Goals are not enough: identifying your whys

Goals are not enough: know your why, www.marianamcdougall.com

I remembered her sad face as she begged me to stay and snuggle for five more minutes. And I had said no. I said I would set an alarm for 2 minutes, and then I was leaving.

I wanted some time to myself and I wanted to exercise. I was losing my patience. I had already sung several songs, I had already snuggled, and I had already given goodnight kisses, even though I was supposed to have left before the bedtime routine got started.

But I had stayed to feed the baby, and I figured I might as well sing the older two their songs and kiss them goodnight. But I wanted to do it quick and get to the gym, because I’m pursuing my goal of reaching the best health of my life.

When my 6-year-old daughter asked me to stay for an extra 5 minutes, I had already spent the entire day with her, except for her 1-hour rest time, when I did housework and kept her brother company as he fell asleep for his afternoon nap. When she asked me for those extra 5 minutes (which inevitably always turn into 30), I was ready for some time on my own.

I hadn’t exercised in almost a week, and I needed to get back to my workout routine. And so I left. I said I had given them everything they needed, and now it was my turn to have some time for myself. She didn’t say anything, but as I made my way out of the house, I knew she was sad that I didn’t stay.

I had only been warming up for about 3 minutes when I stopped my brisk walk and went back home. I suddenly remembered my why, and my goal of completing this workout no longer seemed so important. I realized that I had lost my focus when I thought that running was more important than spending a little extra time with my daughter. I had forgotten my why.

When I arrived, my daughter was already asleep. But I laid beside her anyway, and told her I had come back. I told her I wanted to be with her and that was more important than going to the gym. She didn’t hear me. She was already in dreamland. But it didn’t matter. I knew I remembered my why, and I am keeping my priorities in check.




I am a big fan of goal-setting. I have a signature phrase that use to grace both my Facebook page and Twitter account. That phrase, which I thought up right before deciding to go on an epic, cross-North America road trip, says: “A dream is only ‘just a dream’ until you turn it into a goal. After that, it’s only a matter of time and planning before it becomes reality.” I really believe that; I’ve lived it. I believe in setting goals, at the bare minimum, for the next six months. But I even think that setting monthly, weekly, or even daily personal goals can be helpful in becoming your best self.

goals are not enough: know your why, www.marianamcdougall.com

But all of these SMART goals are completely useless if you don’t know your bigger why. Sure, you wan to earn an extra $10,000 in sales by June 30th. Sure, you want to lose twenty pounds by October 1st. Those are all probably fine goals, but without knowing the true reason behind the desire to achieve those goals, you run the risk of running away from what encouraged you to pursue them in the first place.

Everything I’m doing—pursuing my best health, pursuing location-independent work, homeschooling—all of these things stem from my bigger why: my belief that spending time with my children is the most worthwhile pursuit at this point in my life.

The reason I do the things I do is so that I can arrive at a point when both my husband and I can be with our children, truly present, and spend more time together as a family. While reaching my best health and getting a writing career off the ground will help me to honour my why, I have to balance pursuing these goals with fulfilling the why in the here and now.

This is my why


My why is encouraging all families to find a way in which both mother and father can spend more time together with their children, truly guiding them, and making use of this most finite resource — our time.

Everyone says that kids grow up too fast, but I don’t think anyone truly grasps that meaning. The time that we are spending away from our children, whether we are at work or they are at school, that time will never return. Those who have children will understand that the clichés are true: you never know love like this until you look into the eyes of your child. I want to act on that love and encourage others to do the same.


This is my Why (1)


Choosing a workout over snuggles with my little girl doesn’t honour my why. I can always run tomorrow. The workout can wait. But my little girl… she’s getting so wise and so mature, and she has an incredible memory. She’ll remember the day Mama didn’t stay for snuggles. But hopefully she’ll also remember that Mama came back, and she’ll remember the times Mama made an extra special effort to spend more time with her.


This is my why (2)


Goals are important, useful, and necessary, but they must stem from your why. You must always check the pursuit of your goals against your bigger why. And if you stumble and lose your way, there’s no shame in stopping what you are doing and going back to basics.

Pursue your dreams. Turn them into goals and make them happen. But identify your why first. You need that to keep your feet planted on the ground while your mind reaches for the stars.


This is my Why (3)


What is your bigger why? How are you choosing to honour it as your pursue your goals?



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