A thrilling goal — one that gives you butterflies and pushes you to greatness —

will never seem realistic in the moment — not ever.

I broke up with my goal-setting system.

Once I realized that I can’t be my true self in the relationship, I didn’t have a choice.

The system I have been using is one that I cobbled together over years from the dozens of goal-setting models I have explored. There wasn’t a system that felt just right, so I kept reviewing options and making do with my best approach.

This is embarrassing to admit — but I thought the problem was me. So, for years I just tried harder, forged ahead in pursuit of goals, and pretended I felt confident.

Then the insight hit me.

As I was writing out my 2020 goals, I noticed an uneasy internal reaction that stopped me in my tracks. It was one goal in particular that gave me pause: to increase my 2020 income by 50%.

Immediately my inner chatter reminded me that given my history this idea was not realistic – traditionally one of the checkpoints for a goal is to ensure it is clear and reachable.

You see, goal-setting approaches use questions as checkpoints. Often there’s a list of five to eight questions to check that the goal you’re aiming for is a good one for you to pursue.

One well-respected goal-setting system is referred to by the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. After working with the SMART format for a while, I found there were other checkpoints that were more useful to me.

Below is a sampling.

  • Specific: What exactly will be the result?
  • Measurable: How will you know when you reach your goal?
  • Thrilling: In what ways does this goal inspire you?
  • Relevant: How would achieving this goal align with other important factors in your life?
  • Realistic: Honestly, is this a goal you could actually achieve?

I ran each of my 2020 goals through the checkpoints, one by one. As I evaluated the goal to increase my income by 50%, I comfortably checked off each question — until I came to the word “realistic.”

Something within me felt this particular goal wasn’t really attainable for me this year. At the same time, though, my gut sense knew it was absolutely the right challenge for me to undertake now.

I knew I couldn’t move forward until this conflict was resolved.  

My inner critic couldn’t say enough about the income goal being another idea based in magical thinking, and she kept reminding me about all the past “great ideas” that had missed the mark.

All the while my intuition calmly responded with the reasons it was the right goal at the right time: I have improved my health and stamina, I am more organized than ever, and I have done a lot of market testing to ensure what I am offering is viable.

Finally, I realized the heart of the conflict: The hodgepodge goal-setting system I had been using did not allow my intuition a seat at the table, nor did it truly embrace the uncertainty that is inherent in life.

It was too strongly linear-based, too black and white.

Bottom line: The system didn’t acknowledge that a thrilling goal — one that gives you butterflies and pushes you to greatness — will never seem realistic in the moment — not ever.

With this awareness, I decided to delve deeper into my inner struggle.

Stay with me.

I decided to literally give a voice to each concept and open a discussion on the merits of my goal. So, I opened up a Word file and began creating a dialog between all the interested parties.

At that point, Specific weighed in that the income goal looked very clear to him, and Measurable gave it a thumbs up because it would be easy to track so we would know whether we were or weren’t on target.

Relevant had a lot to say. She asserted that to increase our income would require the changes we have talked about for years, and it was damn time to just do it. She felt strongly that we were ready.

Thrilling was, well, thrilled — although he had so much emotion when he talked it was difficult to understand what he was actually saying. The gist of it was that the income goal was too good not to shoot for it.

Now that the others had been heard, the room became quiet and all eyes turned to Realistic. She sat a little off from the group with a bit of scowl on her face.

She cleared her throat and began to speak: “As you all know, I feel strongly that given our history, the potential to double our income is a crazy thought. However, I hear how strongly the rest of you feel about this.”

Realistic continued. “So, I will give this idea my full support on one condition: that we diligently track the progress and agree to revisit the idea in three months. I want you all to agree that if we are not on track, we will revise the income projection.”

And with that, the group discussion came to a close. Each inner voice had been heard. The whole Roberta Committee was in agreement and on track together toward my 2020 goals, including increasing my income.

As I reflected on the experience, I realized that maybe I hadn’t actually broken up with my goal-setting system after all. Instead, I renegotiated our agreements so they worked for all of me.

Important life decisions can’t be boiled down to a simple yes or no. There’s more to decision-making than practicality. There is heart. When we honor all the voices inside us, we are able to achieve that felt-sense that guides us to know our truth.

Now that the inner conflict has been resolved and Realistic is on board with the plan, I am calm and have turned my attention to planning how I will accomplish my goals.

And, for a follow-up post on this same topic, see Calm Your Inner Critic — Follow-Up Thoughts