5th March, 2024

Why Setting Goals Alone Won’t Help

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

Listen to this episode

On this episode

We often set goals in the belief they’ll make us happier. But setting goals alone might not be enough to truly help us thrive. In this quick dip, Rachel discusses why that’s the case, and offers a different approach to finding satisfaction and success.

It all begins with a shift in focus from goals to desires. Instead of starting with specific goals, we should first identify what we truly desire and what our basic needs are. This helps us align our actions and routines with what truly matters to us.

Life’s too short to not love what you do, and vice versa. So it’s time to look at our own desires and needs, ask “What truly matters to me?”, and determine whether they’re aligned. Doing this will move you closer to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

Show links

Reasons to listen

  • Stop starting with goals and focus on your desires and needs
  • Learn about the four elements of your North Star and how they can guide you
  • Understand the problem with outcome-based goals and why process goals are more effective

Episode highlights


Stop starting with goals


The four elements of your North Star


Figure out your “why”


Making space for your needs


THRIVE Week Planner


The problem with outcome-based goals

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Rachel: A couple of years ago, I really wants to get fit. I wanted to get in shape. I wanted to have something to aim at. And so I entered the Cambridge half marathon. A group of people had entered it and I thought, oh, wouldn’t it be great to do that with them? And so i Paid the money, I entered it, and I never did it. I failed at the first hurdle. I had this goal that if only I could complete this half marathon, that would be brilliant. I would be so healthy. I’d be fit and I’d be really proud of myself.

[00:00:31] And we get this wrong. So often don’t read that we want to send thing in our lives and so we set a goal in order to achieve it. Now, this seems really logical, doesn’t it? And it’s what we’re told we should be doing all the time. In fact, if you go for most traditional coaching, we’ll start off by setting goals. Recently I found out that starting with setting goals isn’t actually very helpful. And I’ll explain to you why.

[00:00:59] This is a You Are Not a Frog quick dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea so you can return to whatever else you’re up to. Feeling energized and inspired for more tools, tips, and insights to help you thrive at work. Don’t forget to subscribe to you are not a frog wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:01:31] When I was aiming to do the Cambridge half marathon, that was my goal. My goal was to do it, and when I found that I got a bit injured, my back was really hurting. Whenever I’d try to run for any distance, I was scuppered. I knew I won, I wasn’t going to meet the goal. And so I just gave up and I didn’t achieve anything at all.

[00:01:51] And if we focus too much on just the outcome of the goal, we probably always gained speed disappointed. Because if something happens which means we can’t actually achieve that goal, we’re stuck. What if we don’t actually like it when we get there? What if we spent all that time working towards something, we achieve it and we’re still feeling a bit like, oh, well, it didn’t really do what I wanted to do. We might have wasted a lot of time on it. We might be absolutely knackered and. Far from infusing us about it. It just makes us feel, oh my goodness, all that. And it was just a bit of a waste of time.

[00:02:24] And more often than not. I think these hard goals that we set for ourselves, we just don’t achieve. We fall along the way and because we know we’re never going to reach them, we just give up.

[00:02:36] So I think we need to start somewhere else. We need to start somewhere completely different, rather than just with goals. And I think we need to start by thinking about what we really desire, what we really need. Because if we focus on that, then actually, even if we don’t achieve that particular goal, we’ve set, we’ve still won. We’ve still got what we needed. If we focus on are our, basic needs and our basic desires, then we know we’re always going to be heading in the right direction. We’ll actually be enjoying the journey as we go along. And it doesn’t mean that we forget about the outcomes that we want, but it means that we’re focusing on the right things. Not the wrong things.

[00:03:18] And actually what we find is that become much more targeted. We might even find that we’re doing less rather than more in order to get what we really want and what we really need.

[00:03:27] So if we start with our desires and our needs and we work towards the goals, I think be much more lightly. To achieve to happiness and satisfaction in these different areas of our life, whether it be health, whether it be relationships, whether it be our career.

