My Thoughts on Chasing Goals

How do people choose goals? I’ve been pondering this more over the past year, as I’ve gone through 2 quarterly planning processes. I’ve never done quarterly planning prior to this year, not in business nor in personal life. Before, I would focus on the overall year or maybe the next week/month. I didn’t have much of a formal process for this.

With the quarterly process, I noticed that I was trying to pack a certain number of goals into the time period. Manageable, maybe. And did I want to make progress in those areas? For sure. I am glad that I produced as much music as I did, prioritizing releasing singles onto Spotify and Apple Music. I’ve intentionally socialized more. I scheduled various health appointments that I would have either postponed or would have never gotten around too. So, that’s been great.

On the other hand, I’ve been noticing that some of my “goals” have been quite arbitrary. And then, eventually I realized heck, all goals could technically be arbitrary. How do we decide what goals are important?

When I decide that this quarter or month, I’m gonna schedule that session with the personal trainer or with a specialized doctor, why now? Why do I think it’s necessary to have a sense of urgency, a deadline? Why not set an intention instead?

Exploring Intentions vs. Goals

Intentional goals are possible as well. And so, that’s what I attempted the last quarter of this year. About half of my goals were more focused on music, and a few on health. It was important for me to “progress” in music, to build a portfolio, to hopefully gain more listeners along the way. But, why? And for health, I wanted to fix issues of energy. But, for what?

For health, it’s a little easier for me to understand. I want to improve my energy levels so that I can fit all the activities that matter to me in a day or over a week. And, I like how I feel when I experience a good flow of energy throughout the day. So, basically I’m avoiding long-term discomfort and pain. And when I realized that, wow, that put things into perspective. On the one hand, I want to experience happiness and fulfillment. And on the other hand, I don’t want to suffer in that particular way. So really, setting an intention of good flowing energy and fulfillment is enough, as my actions would naturally align if I truly believe in that. I guess setting the goal of scheduling appointments and such just helped remind me to get it done.

For music though, on the one hand, yes I enjoy creating and sharing. But on the other hand, why does the number of listeners matter to me so much? For more recognition or validation? For more money? What is the money for? And eventually, I realized, this is probably something I would want to do anyway. The number of listens and the amount of money I could earn are bonus, but it’s more that I enjoy the process of creating music that drives me to pursue it. I like seeing my progress through my collection of videos, singles, and albums.

But then, I wondered why progress was so important. I like going through my older music up until now to see how I’ve improved. But why is improvement important? Because as much as it could be a grind, it’s also fun in a way. And I think if I ever reached a point when it’s not fun anymore, I would take a break, maybe assess why, and try something else for a while.

And then, why is fun important? Is that was my goals are based off of? Well… yeah. 😂 I don’t see the point of working hard to achieve a goal if it’s not worthy in some way, and for me that is enjoyment. So, this appears to be a core value of mine, fun. I like experiencing fun. It’s my default mode, and I haven’t really questioned it too much, unless it goes too far (which I don’t think it has these days).

So if I create goals with the intention of fun in mind, then are the goals actually helpful, or do they feel rigid? Some of my goals were a bit more open-ended, like signing up for a singing contest just to see what could happen. And, other ones were more in line with the S.M.A.R.T. goals formula. And then, I realized why I don’t do so well under such constraints.

My Thoughts on S.M.A.R.T. Goals

For those who don’t know, S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/relevant, time-bound goals. (There are a few variations, but this is the one I’m most familiar with from uni.) How do they decide that this is how a goal “should” be set?

Why specific? Why is it important to converge right away? How specific? Is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to be a bit more vague or general?

If joy or fun is important to you in setting goals, then how do you measure happiness or enjoyment? Is it a rating of 1 to 5? Is there a whole rubric? How are we quantifying this? What about skill-building? What about creativity? Some people use quantity, like 1 sketch a day or 5 minutes a day. But, why is the quantity important? How did we come up with that?

Achievable goals. This sounds good in theory. But, think about what we ask children: What do you want to be when you grow up? You hear a 4-year-old child say that they want to become President of the USA when they are older. Pfttt, okay, try telling that kid that their goal doesn’t align with achievable, and watch chaos unfold. I don’t think this works with grander visions or ideas, when we do not yet know how to achieve it or the path to get there.

Realistic or relevant. Okay… listen. Realistically, most people can go to college. Most people can work a restaurant job. Most people can drink all day. But, realistic doesn’t mean that it’s the best idea. So let’s check relevant instead, since that’s another variation. How do you decide what is relevant? Isn’t that just in the scope of your own beliefs? If I’m teaching English in Korea and I want to take piano lessons on the side, do I just give up the goal because that has nothing to do with my profession? I think too many people prematurely converge on this aspect as well. Relevant make look nice on paper, but it doesn’t yield to much innovation or fulfillment, unless you are deeply invested in what you’re already doing.

Time-bound refers to the deadline. Two issues here. One, when life throws a curveball, then what? Do you fail a goal? Do you extend the deadline? And two, how do you even decide when? Why is it important to release a song by the end of the year, or to move out by the end of summer? Do the dates themself have much meaning?

When you dissect goals, you start to realize, a lot of it is just made up! And, part of it is to have a sense of control. Some people think that if they have goals, then their life will be relatively “stable” (whatever that means), or that they will constantly be “progressing”. It’s all an illusion, really!

