Most of us have been exposed to the idea and practice of goal setting. And it goes something like this: (1) create a goal that is specific, measurable, and has a time limit; (2) create a plan to reach your goal, use objectives and action steps to fill in your plan; (3) follow your plan and measure your progress as you move towards your goal; (4) when you reach your goal, start over with a new one.
I have never been very good at this.
This is probably because of my personality preferences as an INFP. Specifically the P, which stands for Perceiving.
I find traditional goal setting practices to be constraining, and ultimately, I feel that it takes me away from my goals because of the level of specificity that is needed. My goals tend to be bigger, more open and not connected with a hard time limit. They are adaptable to whatever may come up and I will change them (or scrap them) as necessary. These things make me feel comfortable.
Essentially, when I create a goal, I will ask myself what I want to do for the upcoming year, 5 years, my life, etc. and write down exactly what that is, however it comes out of my brain. There is no censoring in this step. I don’t worry if it’s specific or measurable, I go with what I feel.
For instance, around the first of the year I was thinking about things I wanted to do in 2009. One thing I came up with was to “receive love from others in a better way.” That’s pretty vague. I was thinking that I wanted to improve my relationships and I wanted to improve it in the way that I was receiving people. If I had tried to go more specific or make it measurable I would have actually walked away from what I really wanted. It was a feeling that was directing me, not specific actions or steps
I might revise a goal, but I revise it in a way that I feel something when I read it or say it. The most important thing to me is the feeling a goal gives me. That’s how I know I’m on the right path.
You might ask how I know that I’m following my goal.
The first step is not to have too many of them. You need to be able to concentrate on a few. Next, if I’m holding the goal in my mind, when I come across a situation where the goal applies I can act in a way that satisfies the goal. If I want to receive people better, the next time I’m with a friend I have “receiving” in mind and can act in a number of ways that would satisfy that goal. With the goal open, there are an endless number of ways that the goal can be achieved. I like that.
You may also ask how I know that I’ve reached my goal.
If I’m holding it my mind and taking action on it when the situation arises, the goal takes care of itself. It is over when I feel that I’m doing a better job of receiving people. When I don’t need to specifically think to myself “receive,” then it’s reached.
I feel very comfortable with this method of goal setting because it allows for so much possibility. The course of action is completely open, but I know what I’m walking towards. If I had to sum up my philosophy on goals it would be this:
A goal keeps you walking in the right direction, it doesn’t dictate every step on your path.
If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with traditional goal setting, maybe you need to try a new approach. Be looser, be vague, use your feelings and allow for possibility. Any INFPs (or any other types!) out there find this familiar?
Note 7/6/2013: This post was originally published under the title “The (P)erceiver’s Guide To Goal Setting” and has been updated with minor edits accordingly.