Reverse Goal Setting : Give it a go

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Written by Gavin Oattes, this is an extract from BELLYFIRE; a fortnightly dose of inspiration to your inbox. If you enjoy this blog please subscribe to get more content from Gavin, direct to your inbox. 

Goal setting…I know, YAWNFEST! But trust me, I’ve got an immense technique for you that really works. But before we get to it, let’s talk about laughing at inappropriate times.

Have you ever laughed so hard it hurts? Isn’t it just wonderful? Have you ever laughed so hysterically you can barely speak, there’s tears, snot and you forget how to breathe?

Again, wonderful.

But have you ever done it at a time you shouldn’t? Isn’t it just awful? You can’t stop. You don’t even know why you’re laughing, and you’re trying so hard not to, but it’s happening anyway. It’s even worse if your friend is in the room. You know not to look at them or it will get worse. But you can’t help yourself, can you? You catch their eye and that’s it, game over! Many of us will have that person at work, the one you shouldn’t be allowed to work with.

It happened at school. The moment your teacher is in mid flow, making the most serious of points and someone farts.

You’ve heard a million farts but for some reason there’s never been a funnier fart than this one.

You say nothing, you stare right at the front of the classroom. Wasn’t even that good a fart but for whatever reason, you just can’t hold it back. No one else has even flinched. Did anyone else even hear it? You look to your left and catch your friends’ eye… Their face tells you they clearly heard it, and that look is enough to tip you over the edge. You’re gone.

Funerals are the worst. Funny stories are often shared but it’s that weird uncomfortable feeling of ‘am I meant to laugh at this?’ that makes us laugh more than normal. It’s a funeral, every bone in our body tells us we shouldn’t be laughing. This is a sad, sombre occasion.

But once you start, sometimes there’s just no stopping. 

I often think that this makes it harder sometimes to control our laughter. The tone of the event, or the environment we happen to be in can often dictate a seriousness in the room. We just know don’t we, it’s not a time for laughter. It’s a time for manners, respect and sensibleness.

And this just makes it worse…

A few years ago, I was at an awards night. A proper fancy type of affair with canapes, bubbly and bowties. I don’t own a bowtie, I had to opt for the second-class regular tie. In the room were some of the most successful people in the world. A who’s who of the business community. It felt very professional, very serious and grown up. 

I felt very nervous and very out of place and to add to this, I was up for an award. This was a big deal to me and there were huge cash prizes up for grabs for those with the best business ideas.

Like all award nights, there was a special guest, and this particular guest had been the successful recipient of the top prize from the previous year. His business was awarded a six-figure sum that had transformed his business and rightly so he was there to share his incredible journey of how the prize money was used to develop a brand new and extraordinary piece of technology that will revolutionise the world of engineering.

I’m not going to lie, I barely understood a word he said. A cracking guy with a cracking business but it was all flying way over the top of my head. Hundreds of people around the room appeared to be hanging off every word he said. I’m sure it was all hugely impressive but it’s not my thing and the words he was saying were all blurring into one great big technology themed, intellectually-too-much-for-me presentation that left me feeling entirely out my depth.

And then something happened.

He said the words, “Reverse pumping”.


Everything went into slow motion.

I didn’t know where to look so I looked down at my feet.

Then he said it again, “reverse pumping”.

And again.

I don’t care how childish this sounds. I understand he had a context. But in this moment, this was the funniest thing that I had ever heard.

He kept saying it, “Reverse pumping”

All I could think was ‘stop saying it, please stop saying it’

In huge, big colourful letters it appeared on the screen. Each letter about a metre tall, REVERSE PUMPING.

My entire body was going into some kind of pre-laughter spasm.

I was visibly shaking; I could barely breathe.

All I heard next was “Teaching others to reverse pump”. Again, I was aware of other words being said but it was like my brain was deliberately shutting them out, once again ignoring the context.

“The benefits of reverse pumping” came next, and it was here I made a schoolboy error.

I turned and I looked at my business partner and yes, eye contact was made.

I was gone.

Have you ever tried to laugh uncontrollably in silence? Of course, you can’t, it’s uncontrollable.

This is the very type of laughter that earns you looks of absolute disgust. The type of laughter that ensures you’re never invited back again. People were pointing. I had to leave and go for some fresh air.

Looking back on it, it’s still funny but it’s not that funny. It was just one of those moments that catches you out unexpectedly and it snowballs beyond belief. I actually met the guy later that evening and congratulated him on his success. He was genuinely fascinating and taught me that sometimes by reversing things, we gain a different perspective therefore we find solutions and achieve results we might never have experienced had we followed traditional methods.

And believe it or not, I had a bit of a moment and his words have stuck with me. Not the pumping part, the reverse part, and this leads me to the ‘Something’ I want you to try. Just a heads up though, it’s biggie…

Goal setting. Reverse goal setting to be exact. Not nearly as funny as reverse pumping but this will change your life.

You Don’t Have to Wait for Anything.

I mentioned in my BELLYFIRE welcome that I am a dreamer. A proper bona fide head-in-the-clouds kinda guy. But dreams don’t come true without getting off your backside and making them happen.

