We’re Bad at Goals

Taz Barber Brain Gainz, No Filter Fitness

The thing about setting goals is that most of us are terrible at it.

The first problem is that we don’t know what we want. Or, we don’t know why we want it. We’re like kids in a toy store, running around, wanting everything we see, crying because we can’t have it, and then forgetting it ever existed an hour later. Apparently, it wasn’t that important to us. Maybe we were bored, confused, frustrated, and in looking for a balm to our discomfort, we went for the first thing we saw. This feels like a problem of not knowing our “why” — why we want it, why it’s meaningful to us.

Often, we’re reaching for things other people tell us we should do or should have. So, we follow the motions, without ever asking ourselves, “How did I decide that I want this? What’s the story I’m telling myself about this?”

The second problem with goal-setting is that we humans tend to avoid discomfort and change.

We live in a society built around providing us with all the comforts a person could ever want or need. So, seeking discomfort isn’t something we’re taught to do. We’re encouraged to live in a way that sets us up to accumulate luxuries, and walking away from that is a scary thing to do. We have to face our ideas about self-worth, what makes our life meaningful, who we are, what we want to give our time to, and our beliefs about our selves and the world. Deep stuff. Uncomfortable stuff. It’s easier to get a haircut.

Not this kind of haircut…

More like this…


And even though we’re one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet, we still don’t like change. Some scientists theorize it’s because our brains understand the rules of the game we’re currently playing, which feels safe. Even if the environment we’re in is dangerous, and our behaviors are leading us up a mountain we don’t want to climb (because the mountain we should be on is across the valley), we’re going to choose what we know, what’s familiar.

So…how we do we step off the trail to nowhere?

We’re still figuring that out. It’s a work in progress.

Our accountability partners are our kids. They call us on our stuff real quick. They are also a reflection of who we are, how we talk and how we behave. Which, we’ve discovered, is a feedback device that is both painful and illuminating.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our experiences in trying to live more authentic to who we are.

We’ve outlined our process loosely. It’s not perfect. But maybe there’s a nugget of goodness in here you can use.

1. First, we get clear on our why.
We unplug for 10-15 minutes, turning down the noise of the world, grab a piece of paper or use a voice recorder app on our phone, and give our attention to this question, “What does the best day ever look like?”

We think about who’s there, what we’re doing, being as detailed as we possibly can — thinking of all the things that make us feel turned-up and happy to be alive.

For us, this is the first stop for getting clear on our vision for the future. We’ll often come together as a couple afterward to check-in. It’s a good thing to do now and then. Usually, when we’re feeling overwhelmed and too busy to do the stuff we enjoy, that’s a red flag that it’s time to connect back to our why and our vision for our future.

2. Then, we think about our behaviors and set a goal.
With a clearer vision in mind for the future we want to build, and the lives we want to lead, we’ll identify some habits or behaviors that need to change and then we set a goal that’s in alignment with our values.

When you set goals to set goals, without connecting to your why, it’s easy to find yourself in a place where you achieve the goal and then turn around and set another one. There’s no meaning, no deep satisfaction. The goal was never yours. When you reach the mountaintop, you’re not impressed with the view. So you pick another mountain and start chasing its summit.

As athletes, we have fallen into this trap.

The focus is on #gainz and PRs. An obsession with the leaderboard that’s less about being motivated by healthy competition and more about needing to win to prove something.

Our solution is to focus on the process.

We tap into the reason behind our goals by asking,

“Who do I want to become in the process of achieving the goal?”

Because it’s not really about the goal, is it?

Cue the cliché, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

There’s wisdom there, even if we do find it annoying when people say it.

But the simple math of the problem is that we’re going to give a lot more of our time to the process of achieving the goal. Far more time is given to climbing the mountain than standing at the top. So, if we hate the hike, why are we even up here?

3. We find a low-risk way to test the process.
Have you ever been more in love with the idea of something than actually doing that something? We have.

It’s just part of being human. So, to work with that, we start small and simple.

We figure out the minimum barrier of entry to test out whether we really like something, or it’s something that fits with our life right now.

We ask ourselves, “What is the minimum amount of time and money we can give to the project/goal so that we can stress test it?”

With online workouts or home gym workouts, there’s a lot to sift through as you search for the right program.

This process is one of the reasons why we built Outside the Box to require minimal equipment (start with just dumbbells), minimal time (workouts are less than 30-minutes), and minimal investment (it’s $19.99/month). Trying this program is low-risk and easy.

We have to give up the fantasy of the goal and get real on what’s going to work for us right now.


Taz Barber Editor
Co-Founder / Semi-Nomadic Programmer
I’m the one you love to hate — I am the master programmer here at OTB, which means I’m the one making you do all those burpees and all that running. #Sorrynotsorry. If it makes you feel better, I’m doing it too. I’m an outnumbered mamma (3 boys) and wife to Pat, and my other true loves are the ocean and cooking tasty meals inspired by our travels.