Why are you Setting Goals?

October 10, 2016 Dr. Jim Claussen

Why are you Setting Goals?


One of my patients had retired early so that he could enjoy the rest of his life with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Shortly after he retired, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease which caused severe low back pain and significantly limited his ability to function. His goals for treatment were to reduce pain and restore mobility. Reasonable goals, for sure, but I needed to know why those specific goals were so important for him.

How We Set Goals

Let's take a look at how many of us set goals. Think about the last goal you set for yourself. Here are a few common goals:

  • Lose 35 pounds
  • Quit smoking
  • Stop the pain

If we look closely at these goals (and, perhaps even your own), we notice two things.

First, they are written in such a way that they describe moving away from something. This may seem trivial, but it matters because it requires that we play the game in perpetual defense. It takes a lot of energy to maintain that position, and as they say, "what you resist, persists."

Second, they serve only to reach a zero point. Put another way, once they are achieved, nothing has been gained, only something has been lost.

Instead we need to state goals in such a way that you're moving toward something - not just away from something or a zero point. To do that, we need to know more about why you want what you're striving for.

Why Your Why is Important

In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”

— Dalai Lama

My early retiree patient set measurable goals - to reduce pain, and increase mobility. His treatment plan included regular visits for chiropractic adjustments, lifestyle changes, and physical exercise in between appointments.

His simple goals became a major undertaking and we discovered that achieving those goals such as they were didn't do much to inspire or motivate him to take the actions necessary. As the pain began to subside, it became really easy for him to stop moving forward.

Then, we added a powerful "why" to the equation. I asked him, "If you were to be pain free and have greater physical stamina, what would that give you?"

He described a vision of dancing with his wife, vacationing with his children, and playing in the yard with his grandchildren. He painted a picture of himself contributing to life, of living life to the fullest, and being completely present in deep and meaningful ways.

It was an emotional moment because at present, his diagnosis and symptoms were preventing that vision from happening.

Together, he and I reshaped his goal to be in alignment with his vision. His intention was no longer about fighting the present, but moving toward and creating his desired future.
A Framework for Setting Goals

Choose A Target

What do you want to achieve? How do you want your life to be different? Pick something that you can measure. Setting a goal "Be happier" is vague. If you have no firm target, you have nothing to measure your progress.
Figure Out Your Why

Your why is critical. It's what motivates you to keep moving forward. Having a meaningful why engages all of your being (physical, emotional, and spiritual). As you make progress, your why will serve to create momentum - it'll pull you forward.

Develop a Vision

Using your why as a foundation, write a mini movie of what your life will be like once you've achieved the goal. There are two keys to creating this vision. First, keep it compact and lightweight. If the vision is of epic proportions (think Star Wars), your mind will get distracted by the myriad of details. Second, write the script of your movie so that it invokes all of your senses - touch, sight, sound, smell, and feeling.

Take Action

Any goal will have action steps and it's absolutely necessary to take them. As you design your actions, keep it simple. You don't need a 10-page project plan to achieve your goals. The details distract us from actually getting the work done. Take action and let the details handle themselves.

“Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.”

— George Lucas

Use Vision as Needed

Your mini movie is a powerful tool. There are two ways to use it. First, meditate on it for 2 minutes twice a day, and no more! When I say meditate, all I mean is close your eyes, then watch and feel the movie. Second, use your mini movie when things get tough and rough. When you don't feel like doing the exercise, watch and feel the movie, then do the work.