Substitute Goals: The Goals that Get in the Way

In this blog post, I share a personal experience about what I call a “substitute goal”, and ask you to consider what sort of goals you’re setting for yourself. If this post piques your interest, perhaps you’d like to set up an introductory coaching session with me to discuss your goals. You can do that by clicking here.


I got to Inbox Zero on the weekend, and realized that I had been dangling that goal in front of myself in hopes that life would take a dramatic turn for the better once I reached it. Guess what – life didn’t.

I realized that I had been holding up a false goal — one that I thought would result in relief, satisfaction, success — instead of asking myself what truly leads to relief, satisfaction, success.

I often run across something similar in my coaching clients: the belief that “if only” they can get into x school / get x job / get x promotion / get x relationship / make x amount of money, then they will be happy / fulfilled / satisfied / confident.

I call these substitute goals: the ones we dangle in front of ourselves as something to work toward, and only once we achieve them do we realize that they don’t give us what we were hoping to get. (Sometimes they do. But not often.)

Sound familiar?

How can you check in with yourself to see if something is a substitute goal, or if it’s a goal that will truly lead to the outcome you’re wanting?

Below, I’ve explained some of the ways I might help someone think through this if I were coaching them:

1. Run the goal by your Future Self.

(Future Self is a coaching tool I’ve mentioned before on the blog; if you’d like more info, just send me a line!).

If I had stopped and asked my Future Self if Inbox Zero would lead me to the relief and satisfaction I was seeking, she would have started laughing uncontrollably, and then she would have said, “No, it won’t; PLEASE go do something else with your Sunday.”


2. Ask what has led to your desired outcome in the past. 

If I had asked myself what had led to feelings of relief and satisfaction in the past, I would not have come up with Inbox Zero. I might have told myself to take a walk, go to a yoga class, or have a computer-free day.


3. Check out what’s keeping you from your desired outcome right now. 

I was unconsciously holding onto the belief that I couldn’t be relaxed or satisfied unless I got to Inbox Zero. In reality, I could have accessed feelings of relief and satisfaction in the “right now”, before I met my weird goal. Similarly, I often hear from clients that they will be happy / fulfilled / satisfied only when x, y, or z happens. I like to get nosy and ask “What about feeling happy and fulfilled right now, today?”


Inbox Zero, people. Not all it’s cracked up to be.

Could your goals use a fresh perspective?

Sticking With Goals

In this blog post, I answer a question about sticking with what’s most important.

Here’s the question I received:

I keep losing sight of what’s important to me. I’m struggling to set personal goals and hold myself accountable to them. For whatever reason I’m not satisfied with where I’m at right now (mainly in my working world) but having a hard time setting the boundaries of what I want to go after. When I seem to be making progress I always get distracted by things right in front of me, such as personal relationships and adventure. Any advice for how I can approach this differently?

And my response:

I hear the frustration in your words! You know you don’t want to be where you’re at, but you also don’t know where it is you want to head. It’s my hunch that you’ll need to get clear not just on “what you want to go after”, as you put it, but also how you want to be as you go after it.

With that in mind, here are the exploration questions I’ve cooked up for you…

How do you want it to be? 

  • In your ideal world, how do you operate?
  • In your ideal world, what’s important to you?
  • In your ideal world, what goals do you set and stick with?
  • In your ideal world, what boundaries do you set?
  • In your ideal world, how do you respond to distractions?
If you give yourself the gift of getting clear on how you want to be when it comes to goal-setting, accountability, and focus, then I believe it will be easier for you to start going after what you want.


A Bright Shining Light

As I prepare to host Two Hours of Perspective (yes, there are just two spaces left for a lucky person or two out there!), I’m doing my own reflection on the year I had in 2010 and my plans for 2011. Given that setting intentions worked so well for me last year, I’ve been doodling with a new set of intentions to bring to life.

This year, I’m finding myself drawn to big themes.

My overarching 2011 theme:

Be a bright shining light of clarity and integrity.

Additional themes I’m toying with:

More Laura. I’ve heard from clients, from my therapist colleagues, and from wise people kind enough to say so that they want to see more of my being and more of my personality shining through. What would “more Laura” look like? I’m holding this question as an inquiry to explore.

Work whole-souled. I love what I do. “Work whole-souled” means bringing every fibre of my being into the work I am creating in the world. To do work that I can approach with love, care, attention, and talent.

Do transformative work. Do the work that I’m best at, and let the other things go. Focus on the transformative work that lights me up, and that lights up my clients.

Get my yang back. The past year has felt far from hot yoga, half-marathons, karaoke shenanigans, and being in the public eye. I want to dedicate space and time this year to rebuilding my yang.

Follow my heart and trust my inner wisdom. My heart always knows. It always knows. I just have to quiet my head down enough to listen to it. I predict that this theme is going to express itself via a budding meditation practice.

And what about you?

Maybe you’re yearning for a resolution or a goal. Maybe you’re noticing a theme that keeps popping up and inviting your attention. Perhaps you’d like some support this year as you pay attention to your theme(s) (which is what we coaches are here for!), or perhaps you’d like to share your themes with a group that will support you and hold you accountable.

If a theme is knocking about in your awareness, I invite you to give it some time to let it teach you its lesson. Perhaps you’d like to share your theme(s) here in the comments?

To a healthy and happy new year!

My hatred of SMART goals, and other 2010 resolutions

A much better way for me to set intentions

Few things make me want to rebel the way SMART goals do. Specificity and Measurability frustrate me. Achievable mocks me: “Can you ACTUALLY do that?” Realistic bores me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in three decades, it’s that Time operates on its own schedule, not mine.

I’ve discovered that setting intentions does work for me, so I’ve turned my energy there. If I pick a few words or images to guide me, I tend to accomplish far more than I thought I could, and do more than I would have gauged as “achievable”.

The only measurable thing I’m planning on committing to in 2010 is sitting down for 10 minutes everyday with my list of intentions. I’m going to trust that spending 10 minutes everyday with my intentions will shake its way out into actions and goals and accomplishments, in new and surprising ways, in natural ways, even in energizing ways.

I share here the intentions I’ve been sitting down with for the past four days, and which I’ll continue for the year:

I honour my body and my health.
I am confident that I am on track to eliminate debt and generate wealth. I am responsible.
I am open to possibilities, and I am grounded in my own focus.
I am successful and I am making valuable change in people’s lives.
I am open to friendships and I nourish my friendships. I am learning to practice generosity.
I show my family, through my actions and my words, that I love them.
I recognize my habits and patterns and actively experiment with new ways of being.
I stand, speak, and act with confidence.
I laugh everyday.
I make time to create.
I value peace and beauty.
I can love and be loved.