How to Approach your Goals Holistically…


Steven Burns

Hi! I’m Steven. I’m a professional therapist, coach, trainer & author with over 20 years experience. I teach the latest psychological tools and techniques to help you transform and make a difference.

Goal setting is a fundamental part of any solid personal development plan.

The reason it’s so popular is because it fits with the way our mind is naturally organised.

As human beings, we are goal-oriented machines. Even when we’re not actively setting goals deliberately, we have multiple loops working away in the background, outside of our conscious awareness, steering us towards all manner of targets, outcomes and objectives. Goal setting is an innate mechanism that we have whether we choose to use it deliberately or not.

But, even though it’s something we do without thinking, we can still sometimes be utterly lousy at it. Especially when we attempt to do it by design.

One of the big traps that I’ve noticed people fall into when setting and pursuing goals deliberately – and there are a few – is to not think holistically?

Instead of panning the camera back, taking in the bigger picture, and looking at how their goals can compliment each other, they get stuck too much in the details and leave their goals in a disconnected, fragmented state.

As a result, they end up creating goals that compete with each other, which can then cause all manner of conflicts between the different areas of their life.

So whenever you’re setting a goal it’s important that you do it an a way that’s ecological – in a way that compliments rather than competes.

So how do we do that?

Well, here are a couple of key considerations to keep in mind.

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Tip 1: DON'T put All your Eggs in the One Basket...

If you’re looking to achieve an ambitious and meaningful goal then it’s inevitable that you’ll have to invest a large amount of time and energy into it. And usually, the more ambitious the goal, the more time you’ll have to put into it.

This will naturally lead to you having to lessen the amount of time you spend in other areas of your life so you can dedicate resources to your chosen project/goal.

This is an inevitable fact of life: in general, you get out what you put in.

But, it’s important that you don’t do this to such an extreme that you put all your eggs in the one basket and utterly neglect other crucial aspects of your life.

You don’t want to ‘go all in’ and let other important areas crumble due to sheer neglect.

We all know – or have heard of – people who make their work the sole focus of their life then, without realising it, their marriage collapses from underneath them…

…Or their health starts to rapidly deteriorate due to stress or lack of exercise & nutritional care.

So whenever you set a goal, while it’s essential that you invest a significant portion of time and energy into it, it’s important not to make it your entire reason for living.

Make sure you don’t do in a way that causes another important area of your life to be decay beyond the point of repair.

What’s the point of having a highly successful career at the expense of the relationship you have with your family, partner or children?

What’s the point of achieving an important goal if it means jeopardising your health?

As Steve Jobs once – rather ironically – said:

“You don’t want to become the richest guy in the cemetery.”

Note: Perhaps he should have taken his own advice.

You need to invest time and energy into your goals but it’s important that you find a way of doing it that doesn’t involve utterly neglecting other important areas of your life.

You don’t have to have your work-life balance in perfect harmony – who does! – and there will always be trade-offs, but you do have to have some sort of balance.

If you don’t, while you might have focused success in the short term, there will almost always be a nasty sting in the tail further down the line.

"You don't wan't to become the richest guy in the cemetery"

Do a Proper Ecology Check

When you’re thinking holistically about your goals, it’s important to do what is often referred to as an ecology check.

There are a few ways to define an ecology check but, to simply it, you can think about it as the following:

“An Ecology check is where you look at your goals in relation to all your other goals, and the different aspects of your life, and then make sure that here aren’t any obvious conflicts between them.”

Or to put this in even simpler terms:

“An Ecology check is where you make sure your goals compliment rather than compete with each other.”

One of the great things about setting a highly targeted, specific goal is that it allows us to ‘focus in’ which then, in turn, makes it possible for us to allocate resources in that particular direction.

But when we focus in we also focus out.

As well as paying attention to the things that fit with our goal, we also become blind for anything that doesn’t fit.

This can be a good thing of course because it helps us concentrate and focus on the job at hand, but, when done to the extreme, it can create a kind of tunnel vision that blinds us from seeing the bigger picture.

We can easily start to lose track of what the goal represents in the greater scheme, and how the goal relates to other goals that are also important to us.

This can then lead to the creation of goals that end up competing with each other rather than complimenting.

→ A Quick Example:

To give you an example of this, a few years ago I was in the waiting room of my local Osteopath. Across from me was a woman who looked in pretty bad shape. She had her arm in a sling and it looked like she couldn’t move it.

She was having a conversation with the receptionist and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. It turned out that she was a triathlete and was keen to get back into competing again.

When the receptionist asked her when she was hoping to race again, she replied, “Oh, this coming Sunday.”