You could say the dreams are the easy part. They’re free too! But remember, they’re imaginary, so we need the goals to make the wonderful visions in your head become real. It’s the goals that get us results.

Dreams are mega important, they inspire us, but it’s the goals that bring the focus to change our lives.

Goal setting is massive. It’s an industry in itself. Google alone lists over 20 million results for “goal setting”. There’s books dedicated to this stuff. Planners, worksheets, coaches, articles and residential experiences aimed at perfecting our techniques. In turn there are millions upon millions of us trying to achieve them.

One of the biggest problems with goal setting is that most people fail. They have a cost; time, money, effort, sweat, tears and sometimes your friends. If we were successful, we’d all be healthy, wealthy, happy and fulfilled. Our yachts would line the streets because our waterways would be full of our other yachts.

We are forever asked questions such as: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What do you want to have achieved in life by the time you retire? It’s all very future focussed.

The challenge with the 5 years/10 years type of questioning is that ‘you’ 5 -10 years from now will be a very different ‘you’ to right now. We don’t actually know what we’re going to want in 10 years.

But there’s hundreds of versions of this! 1 year from now, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, on and on it goes. We just keep moving the goalposts, climbing more ladders, striving, aiming, looking ahead, working for the future.

Don’t worry about the future, it’s got you covered. It’s got its eye on you. Think about right now. It’s hard to guess what will make us happy in 10 years. I’m willing to bet though; you know what would make you happy right now.

At 13 years of age we’re asked to think about our career choices and choose school subjects that will put us on the right path. I can recall being asked in high school “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?”. Really? I’m 13 mate, I’m just worried about how to get rid of my moobs and talk to girls right now.

Traditional goal setting is all about the future. Set a huge goal and break it down into manageable chunks. Start at the beginning and then lay it all out step by step, blah blah blah.

And sometimes it works.

Sometimes it works but each and every time a goal is achieved it’s usually followed by “whats next?”. It hasn’t been 5 minutes and already we’re moving on to the next goal.

Goal setting can be extremely beneficial, but it can suck the joy out of the journey to the thing that’s meant to make us happy and fulfilled.

The best example of this for me is my time doing comedy. Rather than enjoying the present I was becoming too wrapped up in what’s next. Making it. What’s bigger?

What’s better?

Would I rather be on that stage, giving it my all, completely and utterly in the moment, feeling great and not get a 5 star review…OR…be so laser-focused on getting a 5 star review that I lose sight of everything else, stressing myself in the process and not enjoy the performance at all?

Now when I’m on stage, my goal is simple; give it my best on that day and come off stage feeling good enough to want to do it all again tomorrow.

Too many of us spend out days feeling discouraged, tired or unmotivated from chasing an endless stream of goals that seem a long way away, so maybe it’s time to re-examine the order of things. Or more so, our timescales.

So, what is reverse goal setting? 
Why is it great?
And more importantly, how do we do it?

This is about gaining a different perspective. Flipping the traditional on its head and seeing things through a slightly different lens. Inspired by my Reverse Pumping friend (don’t care what you say, it’s still funny) we spot different opportunities, find new solutions to problems and all sorts of goals will jump out along the way. Reverse goal setting is less about ‘making it’ in the old school sense and more about working out a path for yourself that is actually fulfilling, right now.

And best of all, it’s really simple.

Ask yourself 3 questions.

1. What do I want to feel right now?
2. What activity can I do right now to give me that feeling?
3. If I do this activity regularly, what results would it create?

That’s it! It’s that simple and once you gain momentum with this you’ll be amazed at just what you achieve.

Let me give you an example. You might say right now, “I want to feel healthier”. Ok, what activity allows you to do that? A 30 minute walk outdoors always leaves us feeling better both mentally and physically. So, today you will want to have a 30 minute walk round the block. If you did this every day for 6 weeks, what sort of result would that create?

It would create a healthier, happier you right form the off! So, if you want to be a healthier, happier you then commit to do something that builds momentum. Before you know it, a 30 minute walk might turn into a 60 minute walk. It might even turn into a run…and you might even end up running a marathon 2 years later but from day 1 you felt better.

You might say, “Right now, I would like to feel relaxed”. Magic! Today, what activity makes you relaxed? You might say, “15 minutes of mindfulness makes me feel relaxed, every time I do it, it chills me out a little.” Awesome. So, if you do 15 minutes of mindfulness every day for the rest of your life, what sort of results would that create? There’s going to be a far less stressed you walking about and who knows, you might just become a mindfulness master in the process! Imagine how many goals you’ll achieve being more relaxed!

Why wait 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years to truly start living? There’s no point. You don’t have to wait for anything. You can feel the way you want to feel today. You don’t have to postpone you. You don’t have to put you off.

No more constant chasing, wishing and hoping for stuff that feels like a lifetime away. Right now, choose the feelings you want to feel, find the activities that give you these feelings and do them.

That’s it. 3 simple steps. Boom.

Written by Gavin Oattes, this is an extract from BELLYFIRE; a fortnightly dose of inspiration to your inbox. If you enjoy this blog please subscribe to get more content from Gavin, direct to your inbox. 

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