To Reach Your Goals Look Beyond Them

Work to Your Potential—Not Your Goals—to Achieve More


Do you struggle to reach your goals? Does it feel like you hit a plateau as you get closer to achieving them? Maybe your motivation starts strong but fizzles out over time. Or you inexplicably find yourself struggling to get to the end.

I believe this happens when our focus is too narrow. The act of choosing one target to pursue means that we set a limit for ourselves that doesn’t extend beyond that target. Even getting there will be a struggle.

It’s like a runner that’s trained to complete a marathon. They aren’t likely prepared to go much beyond the 26.2 mile marker, as evidenced by “the wall” many runners report hitting in the final 10 kilometers.

You might be thinking that it’s only natural to feel spent after running 20 miles but consider the fact that there are ultramarathons out there of 50 and even 100 miles. Regardless of the length of the race, runners start struggling three-fourths of the way through.

This is because our mind and body can only achieve what we’ve prepared it for. And if we’ve prepared for one specific target then it’s likely we’ll start to fade as we reach it.

This isn’t to say that setting clear goals is a bad idea. A well-defined objective is good for keeping us on track but it also means we’re capping our ability if we’re not looking beyond it.

Reach Beyond Your Grasp in Order to Reach Your Goals

There’s a great speech by none other than Matthew McConaughey (alright, alright, alright) where he touches on this idea of looking past our goals.

“The approach is the destination and we’re never finished. Bo Jackson—what’d he do? He used to run over the goal line, through the end zone, and up the tunnel. The greatest…marksmen in the world, they don’t aim at the target, they aim on the other side of the target. We do our best when our destinations are beyond the measurement, when our reach continually exceeds our grasp, and when we have immortal finish lines.”

If there is no additional benefit to running through the back of the end zone, why do it? What benefit is there to aiming on the other side of the target?

The reason for taking this approach is so that you aren’t doing ‘just enough’ to reach your goals. You aren’t tensing up as you get closer to the end, you aren’t misjudging the distance to get there, and you aren’t slowing down.

By aiming at the other side of the target you are working to your full potential and ensuring full momentum throughout. And who knows, maybe there is something else beyond the finish line that you want to take on next.

Pay Attention to Your Motivation

Research suggests that our source of motivation also changes from “promotional” to “preventative” as we get closer to our goals, which could help explain why we lose momentum. We are focused on the positive aspects of the goal in the promotion motivational system. It’s about what we stand to gain and what we can do to get it. In prevention, we are focused on the negative aspects, such as avoiding actions that would impede the goal.

We can see how this change in mindset may impede us from continuing to progress. If someone is more motivated when their thoughts revolve around potential gains—and the study suggests most North Americans are—then there may be a sudden drop off in progress, or even a complete stop, when the motivation source shifts.

What’s the worse than can happen if I stop now? I’ve come this far, maybe this is good enough. I can’t lose what I never had. These are the kinds of thoughts that may start to creep into our minds when our mindset changes from what we stand to gain to what we can potentially lose.

The suggestion to avoid this hang-up is to refresh our goals from time to time. As we make progress, we need to look at what’s beyond the horizon. What comes after that much coveted point A? How will what we’ve achieved at point A help us get to point B? And so on.

In this way we’re always striving to get better, always reaching for our full potential. It becomes about constant evolvement and never assuming there’s an end.

A New Approach to Goal Setting

If you want to reach your goals you must start seeing them as mile markers, as milestones, and not as destinations. For many of us there is no final destination. And there is no perfection either. There is only reaching towards our full potential.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Some people are perfectly fine to reach a particular place in their life and never go beyond it. If this is you, and you can be happy, then more power to you.

My suggestion is for those whose nature does not allow them to be satisfied unless they are constantly growing and experiencing something new. I believe there are a lot of people like this, and if we’re not constantly striving for bigger and better then we risk our fulfillment. So look beyond the target in order to power through it.

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