“The journey is long, but the goal is in each step.” ~Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
I have a daughter, she is nine.
A few months ago, I started to feel like we weren’t as close as we used to. I felt like we weren’t spending enough time together, and honestly, when we were I almost didn’t know what to do with her. It felt like our emotional connection was falling apart, like we didn’t have enough topics to discuss or enough games to play.
Moreover, I was getting stressed and annoyed with her easily, and it definitely wasn’t helping. I could raise my voice and then would immediately feel terrible, and of course she would get frustrated too.
I knew it was my fault. I’d been too focused on my work, and I just hadn’t been leaving enough time and energy to our interaction. I hadn’t been prioritizing it.
I realized that I needed to fix it.
And as I am very much into goal setting, I sat down and started writing down a goal to improve my relationship with my daughter.
There are many different techniques people use while creating their goals. One of the famous and commonly used ones is called SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. I used to apply this technique a lot in the past. So I thought I’d use it again.
But as soon as I started, I immediately got in trouble.
I was saying to myself, “Okay, it’s definitely relevant to me. And I guess it’s also time-based (ummm, really?). But how am I supposed to measure it? And how do I make something like ‘relationship’ specific enough?”
And here is the biggest problem. The whole purpose of my goal was not just to get to some specific point in the future when my relationship with my daughter would be perfect. The purpose was to have continuous (this word really matters here), daily improvement in our relationship so that we could enjoy our time together today, tomorrow. and every day!
And suddenly the following realization hit me like a strike of lightning:
“My goal is not a result of some process—my goal is the process!”
The issue with SMART goals is that they make us focus purely on the end result rather than pay attention to the process!
Please get me right, there is nothing wrong with focusing on the end result. But I do believe that it is wrong to not focus on the journey that gets us there.
As I was thinking about it further, I discovered more limitations of the SMART technique:
We miss out on the important goals that don’t fit into the framework.
The goal about my relationship with my daughter is the perfect example of this limitation. It’s obviously very important to me, but it can hardly be measured or timeboxed.
Missing the deadline means failure.
Whenever we deal with deadlines, we automatically tend to believe that missing this deadline is a failure. And our goals are no exception. But the truth is, there are many factors outside of our control that can affect our ability to meet the deadline.
So instead of focusing too much on the deadline, I prefer to measure success by how consistently I make progress, regardless of how fast it goes.
Missing the start date means failure.
We already talked about the deadlines, but as soon as timelines are involved, we also happen to have a start date. And we start to face the same problem here—if we don’t start on the date that we defined for ourselves as a “start date,” we feel like losers.
I actually think that this is one of the biggest reasons why we give up on our New Year’s resolutions so often. We just seem to believe that if we didn’t start working on our goal on January 1, then it automatically means that we failed. But that’s just not true—it’s never too late to start working on your goals!
We often roll back to where we started.
When we focus on the end result too much, it’s too easy to stop paying attention and therefore roll back to the previous state once we achieve that result.
Raise your hand if you ever worked on the goal to “lose ten/twenty/fifty (choose your variant) pounds before the summer.” Okay, and how soon did those pounds come back?
I myself struggled with losing weight for many years. I was always a little bit overweight. Not enough to make me do something about it, but definitely enough to make me feel uncomfortable. I tried to lose weight multiple times, I was even able to make progress for a few months in a row, but then I would stop. And again, and again.
About three years ago I got to my highest weight ever, and it is when I finally said to myself, “Okay, now you really gotta do something about it.” But I approached it differently this time—I decided to make it part of my lifestyle.
I started working out regularly with a personal trainer (hello accountability!). I started paying attention to what I was eating and drinking. But the most important mental shift that I had to make was that I wasn’t doing it as a temporary thing anymore, or wasn’t trying to achieve a particular “result.” My goal was to learn to appreciate the journey!
Now, three years later, I am forty pounds lighter than when I started. I am stronger, happier, and more confident than ever before. I still exercise at least four times a week, and I enjoy it! I truly do! I even workout when I travel, and I would’ve never expected that from myself.
I feel like I am at the point in my personal growth journey when I don’t need the boundaries of specific frameworks anymore.
So, from now on, whenever I create a new goal, I make sure it’s all about the continuous, consistent, sustainable improvement in one particular area of my life.
I make sure it’s all about the process, because I strongly believe that the process is where the true success and happiness reside.
And if you are curious whether I was able to improve my relationship with my daughter… Well, I am still working on it. There is always room for improvement, but I have been able to almost completely stop raising my voice at her, we are definitely spending more time together these days, and I am appreciating this time so much more. Which I am extremely grateful for!