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March 18, 2021 3:50 PM | Dan Nelson

Are You A Goal-Setter or a Process-or? 

If you promise not to tell, I’m going to tell you one of the dark little secrets of my life:  ( S h h h ! )  

                                                                               —        I         D    O    N  ’  T        S   E   T        G   O    A    L    S    .          —

TRIED lots of times, but never succeeded. I am a complete and utter failure as a Goal-Setter.

The only reason this might matter is I think that I might not be the only one.

For me, this is one of the mysteries of the life-coach / motivational speaker / business advisor culture. Virtually every “expert” I have ever listened to told me that I was supposed to set goals— 10-year goals, 5-year goals, 12-month, 6-month, two-week goals . . . you know the drill. I’m always sitting there in the audience trying to look really small so no-one will ask me, “So Dan— What are your 10-year goals?”  (“Um . . . To be alive??”)

Okay . . . the truth is I NO LONGER worry about the fact that I’m a goal-setting wash-out. Why? because contrary to the prominent motivational narrative— I have discovered that not all successful people set goals. There is a whole alternative way to live. It’s what I call LIVING BY PROCESS

Here’s an example from my youthful self: I ran track in high school and college. I was a pretty-good small-college distance runner. Won a few races; lost a bunch. But I never “set a goal” to run a 4-minute mile. I’m really glad I didn’t, because, frankly, I now know a 4-minute mile was never in me, no matter how hard I might have trained. But my “goal”—if you want to call it that— was to do as hard a workout TODAY as I could . . . and then do it again the NEXT DAY, and then the day after that, and so on. So I eventually ran a mile in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Not bad. Not a goal. Just the result of PROCESS.

Pretty much my whole life has followed this pattern. I don’t have a goal to play trumpet in the North Carolina Symphony, I just hope to have a good practice TODAY . . . if i can squeeze it in. So I’m a pretty-good non-NC Symphony trumpet player. 

What does this have to do with art? Well, nothing, if you’re wired to be a goal-setter. So if you are, go join one of those “30 paintings in 30 days” Facebook groups, or something. ALL the life-coaches in the world will cheer you on. 

But some of you are like me, and some of you might need encouragement to be a PROCESS PAINTER. Just paint today. Or TRY to, anyway. And then try to paint again tomorrow. If you make it your “GOAL” to paint every day, you will fail at some point, then you’ll feel like a failure. So forget the Goal. Just paint. Because that’s real life. It’s a process. 

The Tortoise and the Hare story had the same lesson: Process away. And admire all those dazzling goal-setting hares. 

Til you pass ‘em.

Happy (Process) Painting!

So what do you think? 


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