The Paradox of Goal-Setting

 Photo by Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images

By Emily Coppella, English, Carleton University

Many of us have heard great people advise us to set goals. Whether this was in fitness, academia or personal life, there always seems to be something on the horizon. Goals seem  slightly out of reach, but if we could just take one more leap, we would be fulfilled. There is nothing wrong with setting goals. Most of us wouldn’t be nearly as successful in our professional and personal lives without this kind of mentality. But there is something that has been overlooked about this type of behavior. I like to call it the paradox of goal-setting.

    What if setting goals actually led us away from our deepest desires? What if in the process of goal attainment, we were losing other aspects of our lives? This is what society chooses to ignore, and the quite obvious example is in the media industry. Think about how many advertisements bombard us with skin-lightening products, weight-loss teas or sports cars that improve our reputation. There is no end to how many things we must attempt to achieve. As soon as you meet one goal, there’s another one right around the corner. The thing is, the corners never seem to end.

    Although the media industry projects superficial desires, physical products are not the deepest focus in most advertisements. Ads promote an abstract idea of the “good life.” They promote the idea of happiness through products. If you have the newest iPhone, you could be more successful in your business job; if you use the coolest shampoo, you’ll receive the romantic attention you have been wanting. The danger of advertisements is not just promotion of consumerism: it is the promotion that the way you live right now, is not good enough.

    Not only does this leave us in a state of feeling defeated, but we also feel as if it’s our fault. I didn’t get that raise because I didn’t work overtime enough. I didn’t gain that partner because I wasn’t interesting enough. I don’t deserve to love my body because I didn’t exercise this week. This is destructive self-talk and sometimes, this guilt even motivates us to set more goals. The cycle is endless, and it is leading us further away from self-fulfillment.

    Society is constantly telling us that we are not enough. We can do more; we can be better. On the one hand, these are uplifting messages motivate us to become greater humans, but sometimes there’s a cost. Chasing after diet-pills can wreak havoc on your body image; buying the fanciest cars pollute our already-dying environment. It sounds pretty cynical if you go too far, but there’s one overriding idea: why can’t we love ourselves and our lives right now?

    This is where mindfulness and living in the moment come in. As ironic as it sounds, this was my only “goal” for the New Year: to not have any goals. By living without commitments, expectations or conditions, we live without limits. When we don’t have limits, we are free to do exactly what we believe in.

    We correlate goals with success or failure. We live as if we must be constantly improving. We run on an eternal track towards the “dream life.” But what if we changed our mindset around goals? What if we made sure there was no room for self-doubt, no room for failure, only experiences? Let’s change the way we think about improvement. Let’s take the time to appreciate who we are right now. After all, we have been through a lot just to be here now. I think we can learn to grow day by day, moment by moment. We are priceless, and there are no deadlines on loving the life you have right now.

Let’s set goals differently.