Want to know why goal setting can hurt you? Then you’re in the right place. Goal-setting is one of the basic techniques of personal development. Not without a reason. A lot of research has shown that they lead us to greater mobilization, perseverance, and in a few other fields they increase our chances of achieving a result that we believe to be a well-defined goal. However, it is rarely said when the goals work… but to your detriment.
Today’s topic will be more advanced. There will be no simple rule or techniques to apply step by step. However, there will be conclusions that you will rarely hear elsewhere (at least for the moment), but with which many individual observations and thoughts that you have had so far can be combined into a whole. Again, it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
If you are interested in personal development, you probably had contact with how to set your goals. Usually a simple scheme is proposed: Divide life into areas such as finance, health, career, relationships, personal desires. Think about what you want in each of them. Then set yourself some “SMART” goals for each of them and you’re done. Let the great things happen in your life.
Unfortunately, the topic is more complex, and setting goals in this way, or even achieving them, will not always be good for you.
Example: In the first century BC, King Epirus Pyrrus achieved his big goal: he won the battle of the Ausculum against Rome. Receiving congratulations from one of the commanders, he had then to say the famous words: “One more such victory and we are lost. Pyrrus achieved his goal – he won the battle, but occupied the victory with such great losses that after it he found himself in a worse strategic situation than Rome, which lost. This victory was simply not profitable. Hence phraseologism – “Pyrrhic victory”.
Another example: in 1973, the UK and France jointly managed to achieve an amazing goal: to build Concorde, the world’s first supersonic airliner. The aircraft was unbelievably ahead of the technology of its time and was meant to revolutionise air transport. Three years later it was already in the standard services of British Airways and Air France.
A great, wonderful goal was achieved – so what is the problem?
Already at the stage of construction of the first aircraft it turned out that, first of all, the costs of its development would be so high that they would never pay for themselves. Secondly, the aircraft will use so much fuel that it is doubtful whether flights with it will be able to generate profits for the airlines. There were other problems with it, but these alone were enough to say that the whole project should be interrupted, because it will be unprofitable.
But the target is the target. It has to be achieved. That’s what the goals are for, isn’t it? To achieve them. And it has been achieved. Concords were built. And as predicted, millions of euros were lost. In the end, all the Concords were withdrawn in 2003 anyway, because nobody had the strength to contribute to them all the time. As predicted, the flights did not pay for themselves.
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We often do not see that our lives are similar. We set ourselves a great long-term goal, but over time conditions change, situations change, you change. And this often makes your predetermined goals in the current conditions, with what you know now, no longer make sense and sticking to them will only make you unhappy.
For example, I have a friend who chose to study in a difficult but profitable industry. After that, he easily got a job in a foreign company and quickly became a valued specialist. He earned very good money, got promotions – in a word: he climbed up both in terms of career, and financially.
If he had any financial or career goals, he was on the best path to achieving them. He rushed in these areas. He rushed… until he stopped. Because there was one variable that he couldn’t predict when he set himself goals and took the direction of his career. He saw that there was a toxic atmosphere and people at the top of the industry, an approach and a way of working that did not suit him at all. So he changed the industry.
Although he had a family, he quit his job and started to learn a completely new profession from scratch, where he had zero experience and internship. He literally started all over again in terms of career and finance. If he had some beautifully SMART goals related to career, home, finances, like “Until the X date I have a flat worth Y, savings in the amount of Z and I earn J”, then he definitely screwed them all up. In the end, halfway down the road, he literally reset his progress in them.
But you know what?
Looking at him from all perspectives, he looks like he’s made a great decision. He does what he is interested in, in the conditions, in the atmosphere and with people who are much more suited to him. He blooms on all sides. From each, but not from some, beautifully set, long-term goals, which he screwed up.
See the irony?
Why do you need goals that are in opposition to your happiness? Why do you need beautifully set goals, the essence of which is to try to achieve them, if there are situations in which you will do better if you do not achieve them? Exactly… I said that the matter is not so simple :)
But there are two important lessons here. First, question whether your long-term goals are still good for you. The key question here is: With what you know now, who you are now, and the conditions and trends you see, would you set yourself the same goal again? Don’t get caught up in a super commitment to long-term goals just because you’ve set them for yourself in the past and you’ve made progress on them. Don’t build your Concorde.
