The Compass and the Goalpost
When it comes to improving our health, it can be important to set goals to succeed. Whether it’s reaching an ideal body-weight, fitting into a size of jeans, being able to run a certain number of kilometers or exercising a set number of times per week, goals act as the ideal marker. Goals outline how we want things to be. They differentiate what currently is and what is hoped for. They give us a practical target to work towards – and one day achieve.
I was 15 years of age when I set my first health-goals. I had been overweight for most of my childhood. After several unsuccessful attempts to lose weight, I decided to set a goal to do so through jogging. After school, I would strap on my runners and walk to a field. Initially, I could only complete one single lap before I was puffed out. I set goals to complete 1.5 laps, and then 2 laps and so on. Each time I would reach the point where I stopped on the previous run, I would look to the next tree, and push myself until I got there. Eventually I reached 5 consistent laps by the time I was 17. It was around this time that I had finally achieved my goal of losing weight! By then, however, I had started playing competitive football. My new goal of playing at state level had captured my focus. Although goals helped me to make significant progress in health and fitness, there was an ever-present residual of insufficiency – never really being ‘good enough’.
In reflection of my own life my work with many others, I have found 5 qualities of goals goal-driven living that each deserve mention:-
Goals are outcome focused – They can be accomplished. They give us something to work towards while emphasising destination over journey.
Goals are behavior focused – Goals are behavioural markers. They give little consideration to our internal state of being, and are more concerned with directing our behaviour towards accomplishment.
Goals are modifiable– If we are not reaching a goal quickly enough, we can dilute it (for example, ‘maybe I don’t need to totally give up sugar, I can just have it on weekends’).
Goals are achievable – While this is a good thing, goals only function as a useful guide to our behaviour while we’re working towards them. Once achieved, we need to set new goals.
Without taking away from the utility of goals, these factors question the reliability of making ‘Goal-Driven Living’ the foundation of our lives.
In the search for a more stable and reliable foundation, I crossed paths with a notion that makes room for goals, but also goes one step further – Values.
Values are the qualities and characteristics that define the person we deeply desire to be and the way we want to act. Values relate to all areas of life. They are inherent principles existing somewhere deep within us that capture what matters most to us. Values differ from goals in these ways:
Values are journey focused – they are not a destination but rather a constant guide to live by.
Values are both internal and behaviour focused – Internal qualities expressed through behaviour. To know your values and to live them out in your actions are both important.
Values are concrete – While some may be acquired early in life and other as we grow up, values are mostly consistent over time. It is difficult to dilute a value, or justify behaving in opposition to it without guilt. For example, if you value ‘Honesty’ but violate it in your actions, you will create internal dissonance.
Values are not achievable – They exist as a constant guide to behaviour throughout life.
Values guide our behaviour towards living out what matters most to us while goals can be established without consideration of values. I’ve met many people who have set extensive career goals yet, in speaking about values, they realize these goals are in discord with what actually matters to them.
Goals and values don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Goals can work well with values when the values are set as the foundation and the goals are set within its boundary.
This whole picture can be described by using the analogy of a cooking recipe– ‘The Recipe of Life’.
In the recipe, Values are the ingredients. They are the things in your pantry, and depending on the situation, different combinations of values may apply. For example, if you’ve been neglecting your physical health for some time, the ingredients (values) may be Commitment and Perseverance combined with Self-Care, Self-Respect and Self-Compassion. This sets up the overall flavour of how you want to handle this situation – with drive and decision but also with kindness to yourself and taking care of your body.
The method of the recipe is like the goals. Within the boundaries of each of the above values, the goals can be set to provide practical direction about how to act. Setting a goal to exercise 4 times per day while fasting on water may be in line with Commitment and Perseverance; however it may violate Self-Compassion and Self-Care by the intensity of the goal. The method we set can only exist within the limits of the ingredients (values) we use and it’s up to us to decide on the proportion of each ingredient (value) necessary for the recipe 😊
Your values are like a compass that may guide your behaviour in any situation. Acting in line with your values promotes fulfillment and meaning. Living in contrast to your values or having experiences that violate them are behind what causes us distress and disharmony.
Knowing what your values are is a key first step. Just like any compass, we are not compelled to walk the direction it’s pointing. We can walk in opposition to our values. But just like any compass, it will keep pointing that direction which means that no matter how far we’ve traveled away from a value, it’s still there waiting for us to start walking towards it again when we’re ready