If you want to be a better partner, friend, parent...
If you want to be fitter and stronger...
If you want to be happier…
You must set....
It’s taken as a given in our culture that goals are THE foundation of performance and wellbeing.
I'd say our culture is goal obsessed.
BUT is there a counterproductive or even destructive side to goal setting?
- The benefits of goal setting are overstated (in part due to bias in research dating back to the 60s)
- The systemic harm caused by goal setting is not recognized and needs to be recognized
- Goal setting is over prescribed. Goal setting should not be widely and indiscriminately prescribed to everyone and anyone. Rather it should be very selectively prescribed, it's effects should be very carefully monitored, and it should come with a warning label like you find on a prescription drug.
There is actually picture of a warning label in this paper and it says something to the effect of: WARNING GOAL SETTING MAY CAUSE
- poor decision making
- irrational behaviour
- reduced motivation
- poorer learning outcomes
- decreased cooperation
- unethical behavior
For an in-depth analysis of how destructive goal setting may have contributed to this tragedy see Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mount Everest Disaster by Christopher Kayes.
Kayes is a former stock broker, business consultant, and is currently a professor and the chair of the Department of Management at George Washington University. He was on the mountain the day of the climb and has spent years analyzing what happened. He proposes that destructive goal setting was a major contributor.
And we can all find examples of destructive goal setting in our personal lives:
- Maybe we dedicate ourselves to a goal, perhaps unknowingly, at the expense of something equally or more important like our health, a relationship, or our integrity
- Maybe we attach ourselves and even our sense of self to our goals and and then when something outside of our control interferes or threatens to we get discouraged and give up or frustrated and work even harder towards our goal (even though this might not be in our best interest)
- Maybe we live in a chronic state of lack or failure until our goals are attained: Thinking that we do not have enough or that we are not enough until we GET THERE
- Maybe we set goals and sacrifice ourselves in anticipation of how AMAZING we will feel when we reach the goal but when we get there it’s anticlimactic
- Maybe we set goals that seem exciting but lose motivation before we even get started
And at the same time I think that goals do have the potential to cause problems. Big problems. Goals Gone Wild explores these in detail.
So what are we to do? How can we motivate ourselves in a healthy way and stop our goals from going wild?
I think the first step is to understand how and why goals can cause problems.
For the most part I think the problems we see with goals boil down to two main issues.
- Goals create a narrowing of focus that obscure bigger picture including things that might be more important
- Goals take us out of the present moment
Both of these factors can obscure our perspective, impede wise decision making, and eat away at our appreciation of the present moment and therefore at our well-being.
I think that if we can set and work towards goals while staying tuned into the big picture of what matters most and staying tuned into the present moment we can develop a healthier relationship with goals and goal setting.
Stay tuned for more on how to do this coming your way in a few weeks!