Achieving your Goals vs. Going with the Flow: Why “S.M.A.R.T” Goals Are Actually D-U-M-B
The importance of setting goals is spewed from the mouths of every life coach, motivational speaker, and self-help book across the globe. Make them “S.M.A.R.T,” they say- specific, and measurable, attainable, and time dependent. But how many times have you set yourself a smart goal, only to watch time go by and yet not achieving it… how does it make you feel?
It looks so simple on paper, why am I such a failure?
It can be frustrating and downright depressing, to feel like we know all the things we should be doing, but aren’t doing them. It can make us feel alone and isolated- like we’re the only ones incapable of getting shit done. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: we. all. do. it, and yet nobody talks about it because all the coaches say it’s as easy as s-m-a-r-t.
I do I love a good acronym on paper, but the reality is that more often than not: setting fixed “smart” goals is actually the antithesis of how life works. Life is cyclical, it flows. Be it the seasons, the tide, or the female menstrual cycle - life isn’t stagnant, measurable, and time-bound. There is a palatable feminine energy that ebbs and flows lives in all things, and it’s time we break down the rigid, masculine textbook way of setting goals, and find balance in a more natural, real paradigm for navigating life.
Masculine vs. Feminine: It’s not about Men vs. Women
Western society in 2018 is very polarised when it comes to gender, but masculine and feminine energies have absolutely nothing to do with gender. Both men and women have a combination of masculine and feminine energies within them, and in fact finding a balance of these qualities is imperative to a balanced and thriving life. This has nothing to do with sexism or stereotypes, it has to do with the deep intrinsic, archetypical nature of masculine and feminine energies. These energies are opposing, like yin and yang- but neither is good nor bad; they work synergistically with one another, like night/ day, hot/cold. We need the one to understand the other.
Feminine energy is generally connected to the yin- it is cyclical, ever changing, chaotic, and emotional… it feels. Yang masculine energy is more grounded, linear, strong, and stable.… it does. Again, both men and women carry these two opposing traits within them, and achieving balance and health requires an honouring of both forces.
The “problems” arise when we are out of balance with these energies. In the context of goal setting- an excess of yin (feminine energy) would translate to doing to little, “going with the flow” to a degree of achieving nothing to completion. An excess of yang (masculine energy) rev’s the engine to the max and takes on everything and anything. Both these extremes are roots of many ailments and disease in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigms. The key is balance.
Going With the Flow in a Patriarchal Society
You have surely heard the problematic nature of a patriarchal society. Indeed we do live in one, but it has nothing to do with men, and everything to do with the overwhelmingly masculine-driven energy in which our society resides. Our money and goal-driven values, the hierarchical nature of incomes, the way most businesses are based on profit-margins, the way we give awards for the “best”, how we praised busy people, how our workweeks are structured rigidly… these are masculine traits, out of balance.
If the only thing that matters are the bottom line, the profit margin, the ticking-off of to-do lists, the cost-benefit analysis, strategising, and dominating…a business could be run entirely of women and still be problematically patriarchal; because it’s not about the physical gender, but how the business operates that throws off the balance of masculinity and femininity.
Patagonia (a climbing gear/ outdoor clothing company created by Yvon Chouinard), has had paid parental leave and child-care built into the company for the staff since 1983. He explains in THIS podcast how when the company began, parents could simply bring their children to work, and that the company has always been a flexible, open, and welcoming workspace. As the brand grew, the company actually built an on-site educational/ holistic childcare centre for the employees. Chouinard explains that the most brilliant thing that comes out of Patagonia are not the products for sale, but the kids that learn and grow through their childcare program. Patagonia has provided paid parental leave for both mums and dads since the inception of the company- long before it was seen as the “right” thing to do. This brand exudes the balance between masculine and feminine energy, achieving goals (a profitable business model) but not without the cyclical, feminine-driven understanding of balance between achievement and flow.
Learn more about Patagonia’s business model HERE.
So How Do We Find Balance?
As above, so below; as outside, so within. Instead of tackling the “system,” it’s time we begin to honour the feminine energy within ourselves and let that ripple out into society. One of the biggest ways this imbalanced masculine energy manifests itself in our day-to-day lives is the way we try to achieve, and the aforementioned the inflexible nature that goal setting manifests itself in our lives.
