Why Goals Suck (Part I)

Update July, 2012 – Oddly enough my research into goal-setting was initiated in 2009, by a bad work environment experience. These two posts written in late 2010, really kickstarted an entire research project for me on the topic of effective goal setting and performance enhancement through planning. I’ll be releasing the what I found for free, sometime in the near future, but for now I have mostly re-written a lot of this since it’s original date of writing. Honestly, my views really have changed ‘THAT’ much based upon what I’ve learned.

You can read Part II here.

If you have the attention span of a gnat (I know I’m verbose…) you can just watch the video, it is a pretty great visual representation of why goal setting is over-hyped, misunderstood and fails the majority of people — particularly with weight loss, but in nearly every other aspect of life too.

Sometimes people overlook this, we often never think about when and where goals are applicably useful and where they can actually hold us back.

As a recovering hardcore goal setter, I couldn’t believe I wrote that title when I wrote this blog post in 2011.

I believe goals can be of huge benefit, if they are truly inspired, come from a deep sense of purpose, tie into your values and if you set them correctly based upon their intrinsic meaning.

Having written about the concepts of goal-setting now for a couple of years, I no longer believe that people should follow the ‘traditional’ rules of goal-setting, like the S.M.A.R.T. or R.U.M.B.A. method you may often hear preached.

*For those of you who may not know SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relavent and Time-Oriented. There are numerous ways actually to utilize the acronym. RUMBA stands for Realistic, Understandable, Meaningful and Measurable, Believable and Agreed Upon. 

Ultimately there are actually a ton of things that most people assume about goal setting (I know I have) and there-in lies the dangers of goal setting, either by yourself or with an organization (sports team, business, etc…).

There is lots of research that confirms goal-setting increases your chances of completing a task or objective, in many cases.

However, I’ve yet to read the research study that follows up 1-3 months after the goal to see how the individual has done since.

I cannot argue that a deadline, or putting something in writing to achieve will not help you complete it, it probably will as long as it follow the ‘traditional rules‘ of goal-setting and you’re fully committed to it.

Sure it does, but as you can see in the video, is also narrows focus, which I suppose could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

I inherently believe now that it does more harm than good.

In fact I’ve looked back a few times on my goal-setting days and wondered how many opportunities I missed during a goal setting process and/or how many times I was unable to realize setbacks and adjust accordingly.

Setbacks actually that probably would have provided the best learning opportunities too!

Even still, a bigger problem for a lot of people is what to do post-goal completion.

What do you do then?

Set another goal?

It’s easy to see how this could turn into a nasty recurring pattern.

In my work, I can tell you this ‘then-what,’ phenomenon is very real.

In fact goals often become addictive by nature because individuals constantly find something new to work towards, just for the sake of working towards something to keep them interested.

As if to say almost, that they won’t be interesting in anything that doesn’t have a definite end-date, or completion.

Chronic goal-setters, create a constant need to focus on something, even if that something may not contribute to the greater picture.

It is a psychological feedback loop that is incredibly difficult to break, once the pattern is established.

Overall, this leads me to believe that goal setting is great for short term adherence and by short-term I mean those few instances when direct focus is necessary, over the course of a few hours, maybe a day or two.

The problem with moving beyond that time frame is that ‘traditional’ goal-setting often leaves people feeling less fulfilled once they accomplish the task.

There is actually some ignored research that confirms we lose our intrinsic motivation for success after being rewarded for the completion of a task, and often the reward is merely the completion.

The more goals we set and accomplish, the less fulfilling then, they ultimately become.

The book ‘Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel Pink (which I read in early 2010) confirmed my initial observations about goal setting with plenty of well-documented research.

It solidified, what has for a long time been, a gut feeling about goals — they are not the only thing you should be planning as many ‘self-help’ types would like us to believe.

Goals may become stepping stones towards a larger sense of purpose (when used appropriately) and they can be utilized to keep you on the path or vision you have of your life, but need to be used sparingly and appropriately and probably more focused on the day to day action, than 3 months from now, by Christmas or next year.

(Seriously, since when is your life a business plan?)

A coach really comes in handy here.

Here are some of the obvious goal-setting traps I’ve come across thus far:

  • Your focus should lie on setting goals within the process (what I call process-oriented goals) and realize that outcomes are the direct result of the every day actions, habits, and behaviors you ellicit (Most important? Maybe…)
  • Setting an outcome-oriented goals (to achieve X result, by Y time-frame) is a waste of time (see crucial point from above)
  • Focusing on outcomes or results exclusively at the expense of the journey or process, will almost guarantee failure.
  • Most people who set outcome-oriented goals, fail (in my research more than 80% of people don’t follow through when focused on the outcome).
  • You need to really commit (9 out of 10) to achieving any goal, going half hearted on goals is not enough.
  • If ‘Focus’ is the true objective, you should only have one solid daily goal to work on at a time (but definitely a max of 3). The more ‘goals’ you add to the mix, the less likely you are to achieve any of them, let alone even one of them.
  • You can’t be told what your goal(s) should be, but you may be guided via mentorship, coaching, or other influential relationships.
  • Setting a goal, by no means, actually serves as a guarantee that you will complete it, you will still need to work at it (daily is preferably, but at a minimum weekly).
  • You can’t create goals for the sake of creating goals.
  • You cannot start a process of goal creation when working from a low-state of mind.
  • You cannot start a goal creation process thinking of other peoples goals (because other people’s goals, hold no value to you).
  • Your goals must align with your personal values and purpose, or it will create a lot of inner turmoil and unneeded stress.
  • You cannot create goals based on other’s expectations of you.
  • You need to keep a fresh outlook, goals should be modified as new information is presented, both as setbacks occur and as new opportunities present themselves.
  • You need to have decided that something was valid or interesting enough that you want to achieve it in the first place.
  • Not all goals can be quantified, sometimes you need to set quality-oriented goals too — *I’ve since coined some of these ‘Experience-Oriented Goals.’
  • Goals should be set as tasks/deadlines that help you work towards achieving the greater vision you have of your life. In other words, break them down into a manageable process of execution (process-oriented goals!).
  • Pick one thing to work on at a time, and put your heart and soul into it. This is far more effective than trying to live up to 5 different goals in 5 different realms of your life. Improve one thing at a time, and reiterate appropriately.
  • There is nothing wrong with maintaining other elements of your life, while you work towards accomplishing a big goal. You don’t need to have big hair audacious goals in EVERY aspect of your life.
  • Life is more holistic, organic and biological than the linear path of traditional goals. Self-Discovery is therefore key to the path of success.

We’re talking about the greater picture at this point, really understanding yourself, where you’ve been, what you’re presently doing and where you want to go.

That stems from intrinsic motivation, something that is hard to build within yourself and maintain for an extended period of time, but that you absolutely need to dedicate some consistent time and effort towards.

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