For Visionaries, Goals That Ask Great Questions


Why We’re Allergic to Setting Goals

Hello loves, I received a thoughtful reply from a reader and friend (although we’ve never met in person), about goal-setting in response to my last post. It was a valuable comment, but he didn’t want to post it on my blog, because he essentially disagreed with me about the value of setting goals for the more heart-centered and spirit-oriented among us.

“Goals never worked for me as a visionary,” he said.

I want to address that, because it’s juicy.

I can relate. I’ve traditionally feared goals. I’ve felt almost superstitious about them, feeling that as soon as I set a goal, I’m sure to not reach it.

Yet, as a healthcare professional, I know that setting goals and measuring progress against them is integral to the process. “If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?” is the thinking.

Moreover, how will you know when it’s time to stop trying to improve things? (Insurance companies really want this to be the point of everything, because that’s when they get to stop paying.)

Being well trained and practiced in constructing these kinds of goals, I’d use this well-known formula for creating goals for my healing arts and creative business projects. They are often constructed using the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Example: In 6 months, I will have 4 new clients.

And…cue the energy drain.

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goals-for-visionaries-boxWhat If We Asked Questions Instead?

Goals like these lock down specifics – and they build a fence around them. Insurance companies like them, visionaries do not.

Visionaries like possibility. We deal in potential and look for outer limits, then try to go beyond them. The whole point of being a visionary is to leave things open-ended enough to keep dreaming bigger and bigger.

But we risk coming up short in two important areas if we shun any sort of targets or measurements whatsoever. These are the areas of knowing if something is bearing fruit for you, and being able to use what’s valuable about your process for other endeavors.

So, instead of boxy old SMART goals, I propose asking engaging questions.

One kind of question that’s really fun to play with is the “what if” question. We’re well-versed in this, too, but usually from the other perspective, using this format to draw in our darkest fears. But we can turn it around and make the “what if” question into one that opens possibility and ignites our creativity.

  • What if I get good at this and really love it?
  • What if I learn that this is really helpful to people?
  • What if I could make a viable business out of this?
  • What if I took this idea from here and applied it over there?
  • What if I did this everyday?
  • What if this could change the world?
  • What if this solved ________?”

Here’s another question format: “Would it be fun?”

  • Would it be fun to do this as a service for people?
  • Would it be fun to make money at this?
  • Would it be fun for this to be my primary source of income?
  • Would it be fun if everyone did this?
  • Would it be fun to make $10k this year from this? 
  • Would if be fun to find my next client? How about 6 of them?

Okay, I stuck some numbers in there. What happened to your stomach? What happens when you attach numbers to your vision? Is it limiting in that same way, or does it force an expansion you’re not comfortable owning?

Just asking: How come it’s okay for your stomach to lurch when you entertain the notion of wild transformation, but not okay for it to lurch when you dare to attache a number to your vision?

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My Goal’s Better Than Your Goal

Another thing visionaries don’t like about goals: They tend to encourage competition. We can even get competitive with ourselves with goal setting. It’s not a good enough goal. It’s wimpy. Shouldn’t we set the bar a little higher? Is it really worth setting a goal for just one?

Maybe you don’t really care how many clients you get as long as you start enjoying your work more, feel more self-confident and start bringing in some money. That’s a goal.

How about a goal to have a breath of fresh air in your work life that is fun and productive and lucrative and supports and nurtures you mind, body and spirit? That’s a goal.

Goal setting, visioning, brainstorming, creative problem-solving, negotiating, and all those forms of mental improvisation and possibility-raking amount to just one thing:

What kind of experience do you want to have? Do you want to have an armchair experience and deeply understand something? If so, what question do you hope this experience will answer (or ask) that you care about?

I recently found this thing called Human Design. I dove in, because I love new systems for understanding this human trip. (And being an INFJ, I also love analyzing the folks who came up with the system, but that’s another topic.)

What was my goal? I wanted to answer the question, “Why do I sometimes run out of steam on something I thought I was passionate about?” And the deeper question, “Am I really out of steam, or is something else going on?” And the deepest question, “No matter what I find out about myself, am I still okay?”

