The goal is never the goal

My late brother, John, loved sports jerseys. He collected quite a few of them. Even during the 14 months where he was dying of cancer, he was still buying them. When he passed away, I took a number of his jerseys. While he was nearly 5 inches taller than me, he had a smaller build so, I didn’t expect to wear any of these jerseys as they didn’t fit. I took them as souvenir’s, a simple and nice way to remember him. This morning, while looking through my wardrobe, I saw these jerseys. For some reason, I felt the urge to take them out and try them on. To my surprise, they all fit me. A couple of them were snug but they did all fit. A smile came to my face as I remembered that the goal is never the goal. Don’t worry, I will explain.

Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting

Before you can achieve great goals and change, you must set effective goals which challenge and inspire you to take the consistent action.

For more great advice to set and pursue great goals, check out 'Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting'.

What I mean by the goal is never the goal

When you think about the goals that people commonly set, you think of things like running a marathon, travelling to a new country, making a specific amount of money etc. But that goal is never the goal; it is simply a focal point for something far greater. The real goal is to become the person who is capable of doing those things The real goal is an identity shift.

One of the biggest errors we make as human beings is that we tend to hold a permanent view of ourselves. We see ourselves as the same person at all times e.g. you think of yourself as an honest person but if you are honest right now, you will admit that you are not always honest. Impermanence is the true nature of life. We constantly change; we have to meet the new challenges that we constantly face.

When I didn’t understand  that the goal is never the goal

For much of my life. I have struggled with weight. There have been times when I finally knuckled down and lost weight. On one occasion, when I moved back to Ireland from the UK, I lost 7.5 stone (105 lbs). But it usually took some real pain to make me act. On that occasion, I had just been up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (on a stag weekend) and I felt embarrassed as at one point, I had thought that I might not fit up the stairwell. I kept getting images of all the people behind me getting delayed as a fire crew had to prise me out.

Yes, my mind can run a little wild when I feel embarrassed. Thankfully that didn’t happen and I made it to the top and back down without incident. But the close squeeze was enough to motivate me.

I set the target to hit a particular weight but I didn’t make it. I lost over 100lbs and I looked great but I wasn’t happy because I didn’t make my goal weight. In the end, I pushed my training too hard and injured myself. A period of inactivity meant I put half the weight back on. My inability to understand what success was had caused me to undo so much good work. I hadn’t clearly understood what my goal was so I pushed things too far.

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Why I remembered today that the goal is never the goal

When I fit the jersey’s on today. I automatically remembered that the goal is never the goal. Earlier this year, I had been in a great deal of discomfort with inflammation and feeling tired. So, I decided to clean up my diet. All I wanted to do was see myself as a healthy person and, I wanted to see the evidence to back it up. While I did think it would be nice to lose weight, there was no weight-related goal whatsoever. I haven’t even weighed myself in a few years. I just focused on feeling good about my health.

Before that day, I had never cooked vegetables and barely ever eaten any. Since that day, I have had vegetables every day and dramatically reduced my carbohydrate intake. Because I was focusing on feeling good and doing what a healthy person would do, I never thought about my weight. I hadn’t realised that I had lost a lot of weight.

I had always thought that I wanted to lose weight and achieve a certain weight but that wasn’t the case. I wanted to be a man who looked after his health and valued feeling good. The weight was just one by-product of that. Rather than having to wait until I hit a specific weight to feel I was succeeding, all I had to do was ask myself each day if I felt my decisions throughout the day had been the decisions of a healthy person. If I didn’t. I simply resolved to do better the next day.

Understanding that the goal is never the goal

The real purpose of what we call goals is to be more of the person we want to identify ourselves as, e.g.

  • Someone who wants to run a marathon probably just wants to be a fitter, healthier person. Aiming for the marathon will give them the motivation to make healthier decisions each day.
  • Travelling to a new country is not about just seeing the new country, it is more likely to be about opening the mind to new experiences and new ways of thinking and looking at things.
  • Making the extra money is more likely about seeing yourself as successful and having a higher degree of self-esteem.

If you want to know what your real goal is then you need to keep digging after you set that original goal. Dig until you understand all the reasons (there may be more than one) why you want to achieve that goal. Use that original goal to motivate you but you must understand what your real goal is. That real goal is going to be some change in your identity. That just requires you to take the right actions each day and, you can then feel successful each day rather than postponing your happiness until some arbitrary future date.

Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting

Before you can achieve great goals and change, you must set effective goals which challenge and inspire you to take the consistent action.

For more great advice to set and pursue great goals, check out 'Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting'.


Next time you set goals, Dig deeper until you find the real goal. Identify the person you want to become. Take the time to identify how that person would behave daily and commit to those behaviours. Enjoy the success of your actions each day. There will still be the pain of having to adapt to the new behaviours but it is far more enjoyable than simply chasing after some distant target.