Goals are Challenges not Solutions

Goals are Challenges not Solutions


It is known that I am not a proponent of goal lists. A failure to reach a goal can result in guilt and many goals are unreachable to begin with.

Resolution vs. Goal

With the new year just coming around, resolutions and goals are fresh on everyone’s mind. This year, however, I noticed a backlash specifically against the word “resolution” suggesting that “goal” is the more appropriate word to bring success.

This got me thinking about the difference between these two words. By definition, a resolution is more than just an end goal. It is forming a solution. Hence, re-solution. Resolutions are not bullet points but are paragraphs describing steps to solve your life problems.

On the other hand, goals are challenges not solutions. Re-framing your goals as challenges can provide motivation and help clarify what you want to achieve from each goal. Have a list of challenges, instead of a list of goals.

A List of Challenges

Looking at common 2013 goals across the Internet, “run more” is a common one. Whether your goal is to run a 5K, run a mile, or run faster, you can unlock your competitive side by rewriting these to say:

  • I challenge myself to complete a 5K this year
  • I challenge myself to run a full mile by August
  • I challenge myself to PR in a Half Marathon this year

Other challenge-based goals include:

  • I challenge myself to eat 3 fruits or vegetables a day
  • I challenge myself to read 2 books a month
  • I challenge myself to write 500 words a day
  • I challenge myself to bike to work 3 times a week

These are all challenges because there is a defined end-point. You can count and check off how many vegetables you ate, how many books you read, how many words you wrote.

Open-Ended Problems

Open-ended & vague “emotional” goals are often actually problems. “Be a better friend” or “Call my parents more” are difficult to define and thus achieve. These should be thought-out and clarified instead of being lumped with the challenges.

What is “a better friend”? What do you have to do to feel as though you achieved this? Do better friends make more phone calls, hang out more, buy thoughtful gifts, write letters? You could turn this into a close-ended goal by changing it to: “I challenge myself to email one friend once a week.” Will that make you feel like a better friend?

A Flexible List of Challenges

Although I like using the word “challenge” in place of “goal”, do not let this tempt you to make outrageous challenges to try to push yourself even harder. Once you cross a challenge off your list, just replace it with a bigger one. Ran that 5K? Challenge yourself to run a 10K. These should be flexible challenges, not a list you only look at in January and December.

Use the motivation of a challenge to reach your achievements and to better define your desired results.


2 Replies to “Goals are Challenges not Solutions”

  1. Interesting take on the whole resolution/goal/challenge concept. I admit I’m one of the people who stated in my blog that I’m trying to move away from “resolutions” and more into a sort of to-do/bucket list for the year. I’m taking the “101 Things” version for my own this year, in fact (see here: http://pinstrosity.blogspot.com/2013/01/101-things.html).

    However, I did make some more open ended resolutions privately and – I had to laugh – one of them is actually to better nurture my close friendships. To me, though, the more open ended ones are open ended for a reason. Nurturing my friendship with my best friend is going to be different from the way I nurture my friendship with my running buddy is going to be different from the way I nurture my friendship with my old college friend who lives 3 states away. I could make a different resolution for each of them, but the ultimate goal is to cherish my friendships in the ways that are personal and individual to my friends. Hence – a more open ended resolution.

  2. I like your way of thinking, both in the ‘challenge’ aspect, and especially where you pointed out how flexibility is really important. This is a point many seem to forget. What’s important today may not be as important 6-9 months from now, and conversely things that you don’t think much about may become important a few months down the line. Those would be things that would qualify as ‘important in 2013’ so by keeping flexibility on the table, you’re allowing yourself to capture growth and goals on an as-needed basis rather than focus on singular goals that may not provide the same level of achievement down the line.

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