We say “my goal is to lose 10 pounds” or “my goal is to get a new BMW,” and the books and life coaches tell us that these specific goals then need to be mapped out, with specific incremental steps that we will take in a time-driven manner… easy! But is it really that easy? Last I checked, we live in a society riddled with anxiety and depression, full of people who are unhappy with where they are at. Life coaches and self-help books are a booming business, so if it’s as easy as S-M-A-R-T, why are we paying people to keep us “on track”? Why aren’t we happy?
When it comes to setting goals and navigating life, I think a few things are important and yet rarely discussed. Indeed it’s about honouring the feminine energy within to reclaim balance, something smart goals fail at completely.
1. Break it down: What’s the end goal
The goals we set under the “S.M.A.R.T” paradigm are means goals, they are the means to an end (and not actually the ultimate goal). Take a step back from the specificity of your goal, why do you want it? End goals are typically feeling oriented. When you throw out the bullshit measure of happiness via societal pressures and dig into why you want what you want, you're left with an end goal. End goals are true human happiness: experiences, growth (self-actualization), and contribution (how can you leave a mark on the world?).
Escape the outside-in hoax perpetuated by modern society; look inside of you and ask yourself what your higher Self is longing for. Means goals become a byproduct of end goals. You'll make the money, you'll get the promotion, the body will come; it's when you focus on the people, the places, giving back, and doing good, when you focus on the end goals- the experiences, the growth, and the contribution- that the universe unfolds in your favour, and the means goals just happen a a bi-product of your alignment.
2. Go With The Flow: There’s No Specific Actionable Plan
Once you find the end goal (the “what”), you realise that the steps towards getting it (the “how”) are much more flexible. Unlike smart goals that require specific steps, achieving an end goal (essentially, happiness) can be achieved in so. many. different ways. Because of this, we no longer get caught up in wins and losses: life becomes much more flexible and fluid. You may get turned down for the teaching job you applied for, but when your end goal is just to share your light and help inspire children to grow (as opposed to a ridgid specific goal like get X position at X school), you can no longer be disappointed… an end goal connects you to more of a life purpose or mission, and there are so many different ways to get there. Goodbye pressure!
My Personal Experience
BecomingFullyHuman.ca had been manifesting itself in my head for the better part of the past 5 years before launching it. About 2 years prior to launching I actually bought a year upfront on Squarespace (the hosting site I use), and had the name picked out and everything. As I started working on building it, the passion of my flame kept dying… I honestly couldn’t be bothered figuring out the tech aspect of building a website. According to SMART goal setting, I could easily have pushed through: setting deadlines for myself, etc, but this masculine forceful behaviour is so against the divine feminine essence, and I just decided the time was not right.
Launching the site was indeed a massive means goal of mine, but I always knew that the underlying end goal was to inspire people to trust their divine human intuition, and take back their power, and I didn’t need a website to do that. I continued to pursue this end goal in my daily interactions, through social media, with my friends and family, and at work (no matter which job I had).
Two years later (in March of 2018), I was water-fasting for the first time, and in the span of 5 days I built the entire website from scratch, and launched a week later on the Spring Equinox. Something I had begrudgingly tried to figure out years prior happened with absolutely no resistance, exactly as it should. Did i take any IT or tech course between those two times? Nope. But cosmic forces beyond the comprehensible were at play, and by not resisting the process and trusting that life is meant to flow with ease- it did.
When your end goal is rooted in something bigger than you, there’s no disappointment because you trust the process.. it becomes a way of life, and (S.M.A.R.T) means goals happen in natural divine timing. The timing for your means goals may not be right, and that’s OK- how else can your goal manifest itself today, in a small way? Reconnect to the emotion, the feeling, the root of why you want what you want… if you cannot achieve the means goal today, what other ways can you let your end goal express itself? How can you find fire and excitement when it comes to your goals, to the point of not needing a rigid, measurable, fixed plan?
3. Reframe it: There’s No Time Limit
Another aspect to keep in mind when it comes to setting any time of goal, is to do it from a place of self-love.
People’s goals are often rooted in a place of self-hatred; although the path towards the goal might be the same, the intention behind it will dictate your ultimate success. An easy example is exercise. Many people exercise from a place of self-hate; they want to change their body because they don’t like what they see in the mirror. When goals are rooted in self-hate, the “SMART” paradigm comes into play, there is often a lot of resistance, and no matter how much closer you get to achieving the goal, there is often unfulfillment as well as “one step forward, two steps back” going on.
