The Use of Goals - Friend or Foe?
As a society we are achievement driven and recognised for our tangible contributions to the world. At work we are rewarded for achieving specific objectives. Public organisation are required to share their goals with the world. The penalties for failing to achieve them are collapsing share prices and reduced investment. The message is clear - it is good to achieve.
Intrinsic in our achievement driven approach is the use of goals to articulate and define what our achievements are to be. We can all think of our own goals, even if we have not taken the trouble to write them down (this is a sin in the world of goal achievement!). And for the most part, setting and striving for goals is a widely used and useful process. It does drive behaviour and encourage people to do things that they may otherwise not. Setting goals can provide clarity and direction, focus efforts and harness the power of groups.
But the inevitable result of goals not being achieved is a sense of failure – we did not do what we committed to, we have personally failed in our efforts. This feeling may persist even when factors outside of our control influenced the outcome of the goal. For many, our internal definitions of success are bound up in our achievement of goals. If I get this job or buy this house or make this team then I am a success. Therefore not reaching a goal makes us “unsuccessful”. It is this aspect of goals that causes the most damage. All of us at some time will “fail” to achieve a goal. Is there a different approach to take?
Perhaps the most powerful framework to change is your definition of success. If you currently measure your level of success against benchmarks such as what work you do and/or what you have, try the following exercise.
Complete this sentence: “I know I am successful when…….”. Start by finding three ways to complete the sentence that aren’t work related and don’t involve having material things. The statements need to be more about who you are. Some examples:
I know I am successful when I wake up looking forward to every day
I know I am successful when my children make me laugh
I know I am successful when my energy levels are through the roof.
Changing your personal measures of success is a great way to alleviate the pressure of achieving certain goals. Even if you don’t get that promotion or buy that house, you are still a successful person by your own definitions.
Another way to take the pressure off achieving goals is to actually give them up. Instead of focusing on the end goal itself, think about what you can do each day that will take you one step closer to where you want to be. For example, for many months I had a goal of leaving my paid employment to begin coaching full time. I would set a date for myself, extend it, and extend it again. Finally I decided that as long as I was taking positive steps each week towards starting and building my business, that I would know the right time to resign from my job. The pressure of resigning by a certain date was gone, but I was still taking positive action every week.
I don’t mean to invalidate the process of using goals. Goal setting is an extremely useful tool for many people in many situations. But if your goal list is too long or you have goals that drain your energy, consider redefining your measure of success or dropping certain goals for a while. Feel the freedom!
Source: Megan Tough, Complete Potential www.completepotential.com