[00:03:42] So am I saying that goals? Aren’t important. I’m definitely not saying that. But what I’m saying is that they shouldn’t really come so high up in your hierarchy of what you are going to spend your time focusing on. Now a few podcasts ago, I talked about your north star. Aiming at the north side is this idea that you are always aiming at your desires and needs, not necessarily your goals. And I talked about the fact that there are four. Basic human needs and desires. The first one being deep connection. Really good relationships with people. The second one being just feeling good, feeling great, having a good mood, feeling healthy, having good physical, mental health. Feeding alive and enjoying life. Like. We all want that, don’t we? We also need meaning and purpose in our lives. We need to be giving ourselves to something a bit bigger than ourselves and, and knowing that it’s all worth it. And finally we do need to be learning and growing and developing. So if we get these four in place, we know that we’re always going to be heading in the right direction. That is our north star. And if we get these in place, we will find will also going to be pretty successful. And probably achieving what we want to achieve in life. If you start with just aiming, aiming at success and achievement, you’ll find that you don’t hit any of your basic desires and needs. I don’t think. So have a listen to that podcast and think about. Your north star and knowing what that really is.

[00:05:13] So once, you know what elements of your north star you’re really aiming at, then you can work downwards. So, for example, if I wanted to be fit and healthy and feel fully alive well, I would write down how I wanted to feel in my body. Now how I want it to feel. In my mood. And then I would think actually, what can I do? What routines and habits do I need to put in. In order to feel like that? Because there’s no point thinking about this goal of doing that triathlon or, um, cycling from Cambridge to Paris, which I’m hopefully planning to do this summer. If I don’t know why I’m doing that. And what I’m aiming at in terms of my basic needs.

[00:06:01] So in order to meet my basic needs for feeling healthy, physically and mentally, I know that I need to have a routine in my life where I am doing regular exercise. So the routine might be thinking about how I’m going to get enough cardio every week, how I’m going to do some yoga and relax every week, how I’m going to rest when I have exercise, and booking those into my diary, time-blocking those things. So developing the routines that are going to lead to feeling healthy.

[00:06:34] Now, if we look at relationships and by the way, I think relationships are one of those things that we never tend to have goals around, we never tend to plan around. Why is that? If we know that deep, happy, healthy, well connected relationships in which we are truly known and at which somebody sees us and Hays us and loves us for who we are.

[00:06:54] If we know these are really important, why don’t they ever really focus on our goals list? Well it’s because it’s quite difficult to have a goal around a relationship, but they really need to focus on your north star list. Now which relationships are really, really important? Then you can start putting routines around those relationships.

[00:07:15] So if I think the relationship with my partner is really important and I actually look at my life, well, if you didn’t see my diary, you probably wouldn’t deduce my diary. That my relationship with my partner is really important. Because at the moment, we’re not having a regular date night. And there are no set specific times that we set aside to spend with each other and do fun stuff. So one of the things. The eye intensity this year is to really look at my relationships and what routines I have weekly in order to deepen those relationships.

[00:07:49] I know you’ve heard me talking about my circuit training class. I do every Friday. Well, I have great relationships with the people in that class because we see each other every week, there is a routine, there is a routine and a pattern to it.

[00:08:03] Perhaps you’ve got a team at work, and you know, that developing better informal interactions will really help deepen those relationships, just getting to know and trust each other more. But there are no routines around when you get together, when you meet. Putting simple routines, such as coffee break or lunch together once a week or check-ins twice a week for 15 minutes, those sorts of things will then contribute to those deep connections that you have.

[00:08:30] So we need to start off with our needs, with our north star needs. And then we look at what routines we’ve got. And the best way I found to look at the routines in my life is to do the Thrive Week Planner exercise. It’s very simply where you get a chart and you plan out what your ideal week looks like. Not just, what do I want to do work wise and how much time do I want to spend doing it, but also what do I want to do outside of work? How do I want to live? And how does the way in which I’d like to live contribute to my needs, contribute to meeting those north star needs that I’ve got for deep connections, feeling happy and healthy, meaning and purpose in my life and also learning and growing. So does my weekly routine actually match that?

