Traditional goal setting comes with an implicit ‘In Order To’ clause built-in –
“I want to make a million dollars…”
“I want to earn a steady passive income…”
“I want to double my income in 3 years…”
“I want to graduate from an Ivy League school…”
“I want to own a farmhouse…”
“I want to wake up early…”
“I want to lose weight…”
“I want to sleep better…” and so on…
Now append an ‘In Order To’ to each of these goals you set, and you will realize you have a deeper outcome you really want to get to –
“I want to graduate from an Ivy League school in order to get into a Forbes 100 listed company.”
“I want to lose weight in order to be more energetic around my kids.”
“I want to own a farmhouse in order to establish myself as a successful person in my society.”
“I want to wake up early in order to be successful (and everyone says successful people wake up early.)”
You can continue this cycle for each of your first levels ‘In Order To’s’ to get deeper with each iteration.
A lot of the goals we set are based on our conditioning and understanding of what we need to achieve so that we are labeled a success story in the eyes of our families, our neighbors, our community, and our society. Society defines success on certain milestones. Researchers have revealed 25 major life milestones and the ages by which we ‘should’ have achieved them in order to qualify under the societal yardstick of success and acceptance. According to this research, you need to pass a driving test at the age of 20 and get married at 27. You need to have your first child by 28 and own your first house by 29. You need to become a manager at work probably by 34 and plan two holidays per year by 36. If you are not hitting these milestones, you are termed as a failure.
Subscribed to this notion, we continue setting goals that conform to these societal standards without really understanding that the goals we set aren’t really goals, rather just stepping stones to what you really want. We do so in order to fit in. In his book, How Will You Measure Your Life, author and professor Clayton M. Christensen, talks about how most of his classmates from Harvard Business School, some of the brightest people, doing extremely well in their professions, working in exotic locations were clearly unhappy and disoriented in the trajectories of their personal and professional lives. Despite all their professional achievements and their curated lives looking fantastic on every level, something had drastically gone wrong for them along the way.
We set our goals for all the wrong reasons and then we settle for them. These are mainly culturally defined goals and we make them our missions. What we don’t realize is that the goals we set are just means to an end, and not the outcomes we really want. We end up focusing solely on the means without realizing that they are mere means to something deeper we really want. Most of these means we run after end up as tolerations that keep draining our energy in our daily life. We settle for the path of compromise.
Stop Seeking Validation For Your Goals
Here’s a video of a young singer-songwriter called Hunter Price on America’s Got Talent.
The young talent starts off to sing Everything I do… by Bryan Adams. When one of the judges, Simon Cowell, asks him “Why that song Hunter?” his response is one filled with expectations and the societally-infused notion of performing on that stage (check out around the 30-second mark.) At around the 50-second mark, Hunter strums his guitar and begins to sing, only to be halted by Cowell within 31 seconds. Cowell tells him the hard truth – stop imitating and being generic. He then carefully maneuvers his way into making Hunter experience singing one of his own songs. Within moments of singing the first notes of his song, the audience erupts in cheers. They feel him. Notice how Hunter flows through his own song. The experience comes a full circle towards the end of the video.
What We Should Do Instead
I first realized this distinction when I heard Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of MindValley, talk about goals, more specifically our pursuit of setting goals in order to achieve something more deeper, something we fail to define. Once you understand that the goals you typically set are mere means to something deeper, you suddenly open up to the possibilities of shifting your focus from these ‘In Order To’s’ goals to the actual ‘end’ goals – the things you really want in your life.
A couple more real-life examples come to my mind as I open you to this (unorthodox) perspective of goal setting. The first example is my wife. Kavita is an experienced structural consultant, teacher, mentor, and author who’s been practicing the field of civil structural engineering for more than 15 years. She has a Master’s degree from the United States and she wants to pursue a Ph.D. in her field. When I ask her why a Ph.D., she doesn’t have an ‘In Order To’ attached to it. When I probe further, talking about things like will this add to your credibility, will it make you an expert, will it increase your income, will it bring in more and diverse work opportunities, none of these reasons really stick with her. She just wants to experience the journey of getting a Ph.D. Her inspiration behind doing a Ph.D. is the Ph.D. itself. I eventually realized that it’s something that makes her tick. It’s one of her motivators in life – no strings attached.
The second example I wanted to share is about a person named Pawandeep Rajan. He is a contestant on a Reality Show, Indian Idol Season 12. When you see him performing on stage and compare him with the other contestants, you realize that there is something different about him and his singing. Take a look at one of his performances where he sings and plays the drums live in front of the judges.
You can sense a bit of nervousness in his eyes at the beginning before he starts playing. But the moment he starts performing, something else takes over. He is a completely different being. It feels like he is performing for the sheer joy of performing and for his love of music, and not as a participant in the contest. You can actually feel it, just close your eyes for a moment as you listen to his performance. Even the judges were completely electrified by the performance.
For Hunter, it took a Simon Cowell to unmask his authentic self. For my wife, getting a Ph.D. is an end goal in itself. For Pawandeep Rajan, the act of pure and authentic singing is an end goal in itself.
Once you realize this difference, you are able to get out of a siloed vision of setting culturally defined goals. You begin to question your current goals and identify if they are end goals or just stepping stones to get what you really want. You are able to sift out these ‘In Order To’s’ from your real end goals. You understand that you are not tied to a particular means to achieve your end goals. For example, if you say “I want to double my personal income so that I can contribute to the education of underprivileged children.” If you can separate the means from the end goal itself, you start to focus solely on the education of underprivileged children and not get stuck in the notion of first earning more money and only then being able to fulfill your end goal. You realize that doubling your income is a mere tool and can be replaced with other means as needed. Your playground suddenly expands and you become available to other opportunities that will help you achieve your real goals.
Isn’t that what you really want to experience after all? The fulfillment, the satisfaction, the joy of identifying and achieving your real goals.
You can always have more than one thing you want to experience. Keep adding. If you find something to be an ‘In Order To,’ look for the reason behind it and go deeper till you can’t identify reasons for achieving something.
You can (and will) always have byproducts of a particular end goal, but they are not why you are on that path.
Bill Gates noted, “We overestimate what we can achieve in one year but underestimate what we can achieve in ten years.” Don’t be in a rush to assign a short deadline to your end goals. Place them on a 10 or even a 15-year timeframe.
So, what do you want to experience?