As an INFP as well as a creative person, I have found that traditional goal-setting has never really worked for me. When I look back, the times that I grew the most were times when I explored new territory and pushed buttons. Although I did work very hard during those times, the process of doing things was itself never linear. It was never about setting concrete steps that I would then execute in an orderly way.
I had never thought about this dynamic deeply till I came across fellow INFP writer and HSP Amanda Linehan’s blog. This was a while back, when I first discovered Amanda’s work. This time of the year seems ripe to share some of Amanda’s inspiring insights, especially as regards to how INFPs and other sensitive creatives can set goals in a way that works for them. So, here we go.
The INFP’s Guide to Goal Setting
In her post on how INFPs can create a different way to achieve goals that suits their own natures, Amanda talks about how traditional goal-setting with its focus on measurable goals, which you translate into action steps and an executable plan, has never worked for her. She also says that this is probably because of her personality preferences as an INFP, and specifically the P in it, which stands for Perceiving.
Amanda goes on to say: “I find traditional goal setting practices to be constraining, and ultimately, I feel that it takes me away from my goals because of the level of specificity that is needed. My goals tend to be bigger, more open and not connected with a hard time limit. They are adaptable to whatever may come up and I will change them (or scrap them) as necessary. These things make me feel comfortable.
Essentially, when I create a goal, I will ask myself what I want to do for the upcoming year, 5 years, my life, etc. and write down exactly what that is, however it comes out of my brain. There is no censoring in this step. I don’t worry if it’s specific or measurable, I go with what I feel.
For instance, around the first of the year I was thinking about things I wanted to do in 2009. One thing I came up with was to “receive love from others in a better way.” That’s pretty vague. I was thinking that I wanted to improve my relationships and I wanted to improve it in the way that I was receiving people. If I had tried to go more specific or make it measurable I would have actually walked away from what I really wanted. It was a feeling that was directing me, not specific actions or steps.”
I really resonated with this, that the feeling is what directs and propels us as INFPs, not concrete steps or an action plan. For me, I find that when I feel strongly enough and am convinced about something, that moves me almost physically. Of course, you need to take action, but the next step and then the next flows organically once you start thinking about what you need to do.
But all of these steps, like Amanda says, are not set in stone. They are not pre-decided.
In fact, trying to follow a specific, rigid plan has often derailed me in the past. When I wasn’t able to follow action plans and concrete steps, it reinforced that idea that I was an INFP and INFPs were notorious for not following through. It kept me locked up in that stereotype. But I think trying to fit myself into a structure imposed from outside, when that just didn’t work for me, was at fault. So, what Amanda talks about has, I think, can help a lot of INFPs who feel like they are doing things wrong or are not able to “discipline” themselves.
Just as Amanda says, trying to force-fit something to make it more measurable or specific might actually cause you to lose that feeling and walk away from what you really want. It is the feeling the goal gives us that is at the center of our process as INFPs.
So, there are many different ways in which INFPs can achieve a goal.
Amanda goes on to say: “The first step is not to have too many of them. You need to be able to concentrate on a few. Next, if I’m holding the goal in my mind, when I come across a situation where the goal applies I can act in a way that satisfies the goal. If I want to receive people better, the next time I’m with a friend I have “receiving” in mind and can act in a number of ways that would satisfy that goal. With the goal open, there are an endless number of ways that the goal can be achieved. I like that.”
I like that as well, that feeling of openness and possibility, of not closing down things. Again, that comes from the P in INFP. Instead of comparing ourselves with others and how they are able to keep themselves on track in a certain specific way, instead we really can start to work with our own nature. That way might really work for them. But because we like exploring, because we like to be open to what could happen, to changes, we also need a different process. We are different people.
But if we work in this open-ended manner as INFPs, how do we know when we have achieved a goal?
Amanda says about her own goals: “If I’m holding it my mind and taking action on it when the situation arises, the goal takes care of itself. It is over when I feel that I’m doing a better job of receiving people. When I don’t need to specifically think to myself “receive,” then it’s reached.
I feel very comfortable with this method of goal setting because it allows for so much possibility. The course of action is completely open, but I know what I’m walking towards. If I had to sum up my philosophy on goals it would be this:
A goal keeps you walking in the right direction, it doesn’t dictate every step on your path.”
That’s kind of what we all want to do, isn’t it? We all want to keep walking in the right direction.
We want to take action that shows we are on the right path. What step comes when is not important, but that we are doing them organically and they are building on top of each other, is what’s important.
When things are not working or when I have stalled myself in writing or life, often I fall back on comparing to those who are more concrete and are able to do things step by step. But I have to realize that when I pick myself up back again and shake off those doubts, I will have to walk my own path. I can only reach my goals by doing things my way, a way that can allow for my natural openness, that takes into account my own dislike of rigidity, that takes into account what speaks to me.
I think Amanda’s thoughts are an inspiration for all INFPs to look inside themselves and stop trying to be like others, even if that’s hard, even if sometimes we don’t find the majority acting like us, and instead look inside and move with our own true natures.
What do you think? Are you an INFP, HSP or a sensitive creative? Did Amanda’s ideas resonate with you?
If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy this interview I have done in the past with Amanda on her writing process and work.