In coaching I do a lot of work with goal setting and supporting people to achieve them. One of the rules for a goal to be a “good” goal is that it be measurable. In terms of business coaching, a common goal is to hit a certain sales target within a given timeframe. As a coach, I would then work with a client to establish a realistic plan for hit the target, consider obstacles that might be in the way and how they will be overcome, and keep the client accountable through the period. The goal will be either met or not, but that will not necessarily determine whether or not the client has succeeded. If the goal was to increase sales by 50%, but sales went up by “only” 40%, the goal was not met, yet it’s likely fair to say that the business has improved, and the client has achieved at least some meaningful success.
In my coaching practice, I encourage clients to set meaningful and measurable goals, but at the same time to “hold them lightly” – the goal is not the end game, rather just a marker along the way.
Learning to practice what I preach
Even though I know this concept well, I have to admit I don’t always practice what I preach. This year my wife and I both set an intention to learn to juggle in 2017. We both committed to practicing for 5 minutes a day, initially with 3 balls. For months we could hardly throw the balls more than a few times before they fell. We seemed to spend more time bending over and pulling balls out from under the couches than actually juggling. But after a few months, we were suddenly able to keep the balls in the air and we were actually juggling!
A few weeks ago, I decided it was time for me to up-skill my juggling to pins instead of balls. The movement is the same but the twirling pins adds new elements to both throwing and catching. I initially set a goal of being able to throw and catch the pins 3 times in a row. It took several weeks to achieve that goal, as my brain and hands learned new movements. Once there, I set a new goal of getting to 10, which after a few weeks of daily practice I did. After that, my mentality changed and I simply wanted to beat my previous “high score” so every time I threw the pins it was about counting and setting a new record. 12, then 18, then once I hit 25. That record seemed to be it though. For days, as hard as I tried to beat it, I always seemed to fall short.
Time to let go of the goal
This morning, however, it dawned on me that I was putting all my energy into achieving a goal and that the goal was the focus of my attention. I couldn’t even begin to juggle without starting to count in my head. One, two, three…. It was like a broken record driving my crazy. Time to change my approach and to let go of the goal. My intention and desire was to juggle pins, and to therefore BE a juggler, not simply to juggle x number of times.
It was time for a new approach, so I decided that a better strategy was to juggle without counting. This was difficult at first since my incessant counting was now automatic so I had to disrupt the it with other things like throwing out random numbers, singing a song and focusing on my breath (a juggling meditation of sorts). A few minutes of that was enough to stop the counting and instead focus simply on throwing, catching and throwing. And it was almost immediately as if something magical happened. I noticed a new state of awareness for what it was I doing – even the beauty of the pins as they turned through the air, and I found myself smiling.
The result amazed me
After a few minutes of this I decided to check if I had really cracked the code. I set up my iPhone on the water cooler, and began to video myself. And after three runs…
35 throws! I blew my previous record away by over 30%. What a rush and what a lesson!
Don’t hold too tightly to a goal and don’t make beating the goal the only thing that matters. Focus on your intention, set goals to move in that direction, but hold the goals lightly!
Try it out and let me know – or share your intentions and desires and let’s set some lightly-held goals together!