[00:09:16] And we have a tool called the thrive week planner, and it goes through questions that you can ask yourself. It helps you map out your ideal life. And it just gives you prompts the thing, actually, when am I going to spend time with family? What time if I set aside for really connecting with people, when am I going to do my exercise? When am I going to do my self care? And how much time do I actually want to spend working every week? In the exercise as well. It will help you plot out what your actual week looks like, because when you compare the two. You will immediately see what needs to shift and needs to change.

[00:09:50] You know, we spend very little time planning, how we actually going to live. We spend a lot of time planning out goals, but not a lot of time planning our needs and our routine. So I suggest that you start with routine start with that Thrive Week Planner tool and think about. What weekly routines, what monthly routines or even yearly routines are you going to put in to contribute to get you to directly towards those needs?

[00:10:14] Once you’ve got the routines, then, then you could think about, okay, well, what habits are there I need to get in there? You know what habits will help me meet those routines. So the habits that I have is for example, getting my full focus planner, and plotting out every week when I’m going to do my exercise and then booking the classes in. I’ve also got an habit of planning, what food I wants to eat. Cause I know that for me, diet is really, really important in how I feel. And the quality of the food I’m eating, making sure I’m eating a lot of fruit and veg for example, that’s really important, but that doesn’t happen if I just have a goal to eat more fruit and veg, I actually have to have that routine of, of cooking. And then the habit of planning it, and it’s the habit of sitting down and looking forward and planning.

[00:11:01] And when you start to look forward and plan and you know what routines you’ve got, that’s when you can have your goals. So if I know that I want to get a little bit fitter, then I can think about what am I going to do to get fitter? I can put in those habits that I’ve got in order to plan when I’m going to do my exercise and those habits that I got of, uh, maybe just getting straight into my exercise gear on a Saturday morning so that I can go off and do an hour of cycling. That’s when I can then put some goals in.

[00:11:34] So the goal of cycling from Cambridge to Paris this year, is great because that helps me direct my routines towards a particular goal. But I started with the routines that I needed to have in there to actually feel better and to feel healthy. If I started with the goal and if I didn’t achieve the goal, I just feel rubbish and I give up along the way, which then won’t contribute to my north star. Whereas if I start with my north star, even if I don’t meet my goal, I’m likely to be feeling a lot better. I hope this is making sense to you. So start with your decides and your needs, your north star needs. Put in regular routines every single week that gonna get you towards those needs. Use the Thrive Week Planner to design that and to work out actually, what routines am I going to have and what habits, what daily habits do I need to have that will help that.

[00:12:27] For example, I would love to be snacking on fruit rather than chocolate. That would contributes to my need, my north star need to be happy and healthy. But if my goal was just to never eat chocolate or to lose two stones in weight, for example, then I’m at risk of not actually reaching that. ‘Cause all I’ve done is set a goal without the routines and the habits that are leading to that, okay? And actually I might find I’ve met that goal and I’m not feeling any better, because I’ve been chasing the wrong goal. So if you start with needs, routines and habits, you protect yourself from coming up with the wrong goals. That’s what goals come in.

[00:13:09] Here’s the other thing about goals. Is that so often we focus on the outcome rather than the process. And the problem with outcome goals is you don’t have that much control over outcome goals a lot of the time. So say if my outcome goal was to drop two stone in weight. Well, don’t necessarily have a lot of control over that. Say if my outcome goal was to have a happy and thriving team. Well, I don’t have a lot of control over that. If you look a business goals or an organization, so your revenue goal is to earn X amount per year. He’d say necessarily have control over that either. But you two have control over process goals.

