December 21, 2020 | 12:37

Goal Setting Perspectives — Toward vs Away Goals


The end of 2020 is near, and soon, a lot of people will make resolutions and set their goals for 2021.

Sadly, some of those goals will stay just that — a written intention on a piece of paper abandoned in the first weeks of the new year.

There are many strategies and tactics for goal setting, and in this article, I’d like to describe one such approach.

The Habit That Chases You

Sometimes, we set a goal to get rid of a bad habit. Such an objective might look like this:

Lose weight.

Quit smoking.

Spend less on things you don’t need.

These are away goals. They show that you want to distance yourself from something, which is why people often fail them.

The thing with away goals is that they chase us. The goal itself is continually reminding you of the very habit that you want to break: losing weight emphasizes that you have that weight, stressing you out and triggering eating more; quitting smoking reinforces the fact that you smoke, etc.

Switching Perspectives

On the other hand, there are toward goals. These are goals that attract you, that portray a version you desire to become. Thus, the above objectives can be redefined as:

Start eating healthy food.

Taking care of your lungs.

Saving money for things you dream of.

This switch in perspective allows you to break free from the negative image of yourself and switch to a positive perception of the person you can and want to be.

You don’t have to run away from your excess weight — you have to move towards becoming a person who eats healthily.

Do not quit smoking — strive toward the person who takes care of their lungs instead.

Do not spend less — move toward financial sustainability instead.

Another difference between Toward and Away goals is that away goals work through subtraction - you cut something out:

  • if you lose weight, in the end, you will be the same person except for those 5 kgs you lost;
  • if you quit smoking, you will be the same person, but who doesn’t smoke;
  • if you spend less, you will be the same person with more money;

But the reality doesn’t work that way. Any such goal is a result of a system of actions and decisions we make daily. Therefore, to change an outcome, you have to change the underlying system as well, but this is a topic for another article.

That is why if you just switch from Away Goals to Toward Goals but do not put in the necessary effort to achieve those goals, you will fail. However, a Toward Goal is a great place to start thinking differently about where you want to be, rather than running away in an unknown direction from your current condition.

Therefore, next time you plan your new year resolutions, think about whether your goals define a better version of yourself, or do they aim to distance you from what you are now.

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