Goals, Gaols Goals. Most goals are pointless. Pointless because they are meaningless. There is reason for that. Beware practitioners, therapists, counsellors, coaches who ask you to talk about goals before you and they know what your actual big compelling vision for your life is. For without clear compelling vision to work towards goals are pretty much meaningless.
In the work I do the word gets used all over the place. There is some confusion about what a goal is.

Ever watched football, rugby or other sports game where the game has time to run but is effectively over? For example. Its 4 to Nil for Team A over Team B. You support Team A. You and Team A’s supporters and the team on the field are already celebrating! Team B are good team and they could have won but there are only 5 mins left of time to play. 4 or 5 goals in 5 mins?  It’s not going to happen and Team B’s supporters know it. Team B has lost all incentive to get another goal. We feel it and they do too. Why is this? Isn’t a goal still a thing worth scoring? Isn’t a goal worth doing for a goals sake?  Well for some people maybe but for most people the answer is clear. No.  And this is because a goal is a tool, it’s a thing that needs to happen to make something else, something much more vital and compelling happen; other experiences possible.

Our fictitious game is a semi-final. The winner gets through to the final. Team A will be there. The final means many things and both these teams have been working for over a year to pursue the title. The goals are the things they need to score in order to get to somewhere else. They are facilitating acts that move the team closer to an experience. When they get the title, if they do, they will bask in their collective and individual fulfillment. The feelings of being excellent of having pushed themselves hard perhaps, about being a collective group that have co-operated and worked together. They will have helped each other shine at their talents. In short the goals were all about reaching this place of experience.

Forget sport and think about human lives, for it is no different in people wanting to change their lives and live differently as many people do in recovery. They want to experience different, new, fulfilling things. They have a vision for their lives, how it could be. It’s compelling and scary and exciting and daunting all at the same time. To get to that experience something has to happen. They will have to overcome their own resistance to change, fear of the unknown, fear of falling short in some ways. But despite those challenges what will make it worth doing will be having their conscious attention and focus on their vision. Focused on that then, the question to ask is. “If I want to experience that then how do I actually do that?  How actually can it be made real and not be a fantasy?”

This is where goals come in. Goals are the stepping stones. The tangible acts and behaviours that move us towards the experience of an end experience. Each goal is a complete and satisfying act in itself (think how crazy players and teams go when they score one) but only when clearly attached to the bigger picture. With the vision in sight then goals become much more compelling. We want to get them achieved because they move us closer to where we want actually want to live our lives, in the middle of our fulfillment.

Lastly and as some of you might have already been thinking, what about intrinsic motivation? What about the meeting of goals for well, no better reason than meeting them? What about the artist who creates, not to win acclaim or a prize but for the sheer fulfillment of painting or sculpting? And what of the football player obsessed with the beauty of the curve of the ball as it arcs towards the net who is focused only on the art of moving with the ball as if it were an extension of them?

In this way a goal can appear to be a self enclosed event, an end in itself. But when looking closely we see the common thread of fulfillment. That most of us are looking to access the same thing, the experience of approaching completeness or mastery. To be the best is a subjective experience. To the best against what? The best team at the moment The best team that ever existed? The best team that has not yet appeared? Against ourselves? Against our peers? These are all serious questions which we can explore with our clients. For if we don’t ask them then we will never know what fulfillment means to someone. And if we don’t know that then maybe we don’t know them at all.