It was Thursday and she had her arm in a sling.

Obviously, the receptionist was a little bit perplexed so she probed a bit deeper and asked her if she thought that she was physically capable ion competing that soon.

The woman’s answer nearly made me fall off my chair:

She said,

“Well, to do a triathlon you have to cycle, run and swim. And I only need one arm to cycle and run…so basically I just need to figure out a way to swim with one arm!”

Apart from having secret visions of the woman swimming in circles in a lake because she only had the use of one arm, it struck me how un-ecological her triathlon goals were.

The way she was thinking about them was clearly in direct conflict with her health: yet she just couldn’t see it.

This can often happen when we become too focused on a particular outcome and forget to pan the camera back, look at the bigger picture, and examine how the outcome fits with goals that we have in other areas of our life.

So how do we solve this?

And how do we start to connect out goals together in a way that compliments rather than competes?

Well, there are multiple ways but an extremely effective method is to play about with your internal camera settings: to pan the camera back, and then pan it sideways.

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Pan the Camera Back and then Pan it Sideways

In order to do a proper ecology check, and to start connecting your goals together in a way that compliments rather than competes, you have to change the way that you think about them.

Rather than focusing in on each individual goal at the possible exclusion if everything else, you want to play about with the scope of your internal focus: you want to pan the camera back and then pan it sideways. 

This possibly sounds a little bit strange so, to explain, let’s take a look at each of these individually:

→ No 1. Pan the Camera Back.

This is where you widen the scope of your thinking; it’s where you zoom out inside your mind and appreciate the bigger picture – the greater system the goal belongs to.

To do this, once you set the goal, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What greater purpose does this goal serve? And is that a worthy and healthy cause?
  • When I think about doing this goal over a larger time-period, is it still healthy?
  • Are there any long-term consequences of pursuing this goal?
  • And are the above consequences worth the trade-off?)

By panning the camera back and thinking about the goal in relation to the bigger picture – including a larger time-frame – you can often see obvious conflicts that you wouldn’t normally notice.

As a side-benefit, it also helps you appreciate ‘why’ you’re pursuing it, and the ripple effect it may create.

If you notice any obvious conflicts when you do this, you can then tweak or change the goal to make it more ecological.

→ No 2. Pan the Camera Sideways.

As well as panning the camera back, it’s also useful to pan it sideways.

Panning the camera sideways is where you think about your goal in relation to the goals that you have in other areas of your life.

You can then, once again, start to notice any obvious conflicts and decide whether the trade-off(s) is worth it or not.

For example, if you’re asked to commit to a new project at work, how might that affect your fitness routine?

Or if you set the goal of spending more time with your family, how might that affect you financially?

Would you have to make some adjustments?

With both of these examples you are engaging in ‘sideways thinking’ – often referred to as ‘lateral thinking’ – and it can be a great way to connect your goals across different areas of your life, creating a sense of inner & outer alignment.

To pan the camera sideways, choose a goal and then ask the following questions:

  • When I am pursuing this goal how might it impact other important areas/goals of my life?
  • If I were to achieve this goal how might it impact other important areas/goals of my life?
  • Is there a way to combine goals that exist in different area of my life?

(For example, if you have to work more, but want to keep your fitness levels up, maybe you can jog down to work).

Another great exercise is to take a sheet of A3 paper and make a list of all the main areas of life.

The list could look like this:

  • Health & Fitness.
  • Family.
  • Work.
  • Social & Fun.
  • Relationships.
  • Financial.

Then make a list of all the goals you have and fit them into each of the different areas.

Once you’ve completed this, the next step is to see if you can link goals from different categories together.

For example, how could you combine your relationship goals with your health & fitness goals?

Perhaps you could join a health club with your partner and exercise together. That way the two goals compliment each other.

We often think of the different aspects of our life – and the goals within them – as separate entities but they needn’t be.

When we start to think more holistically, we can join the dots, connecting them together in a way that creates a sense of alignment and minimises conflict.

Give this exercise a go and see what connections it brings.

Closing Comments

So that’s how to approach your goals more holistically – and why it’s important to do so.

The key thing to take away from this article is the idea of ‘making connections’ and appreciating how your goals fit into a larger picture, and, potentially, the other important areas of your life.

Your goals don’t always have to combine with other goals you have, and we often have to make trade-offs (we can’t always have our cake and eat it), but it’s important that we don’t inadvertently set goals that create significant internal and/or external conflict.

Whenever you can, you want to create goals that compliment rather than compete.

All the best, and have fun exploring! 

Steven Burns

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