For myself, do I have long-term goals? Yeah. Are they S.M.A.R.T. goals? Absolutely not. I actually have no idea how they’re going to come to fruition. But, these are some goals I’ve accomplished without such parameters:

– Moving to and living in South Korea
– Self-producing and self-publishing my own original music
– Finding a way to monetize my song covers
– Losing a bunch of weight that I had gained from meds
– Getting some of my music heard by the original artist(s)/producer(s) of the song
– Revamping my blog and recovering old posts that I thought I lost forever
– Hanging out with Steve Pavlina and other CGCers in-person
– Streaming Among Us with people who are into personal growth (huh?!)
– A lot of spontaneous travel intentions that ended up happening by chance

And here are some goals that I have no idea when I can achieve, but would love to:

– Finding a cure to depression that does not involve medication
– Getting rid of the voice I hear (or WG a.k.a. Wondergurl Syndrome)
– Producing and publishing a full-length album
– Moving to or at least visiting L.A. (or someplace like it) for some time
– Setting up my own recording studio with some free classes, helping others to produce/release their first single
– Starting my own record label and branching off into other business ideas/opps
– A more minimal lifestyle (less clutter)
– Become a pro at singing, rapping, producing, and dancing
– Collab with a major artist/producer that I draw inspiration from

Do you notice how a lot of my goals have nothing to do with money itself? It’s just a stepping stone, maybe, for experiencing what I intend. Some people would view owning a business or a studio as assets. But for me, it’s about what I could do with those things. I have my own music recording setup at home, but I’d love to have an outside location where I could teach, possibly for free or donation-based (pay-what-you-want model). I guess technically I could do that without my own studio. And with the record label, it’s more about having an organized way to work with a team of artists.

I could hear some of you screaming that goals like traveling or gaming require money. Okay, fair point. But, do you need a S.M.A.R.T. goal to help you generate that money? Or, could you be a little creative and intend for the goal to manifest, through whatever feels right? Do you really want to grind a full-time job all year, just to go on a mini vacation out-of-state for a week every year?

What if I intended for travel to come to me in a easy, relaxed manner? What if I had a week open to plan whatever trip I want, and Google Flights shows me a ridiculously low price for a round-trip direct flight to Paris? I mean, I guess I could work hard like normal people and just grind hours into getting the money to achieve that sometime… Why not diverge a bit and see if there’s something outside your solution space?

I feel a bit conflicted in some ways. And, part of it is that with the lifestyle I have now, I think if I didn’t focus on the money aspect (the views, the listens, the streams), then I’d eventually run out. So, I can’t say the money is not important to me at all. I just don’t want that to be the primary drive of all my decisions.

But then, I ask myself… why can’t I just intend and trust myself to live out the values that are most important to me? Because, the goals themselves are not the reason that I make progress. My values are why drive me, ultimately. And so, that’s what I find most important to be aware of and possible recalibrate.

Setting a goal of sleeping every night by 10PM, when you’ve been used to staying up past 3AM for most of your life, isn’t going to magically fix everything. Dig deeper. What’s so important at 3AM that you can’t wait to do at 7AM? What is missing during your day that you crave at night?

One alternative to S.M.A.R.T. goals is the opposite, D.U.M.B. goals (I’m not meme-ing here, in case anyone is wondering). I haven’t looked too much into it, mostly because I like to dream up fantastical goals anyway. But, one variation of D.U.M.B. goals is dream-driven, uplifting, method-friendly, behavior-driven. So basically, the stuff that matters to you. And unlike S.M.A.R.T. goals, the amount of progress or the time-frame, how realistic, etc. doesn’t block you anymore. It’s the release of arbitrary standards or expectations. Maybe a bit of strategy or luck could be involved. Though, that comes naturally from pivoting, switching back and forth between convergence and divergence, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

You might be wondering, would you actually get anything accomplished without setting clear goals? I’d argue yes! And, I’m going to intentionally set at least one quarter (starting in the beginning of 2022) where I avoid setting hard goals. I’m curious to set open-ended intentions or invitations, and see where it leads.

I have recently been keeping track of progress, whether or not there were goals set or whether or not certain goals were accomplished. It’s a simple log, sometimes of books I’ve read, people I’ve met, purchases or upgrades that I’m super satisfied with, changes in health, changes in finance, etc. It’s surprising sometimes the things that I end up accomplishing outside of goals I set. I didn’t know I’d take up streaming, for example. I didn’t know I’d watch The Princess Bride and finally understand some references used in CGC. I didn’t know my song cover of Bella Poarch’s Inferno would take off on SoundCloud. I didn’t know I would lose over 20 lbs, without even setting such a targeted goal.

I think the log helps me keep track of intentions. Are these the experiences I want, or is there something I’d like to explore more? For example, I noticed that while I was socializing more, I wasn’t really experiencing deep friendships or connections like I had in the past. And so, I’m setting the intention for more close connections. Even with that intention, I want to clear up what that looks or feels like.

Do S.M.A.R.T. goals ever have a place?

I think so, but I’d probably only use them for the short-term. I view S.M.A.R.T. goals like self-discipline: use is sparingly, and only when absolutely necessary. It’s not a tool or a process that I want to use all the time.

So this upcoming year, I’m going to be diverging a lot more and exploring a goalless first quarter. I’m going to experiment with setting intentions, and then see how it goes. And if there’s anything worth noting or a good takeaway, I’ll consider posting an update.


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