Sometimes additional information will come out that will make it the best decision to give up an objective, even though you could have achieved it.
Secondly, from many long-term goals it is worth taking off the date of their achievement and treating them more like a Polar Star than a standard goal. Yes, there are goals where the date is crucial, because they only have a time window to achieve them.
For example, if you want to become a prize-winning sportsman, you have up to 20 years. Then your chances of any greater success in this field are dramatically reduced. Hence, such a goal should have a date of achievement, because in reality it IS the date of achievement. If you miss it, the given goal may turn out to be unattainable or cease to make sense.
However, for many of the long-term goals that we set ourselves, such a time window often does not exist. Then think about it, whether it is better to remove the date from them and treat them more as a Polar Star – something that sets your direction, and not something on which you still have your eyes fixed and concentrate maximum.
A feature of the Polar Star is that when other stars circulate, rise and fall, its position during the night hardly changes. That’s why it has been used for centuries to find the north. Following a star to the north, you let it guide you, but you allow yourself to go sideways from the fastest route.
It simply determines the direction to which you are finally approaching because you are navigating according to it, but that doesn’t mean that every step you take is to bring you closer to the north and you have a date to get there. Most of the time you don’t focus on the star, you just look ahead and see where to take the next step. So that it doesn’t turn out that in a moment you will fall into some abyss.
Translating this into goals – set yourself directions to which you want to approach, but at the same time relieve yourself of the pressure to make every step you take lead to them. Life is the art of balance – applying too much power to one area, to one direction (which is helped by SMART goals), may cause imbalance in this balance.
For example – financial or professional goals can easily eat your health, spirituality, relationships, fulfillment if I am too ambitious or you pay too much attention to them.
There is an indicator that shows what seems to be the aim of each decision – how much longer it takes for it to fully take shape in you. For the clarity of the matter, this indicator shows only one of the criteria for mastering a decision. There are also psychological criteria.
When the progress in mastering the decision is visible, too many people focus too much on it. They treat the mastery of the decision as a goal to be achieved as soon as possible.
What’s wrong with that?
The fact that not everything is dependent on you, whether you have mastered the resolutions or almost any goals. An ordinary illness or crazy period at work is not always dependent on you, and naturally they make it impossible for you to master a decision with such power as someone who is fully capable and does not have to spend the night at work or at school.
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However, when you focus strongly on the goal and follow your progress in it, in such situations you can see how its achievement moves away. This causes demotivation. If you set yourself a date until which you want to master a given decision, and then, for example, through your illness or a combination of events, you will see that it is impossible, you will not only feel demotivated, but you will perceive it internally as a failure.
Finally, you just screwed up your goal. And it’s all not your fault. The reason was circumstances beyond your control. However, they struck your confidence, self-confidence, motivation and engagement by the fact that… well – you set as your goal something that should be a Polar Star.
That is why this indicator is not so important, it is worth looking at it, but it is not worth having it before our eyes all the time and constantly focusing on it. It is supposed to be a Polar Star – the direction in which you want to go. Not something you follow every step of the way when you look at it, whether you are approaching it or not.
In your everyday life, you should focus as much as possible on doing your best every day and implementing all your decisions in the best possible way. This is what you should have your eyes fixed on. Just look at it. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned.
There are simple goals and there are Polar Stars – the types of goals that are worth having, it is worth to keep track of their progress, but at the same time it is not worth to focus too much on them and press to achieve them as soon as possible at all costs. They work best when – like a Polar Star – they shine over you and correct your path when you look at them from time to time.
So another question to consider: are there any goals in your life, measures, which – as in the case of the indicator of mastery of the decision – it is worth to have, but at the same time not to focus too much on them?
I told you – it won’t be too easy, but he hopes that I’ve managed to awaken a few moments of “Aha” in you and intrigue you to think about it.