[00:13:53] So process goals are things that you are going to do every week which will get you towards an outcome. So my process goals for cycling might be that I am going to cycle. For three hours every Saturday. And every Saturday, I’m going to add a little bit of distance onto my cycle ride. That is a process goal. And if I follow that process goal, I am very likely to be able to cycle from Cambridge to Paris, although I have no idea how long that will take me.

[00:14:21] Another process goal would be if I want to be healthy, rather than aiming for, I am going to be this dress size or weigh this much, if I actually said I am going to snack on fruit every day at this time, rather than head straight for the chocolate, then the I’m more likely to get the outcome that I , . But I’m focusing on the process, which I know I can control. I can’t necessarily control the outcome. And if I’m thinking about having a happy thriving team, well, actually there’s so many different factors in that, that I can’t control. But the process I can control. If I control the fact that I sat in a particular time when I invite everybody to have a coffee with me twice a week, I can do that. So my process goal might be having a coffee with the team twice a week. I’m in control of that. And then I will probably be much more likely to hit a happy and thriving team in the longterm. So setting process goals can be so much more helpful than just setting outcome goals.

[00:15:21] And the great thing about process goals is that the tasks then fall out of that. So if my outcome goal for example is to have the best marriage possible, and my process goal is to have a date night at least three times a month, which would be much more achievable than going, right. I’ve got to have the best marriage possible. ‘Cause like that’s not in my control. There are lots of factors that might contribute to that, but I have nothing to do with. But I can book a date night. And so the tasks that fall out of that would be the tasks of booking a restaurant, time blocking things in my diary, protecting my diary, communicating with my other half. Likewise if you’re in a team, you know, buying the tea bags, having a cake rotor, I don’t know. There are things that you can do, which process goals, which will then get you much nearer to the outcome that you want.

[00:16:13] So we’ve got a brand new task goal needs hierarchy. Here, we start with our north star, our core desire, and we, we do the Thrive week kind of, and we think about the fact that there are certain ways that I will live. In terms of the routines I have every week, which will get me much closest to my north star then other ways to live. Okay, so we need to work out that first, before we start to set goals. Or anything, work out what your north star is, work out the routines you need to get to that north star. Then you can start thinking, well, actually, what sort of work can I be in? What sort of jobs do I need to do? What’s a shift pattern so I need to do, what will I be doing during the day that will get me to live this way, that will get me to my needs?

[00:16:59] Then you can think about the regular habits that you will have in your life that will help you enact those routines, okay? Things that you just see automatically. Tiny habits, little steps that you can take to, to get you to do those routines more often. And people that do these habits and all sorts of ways. For example, having a shutdown sequence of work so that they can. I get home on time. Once you’ve done that, then you can start to set your goals, then you can go, well, you know what? I’m going to set process goals. In order to, you know, make sure I have a happy, healthy marriage, my process goal is to make sure we are spending quality time with each other at least twice a week. And then you’ve got the tasks that flow out of that.

[00:17:43] To do all that, you need to know what you want in the first place that go back and listen to the quick tip podcast episode about the north star. Make sure you download the thrive week planner, and do this regularly. I recommend three or four times a year, just to make sure you’ve planned your own life, because if you don’t plan your life, somebody else will.

[00:18:02] And by the way, you are never, ever going to make it to your ideal week, but you can get prettied on there, close to it. And the great thing about plotting your ideal week is that you can actually start to look at reality in a new light of actually how close is my reality to what I really want? To, what I know is going to meet my desires and my needs? And if your current reality is way off, then you know that now is the time to take some pretty urgent action. And once, you know what routines you need to have in your life, then you can start to set some goals, which will help you be really motivated towards doing your routines. But don’t make them be outcome goals, make them be process goals. ‘Cause you know that if you hit your process goals, you are much more likely to get to the outcomes that you want. And once you know those, you can put the tasks in place. So make sure you’ve got the hierarchy right. Start with your needs and desires. Work down to routines, then habits, then goals and tasks. If you do it that way round. You’re very unlikely to end up in a place that you thought you wanted to be, but it’s actually making you miserable.