happiness by asking them:
“How do you hope to feel when you have achieved your goal?”

E.g. are you hoping that weight loss will make you feel attractive, or a promotion will make you feel successful?
Then I ask them:
“What can you be doing right now to feel that way?”

If you would like to make changes and work with goals in a skilful happiness enhancing way, contact me for a free taster consultation.

Annemarie Coulson is a Hamilton-based life coach. She specialises in supporting struggling, sad or stressed clients to make choices and changes that lead to greater happiness and life balance.  For more information visit www.lifecoacher.co.nz or phone 021 076 5450.


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