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The Dangers of Goal Setting

If there ever was a movie that deserved the top spot in the 'the-movies-you-must-watch-before-you-die' genre it must be The Shawshank Redemption. The seminal movie based on the Stephen King novel of the same title is about one Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover. However, he is in reality innocent of the charges. While in prison, he forms alliances with key figures with the main goal of escaping - a process he carefully crafts over 19 years.

For those who haven't watched the movie, warning: there are major spoilers ahead.

If my memory serves me right, Andy does eventually end up escaping from prison using a pick axe to painstakingly dig his way through walls of concrete and thereafter crawl through an endless sewer pipe full of prisoner waste, to find his way to freedom.

It's a befitting Hollywood ending but beneath the beautiful cinematography and stellar acting is a powerful lesson: if you want to achieve a goal bad enough you must be willing to be patient, dig through a lot of painful experiences and wade through a load of shit.

And the issue is not so much what you have to go through, but that you have a goal in the first place. Remember, in the said movie even as Andy struggled to escape there were also a lot of prisoners who were quite fine with spending the rest of their lives in prison, they had grown accustomed to it and the risks associated with an attempted escape were much too high for them.

So here's the thing: the moment you set a goal, you set yourself up. You effectively put a standard for yourself to aspire to and in the process, you judge your current character. You put pressure on yourself.

The moment you set a goal, you set yourself up

This is a good thing if you are accustomed to pain, fear, challenges, and setbacks as a prerequisite or launching pad to success. However, if you are averse to pain, if you are paralyzed by fear, or if you are easily affected by the opinions of others because you have a fragile ego or misplaced pride, then perhaps setting goals is not for you. There is no need to set goals and set yourself up for self judgement. None at all. You would rather stay within your comfort zone and allow others to set goals for you so that in turn you can meet their goals and not worry about self-imposed targets for greatness.

This is why it is easier to set a goal than achieve one.

It is easier to say a goal, write it down, even commit to achieving it, and then give up on the goal. Because goal setting can actually be bad for your health if you are not mentally prepared for what achieving the goal will take if you are still dealing with past trauma from low self-esteem and an inability to be corrected and learn from pain.

When you set a goal and then step out to achieve that goal, you develop a set of rituals or daily habits. These habits disrupt your 'normal' and may involve changes in sleeping patterns, diet, friends, language, dressing, and even posture. In the course of attempting to adopt new habits and dropping old undesirable ones, you consciously decide to press the reset button for your personality and culture, you willingly opt to brainwash yourself. This is why a few weeks into a new habit, most of us opt to drop the pursuit of a goal altogether, especially if the goal is big, scary, and crazy. Mediocre, comfortable, and predictable living is much easier than living based on goals and faith. One may even argue, rightfully so 'Will goals pay my rent or feed me?'

Setting a goal changes you. It makes you evolve and become a new person worthy of goal achievement. The bigger the goal, the greater the personal alchemy or evolution. This is very dangerous and I assure you, if you are of weak character, you will time and again give up on your goals because you prefer safety over uncertainty.

I developed this diagram to demonstrate why people hardly achieve their big goals:

And while the cycle above is normal, the real tipping point is no. 5. Because how you respond at point no. 5 will determine to a large degree if you achieve your goals at all or remain in this self-defeating cycle of non-achievement for life.

  1. So why don't we just break the cycle, then? Because we fear failing.

  2. And why do we fear to fail? Because we believe failure is final. We believe that the judge of our character will be vindicated and thus provide irrevocable evidence that we are failures. No one wants their deepest fears justified by current experience.

  3. So what's the cure? ACTION. To achieve your goals, especially the really big and scary ones, you must be willing to take immediate, passionate, imperfect but authentic action.

Do it anyway and do not just do it but do it:

  • with fear and trembling and confusion but do it anyway

  • because that is the only way to become the person you seek to be

  • for you and not for your spouse, children, parents, Imam, Pastor, or Guru

  • because in the process you will become stronger than those things you fear

  • because your soul craves an adventure and goal pursuit is the greatest journey you can take

The best thing about trying and failing and trying again is that in the process you become a being who is truly not influenced by the thoughts and expectations of others. You attain the highest level of self-esteem because your mind finally understands that you not only say you will do things, you get them done - whether big or small.


It is important for you to understand that beyond the 1 billion plus algorithms on social media platforms there exists your relatives, your friends, your favorite movies, your employer, your children, your spouse, your education, your religion and your culture which have been very instrumental at giving you a sense of being, but on the flip side are in a strange way, part of the very reason you have been stuck at not achieving your biggest goals to date.

They have served as effective psychological distractors from your chief purpose. They have made you much too comfortable to get uncomfortable. You know it. Deep down you do.

So break the cycle today. Do not just set goals to make you feel good about having goals. Do something about those goals, feel the fear and act anyway, take the risks ( calculated, nonetheless) and go for that which was created for you: your destiny.

It will not come cheap, easy, quick, or light but with the right persistence you will get that reward. It is yours and yours alone. No one else's. Since birth, you've been competing with others when the biggest competition was right there in front of you all along, staring back at you from that mirror: yourself.

The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.

Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.

Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE

1 comentario

Daphine Okonji
Daphine Okonji
01 oct 2021

....'if you want to achieve a goal bad enough you must be willing to be patient, dig through a lot of painful experiences and wade through a load of shit'..... I need to hear this a thousand times! Preach brother!

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