Dig into the intention behind the goal- do you want to exercise to lose weight, because you hate your body? This generates a problematic mindset because you’ve presumed that weightloss = self-love. But self-love is something that goes beyond the physical body. Engaging in an exercise routine because you love your body, want to move it for health and longevity reasons will ensure that your goals are sustainable and pleasurable. If exercise comes from a place of self-love, you begin to find ways to move your body because movement is a gift, you find ways to move throughout the day- movement becomes a welcomed part of life.
Finding The Balance
It’s important not to swipe the masculine under the rug in favour of an all-feminine approach, because swinging the pendulum completely will be just as problematic. How can you find balance between setting hard goals, and total surrender? Well, to be honest, this is a dance that only you can perfect in your own life, through experience. This dance, also called flow state, occurs when we can balance hard work with trusting that things don’t always go as we plan.
Should you quit your inflexibleAF, linear, corporate job? Not necessarily. But how can you find ways to honour the cyclical feminine nature inside of you in a masculine-energy-driven work environment?
can you take 5 minutes to meditate or just breath fresh air every couple of hours? (Consider it your “smoke break”!)
can you ask for help if you need it?
can you take a mental health day if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your workload?
can you nourish yourself with real, whole, organic food instead of grabbing lifeless food on the go?
can you take time to eat quietly, away from the desk?
can you get your barefeet in nature for a few minutes during your lunch break (at a local park)?
can you use pranayamic single nostril breath to calm down once a day?
can you navigate the workplace with kindness and compassion?
can you refrain from talking negatively about other people?
Moreover, in which ways can you honour the feminine outside of the workplace? Examine your goals at home, and in your relationships. How can you be more fluid in the way you navigate your life in the areas in which you have more control?
can you rest completely from strenuous exercise on the first day(s) of your menstrual cycle?
can you learn to observe the times in which you are stuck in a “my way or the highway” mentality?
can you address your money issues?
can you start giving more?
can you rest more when your body is asking for it?
can you implement more self-love and self-care behaviours?
can you talk less, and listen more?
final note: observe your tendencies
Something that’s been major for me in terms of finding the balance is really observing the things that I resist doing. The masculine in me loves a good to-do list, and yet there’s always a couple of things that carry on from list to list, and never get done. I’ve begun to really explore those “never getting done” things- and see how instead of powering through and “gettin’ er done” (very masculine) how I can let go of these tasks completely and acknowledge that they are not right for me at this time (cyclical, feminine).
A major example of this for me recently has been the fact that I was working part time, while in school full-time, working on my website (full-time, again), and taking on freelance projects (part-time, again). As you may be able to see, this amount of workload simply doesn’t add up. On top of it all, I was making time for self-care, exercise, and as always cooking all my meals at home. The masculine energy in me wanted to do it all, and I tried to for a while; despite having no social life, I started to notice that all my tasks began to suffer as well because I couldn’t fully focus on the task at hand knowing I was never getting all my work done.
So I took a step back, and observed. What was I putting off most noticeably? Which tasks we’re always getting pushed on from to-do list to list, and which things was I completing with glee? What brought me joy, and was getting done willfully? This is the feminine: honouring the cycle in which you currently reside, and letting go of the things that aren’t. We are not stagnant robots. We are not machines that can just churn out results without taking into account emotions. For me, this meant acknowledging two things: 1) that my part time work as a nanny (despite loving these kiddos to death), was no longer a necessary stream of income and that 2) I had gotten out as much as I could from my program at school for the time being, and that it was time to pause it (indefinitely).
I wanted to do it all, but that’s not real life. Real life is acknowledging where you’re at, honoring your emotions and your Self. Finding the balance between masculine and feminine requires finding balance between doing and being, between achieving goals and going with the flow. I guess the biggest takeaway from all this is to understand that there’s more at play when it comes to success than just hitting home runs. Although we live in a patriarchal society, the balance between feminine and masculine within society can only happen once we begin to honour this balance within ourselves.
So let go of the self-inflicted abuse caused by an inability to accomplish your “goals”. Find the deeper meaning of what these goals mean to you: love, happiness, human connection… and find ways in which you can achieve these things, without walking the conventional path. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is to just observe what is- and bask in the knowing that you are divinely perfect just as you are.