Stated even more simply, I wanted to feel better about myself. That’s a goal.

Other goals: Do you want to have a bodily experience, an interactional experience, a public experience, a private experience? Do you want to take actions and change behaviors, see the world in a different way, or understand people differently? Do you want to feel closer, more autonomous, repair or heal something, get un-stuck, create movement and momentum?

These are goals.

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What if I don’t make it?

The next issue with goal setting is the ultimate competition-encouraging gut-clencher of all, measurement.

Perhaps the most important mind shift around goal-setting and progress evaluation, before worrying about how to measure, is to be aligned with why you measure progress and results in the first place.

And this is the crux for me. You measure because you want to make sure you don’t shortchange yourself, abandon yourself, forget to attend to your needs as a person, and stop before you’ve given everything to and gotten everything out of an experience that you set out to have.

In short, you measure because you care. Because evaluating objectively, without judgment, is a counter to the subjective judgment of our experience that nothing happened. That it didn’t amount to anything and wasn’t worth it. Because experiences are gone before you know it.

And because we want to have an answer for the next doubting Thomas who asks if all this fluffy stuff really does anything, anyway. Whether that person is us or someone else, we must validate our own experience. We validate by measuring, somehow.

As a coach, I ask my clients to set goals and measure their progress against them, because I want my clients to know what they got out of their experience and because some parts of how they went about it were effective and powerful, and some weren’t.

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NASA photo
NASA photo

How to measure un-measurables

Here are some good questions to ask:

  • Do I feel complete?
  • What more do I want from this? What more would help me feel complete?
  • Where am I now that I wasn’t when I started? What other movement might be possible?
  • What do I see as possible now that I didn’t see before? Does it intrigue me enough to pursue it?
  • Now that I’ve begun, what do I find myself hoping? What does that tell me about my true motivations?
  • What do I secretly hope will come out of this, and do I need to explore that?
  • How did I go about this?
  • Would I do it again?

You see, really, visionaries can be just as effective at research as boxy science types. We ask what if, we design an experience, and we evaluate whatever results there are, in whatever parts of our experience they occur, making sure we’re still aligned with the vision that started us on the path.

It’s so important to be a gently inquiring witness to your own and your clients’ process, because when all is said and done, we want to be able to say that, yes, we had an experience, but also, we mined that baby for all it was worth and we are on mission, and now we are one step closer to mastery.


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0 thoughts on “For Visionaries, Goals That Ask Great Questions

  1. Phyllis, you went right to the heart of the matter right at the end when you said, “In short, you measure because you care.” It is so easy to float along the surface and not really get into what you are experiencing. And if you don’t know what’s working and what’s not, you’re not likely to get where you want to be. It’s particularly important to know what’s not working, something we do a very good job of hiding from ourselves. Denial avoids the pain.

    I love your questions which open the door for me or maybe I should say encourage me to go play in the shadows as well as the light. I love the “other goals” too. More invitations to play in the shadows and light of my life.

    You mentioned the “Human Design” system. I clicked the link and was blown away. I have always been a mystic. This looks like something I could dive into and be lost forever.

    I will mention two resources that have worked well for me. The first is the “Predictable Success” system which has only four types, is relatively easy to apply in every day life and works for me in business. Unfortunately, they are looking for way bigger fish than me for their program ( think mega-corps). The book and the website are very helpful. The other resource is an old book, “Language and the Pursuit of Happiness,” by Chalmers Brothers. His basic test is the similar to yours – Is it working?, i.e. are you getting what you wanted to create? The book is simple but profound. I got it through Abe’s Books.

    So thank you for the gift of “doors” and probably a lot else that I haven’t realized yet from a closer slower more thoughtful read of your post.


    P.S. I had no idea I was so juicy.

    1. Hi Tom! Thanks again for reading and for your pithy comment(s). We never know, do we, until we let in some light, what’s possible within our experience. These days, I’m learning to default to letting others in and getting more air (ideas) into my interior places. So glad to have this exchange with you. I did check out the Predictable Success site and, no surprise, I tested out as a Visionary. Thanks again, and good to hear from you!

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