The Trap of Goal Setting

Having goals is not a bad thing. It would be ridiculous to try and achieve anything of note without goals. But should they be a massive crowning achievement or merely a beacon to guide us on the journey?

The problem with getting tied up in trying to reach a goal for it’s own sake is that there is so much tied up in the final result. If the desired result is not achieved then everyone gets disappointed. It only takes a few times for this to happen before your mind will start working against you.

How does your mind work against you? The human brain is amazing in that it will go to extraordinary lengths to prevent pain coming to you. That’s part of the reason we don’t go around walking into doors all the time. It’s also why we have a bit of trepidation using heavy power tools for the first time.

Failure is painful and the brain will learn that when we don’t meet goals there is pain involved. So instead of even doing the work that would require us to say “no” when it comes time to measure the goal, we just don’t do the work.

And the work can bite back.

A common example would be for a person who does phone sales. This job has one of the highest hiring rates around. It also has one of the highest firing rates. Why is that? There is a daily measure of whether a number of sales were made in a day. Failure is measured when that magic number is not made for the day.

Because sales goals for each day are so difficult and stressful to reach, most of the workers fail in their daily goals. So rather than facing failure every day, they just stop showing up.

How’s that for avoiding pain?

You will notice in this example that the only thing going for the worker was making the goal. The process of achieving the goal was painful. That is, they were trying to make sales on the phone. This is an unpleasant experience and the sole reason for doing it was to achieve the goal. Since the goal wasn’t being met in most cases, it became a totally unfulfilling experience.

Let’s switch that around and place an attainable goal along with an enjoyable process.

Many people enjoy playing sports and it’s pretty easy to measure results and goals. Cycling is a great sport, so that will be our example. Imagine you have the goal of riding 20 miles through beautiful countryside on a Saturday afternoon. You’ve done a lot of riding, so 20 miles is within your reach.

From the beginning you are enjoying yourself. The warm sun feels nice against your skin and the wind plays with your hair. The bicycle flows down the road and fragrant flowers perfume the atmosphere.

Doesn’t this sound like a great time?

Before you know it, the twenty miles are up and you feel great! You’ve accomplished your goal, and you even felt great doing it.

But what if you didn’t finish the goal? As you passed an elegant bistro, what if a close friend saw you and invited you to stop by for a moment. The remainder of the day was spent relaxing on the veranda. You would have missed out on the goal, but everything up to that point had been enjoyable, so there’s no reason for you not to take it up again.

This shows some of the reasons why goals should be guides for where we want to go, but we must be sure that the ride along the way is going to be as much fun as getting there.