Chasing Targets Gets Boring

[3 Minute Read + Audio]Many high-performing people swear by the practice of setting measurable goals, but just like most other things in this world, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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Chasing Targets Gets Boring (So Ask This Question Instead)

Achieving a target for the first time feels exhilarating but that thrill, and motivation, soon disappears.

Audio Version – Chasing targets Gets Boring (So Ask This Question Instead)

Many high-performing people swear by the practice of setting measurable goals, but just like most other things in this world, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Measurable goals give an initial boost to motivation because they offer clarity, focus and a box to tick. But that upswing in enthusiasm takes a nose-dive when the target gets repeatedly revised and fatigue sets in.

The Trap Of Target Setting

Parkrun volunteers around the world host five-kilometre runs (or walks) every Saturday morning for people who want to keep fit, and Sean and I have recently committed to attending more consistently. I haven’t been consistent with my running for a very long time, so Parkrun has been a great way for both Sean and I to get back into a healthy routine. Plus, it’s all about community coming together for the event, which is fantastic.

When I first started, I was doing five kilometres in about 26 minutes and aiming for 25. There was no real science behind it. It was just a number I pulled out of the thin air, but it seemed like a good one, and it would have meant I was running five-minute kilometres. I set my personal record – 20 minutes and 43 seconds – almost a decade ago in 2013, when I was in my early forties and living inside a very different body, so 25 minutes didn’t seem like too big a stretch.

Once I hit 25 minutes and started to edge down into 24 minutes, I had a realisation: I’ve found myself in this trap before – always chasing the next number.

I start setting goals and putting numbers out there just for the sake of having something to aim for. Eventually, I lose interest and end up searching for a new source of entertainment – or worse, land myself back on the lounge.

Don’t get me wrong – the practice of setting targets is useful, and I would never write it off as a tool for encouraging progress. That said, I wonder whether there is a more sustainable way of thinking about goals that might keep us interested and engaged in that journey of development for the long-term.

A Question Sets Direction

I love running. I love the physical and mental health benefits, but these alone are not enough to hold my long-term interest. As I contemplated what my five-kilometre goal should be – 24, 23 or 22 minutes – a question popped into my head.

How fast can a 51-year-old body – and more specifically, my 51-year-old body – really move?

That question led to many fascinating insights into my own limiting beliefs, specifically around my speed. While I’m very good at running a long way, I don’t see myself as a fast runner. Although I have challenged it at times, this belief has been consistent, and the stereotypical views I hold about my 51-year-old body play into that quite heavily.

To be fair, those stereotypes have been fed by research which invariably declares that women get slower as we age, but still, I have to wonder about the impact of goal-setting on what we are, in fact, capable of achieving.

If I set only targets – for example, running Parkrun in 23 minutes next month – and achieve them one by one, my natural inclination will be to take each achievement in my stride and move onto the next goal.

Perhaps the real power is in framing it as a question – one that says, “I wonder what is possible.”

Through this approach, I have become more conscious of many other things about myself and others.

What’s Possible for You or Your Team?

Framing a goal as a question makes for a much richer experience. There’s still the focus, so I’m still focused on running faster and working out how to make that happen, but it’s also then layered with curiosity – and without a defined endpoint, the exploration could carry on for years. That’s attractive to me because it creates a space where I can explore my creativity, look at possibilities, research, ask good questions, gather others’ thoughts and learn from their actions.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful adventure. Since swapping measurable goals for questions of possibility, I’ve gone from feeling like there’s a deadline that I have to meet because I’ve committed to it – put that stake in the ground and you have to deliver it – to feeling a sustainable motivation towards achievement. So think about it. The next time you go to set a goal or turn your focus to something, consider ditching targets and replacing them with wonderful questions – questions full of wonder.

Inside a Bold Mind explores the inner landscape of women who are finding the courage to live bold and rewarding life. Follow us for weekly stories that inspire you to conquer your fears, discover yourself and achieve your life goals.

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