Thursday, May 2, 2013

Setting Goals can Ruin Your Life

It was not until I started working for one of the major Life Insurance companies that I ran across Zig Zigler, the guru of all gurus for sales people. It seems that Life Insurance sales people don't really do all that well, and a big part of the systemic failure is their lack of self esteem. An entire industry, as it turns out, had been created to help sales people over come that one flaw.

I discovered that it did not work, as a general rule. Most people can't sell free food to starving people. But, the industry is kicking butt non-the-less. According to, "Americans spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs."

But it is a personal encounter with Zig that has set my mind and behavior patterns since the mid 80's with respect to self help, and the holy grail of all self advise, goal setting.  My wife and I, the year my daughter was born, 1984, attended a industry convention for life insurance sales people in Wisconsin.  One of the Key Note speakers was Zig.  As it turned out, one of us, my wife or myself, had earned the right, through sales numbers, to a lunch with a bunch of other leaders that year, with the man himself.  He told us, among other things, that his industry was a sham.  In his words, "I borrowed everything I tell you from somewhere else," or something very close to that.  He told us that he tells people, who have little or no faith in themselves or the product they are selling, something that gives them hope.  It wears off in a few months, and they have to come back and pay to hear it again and again.  In addition, he sells them a mobile version in tapes, books and videos.  Since they never really listen, they are doomed to repeat the cycle over and over again. 

So I had to ask him, where did he get his stuff?  "To the source," he said.  I get this stuff from the bible.  If they had faith in God, and read the bible, they would not need me.  But they never do. Instead of going to God for validation, they went to him.  He told them where they should go, but they gave him money instead.  Since he was a man of God, he gave is 10% to God, and moved on.  God provided for him, because his listened.  But not to us, because we needed hope from man, rather than God.  At the time, I did not believe in God, so I just assumed he was a thief.  I know better now.

Moving on to what gives us hope, though short term, I am about to write about the one thing that all the gurus tell us to do? Set goals. They all told this awesome story about a study done at some university that proved that people with goals did better than those without. Only problem was that there was no study. It was all made up. There is, however, a lot of work about why goals do not work. From surface work like an article in Psychology Today, to books about what the real leaders do, like Stop Setting Goals If You Would Rather Solve Problems by Bob Biehl.  This book, Stop Setting Goals, cracked the nut for me, and finally explained by I got sick even thinking about goals, goal setting and what appeared like magic in the age of reason.

But what does this have to do with Martial Arts, you ask?

The teaching of Martial Arts has gone from "just teaching karate" all the way to an industry in the last 20 years by borrowing from other industries.  We use mirrors because of dance, we gather clients like health clubs and we sell our programs just like I sold life insurance under the guidance of the self help industry.  Only problem is, WE teach hope, yet we go outside our own skills to get hope from others.  That has always bothered me.  Then I read a paper on why goal setting does not work.

It suggested that as humans, we get lost in the process when we reduce our purpose to written goals.  The goals soon replace the purpose, and before long, the only thing we even remember to follow is the written goal, with no memory of the intent or purpose that created the goal to begin with.  In the bible, the people who stopped following God, and started following the rules instead, were called pharisees.  Highly educated, wealthy and respected, but dead wrong.

Here is an example.  Let's say your intent is to condition your body better to prolong or perhaps prevent surgery. So you sit down, and write down some action steps.  Say, lift weights, change your diet and do some cardio.  You have spent your life, since you are a black belt, taking responsibility for your actions, and you have been taught to write specific action steps, then work the plan.  So you pick the weight training program, the diet and the work outs.  2 weeks into the routine, your family gets into the way.  You have to decide if you are going to support your wife, daughter, son, mother or whomever, and readjust your work out, or stick to your goals; your written plan.  You pick the plan, since you have made a commitment, and told everyone about it.  You family life begins to erode, because your know you made the wrong choice; you followed the rules.  You
gain weight.  You miss your goal.  Or, perhaps, you blow off your goals, and go with the family.  The next day, since you report your progress, you have to admit you did not have the will power to stick to your goals.  You have already failed. So you reset the goal, and start again. That is what we are taught to do.  Discipline and endurance. Why so much discipline and endurance you should be asking.  Research, sited above, tells us that the reason we fail is that goals don't work.

Or, if you remember the intent, which was health and prevention, you realize that the goals were not the end, but the tools.  No change in plans or guilt is necessary.  You just stick to your intention.

It was this earth shattering idea that goal setting is evil, if used as anything but a tool.  Purpose and intent are everything.  We discussed this in our schools leadership program, and they designed a plan called I MUST.  This picture is my second commitment.  I have already competed the first one.  I assure you, the power of intent, purpose, and in my case, God, makes a mockery of Goals.

If you want a copy of this in PDF or Word, or you want to use the idea on your own, it is free to use.  I only ask that you send us an email, or comment here if you use it, and let us know any results.  This is NOT required, but it will encourage my leadership team if they see their work is, in fact, changing the world.


  1. I understand what you're trying to say in this article, basically that goals are bad and they can distance us from our families and from God. I personally wouldn't say they are terrible, but yes, you shouldn't let them get in the way of what's really important. What I don't understand is why right at the end of the article you undermine all of that by having created an "alternative" that seems more severe than the original? Students are signing sworn oaths to you, a man, that they will adhere to a list of what are essentially still goals? What do you do if they fail? Why do you have them under what can be construed as a legally binding contract? If you are a man of God, then you will understand this: let your communication be, Yes, yes; No, no; for whatsoever is more than this comes of evil. (Matthew 5)

    Btw, that egg and bacon breakfast quote on the contract is kind of unsettling. I don't want to be the pig. I don't want to die for my goals. :P

  2. No one swears anything to anyone. Nor is their commitment to me. We don't even keep the record. They keep it all. Though I get your mean, past the allusion to Christ Jesus, which I would never knowingly do. The contract is between them and them. They are stating a purpose. Can't really fail in a purpose, because there is no judge but yourself. Think of it this way. A goal can not be changed. A purpose is subject to your own vision. As the spirit guides us through our lives, our understanding and knowledge change, we begin to understand revelation that we once did not, and we achieve the purpose a totally different way, or, do to the revelation, we understand that the purpose was not valid to begin with. It is dropped, like hot coal, and we move on. Humans create goals to control their lives, and in my humble opinion, that controls the ability for the Spirit to control our lives.