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Why Setting Goals Sucks

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

We often set goals in our personal and professional lives.

If you work in an organization, you may even use goal-setting frameworks like OKRs or SMART goals to specify objectives and measure success.

Goals are very important for setting a direction in life and can be our North Star when seeking guidance.

In my experience, however, traditional goal setting sucks. Here are some of the common problems I have faced when using this method:

  • We set goals that are not ambitious enough or actually worth our time.

  • We set goals that are not aligned with our core values and purpose.

  • We often get too obsessed with the outcome of our goals, which creates unnecessary stress.

  • We get frustrated when we feel we are not reaching our goals or moving fast enough towards them.

  • We become too competitive with the people we work with, forgetting about kindness and compassion in our daily interaction with others.

  • We set ego goals that are not helpful for the greater good. For example, a a goal to increase its profits by x% is an ego goal. However, articulating a goal on how to increase value to a customer base (which indirectly will lead to more profits) is helpful to others as well.

Here are a few ideas on how to make goal setting more helpful and how to improve the chances of reaching them:

  • Use big (audacious) goals that are worthy of you. Think at least two to three years ahead: Where do you want to be in a particular aspect of your life?

  • Ensure a goal is aligned with your core values and purpose. Otherwise, don’t go for it! It needs to feel “right” and resonate you.

  • Write your goals down for clarity and visualize them on a board. Look at this board regularly to remind yourself of the direction you want to go.

  • Measure your progress regularly and objectively to determine your acceleration, trajectory, and what you have reached it. For example, when you have a goal to lose weight, step on a scale every day. However, good goals are your North Star and guide your direction, and so you may never actually reach them (which is fine).

  • Don’t get hung up or stuck with so-called “means goals,” intermittent milestones in your way. If you want to achieve or reach a certain outcome, there are many different paths you can take to get there. Remember there are always alternative routes to consider.

  • In your daily meditation practice (you already have one, right? If not see my article on meditation with MUSE), feel the outcome as if you have already achieved your goal. Concentrate on the feeling, see it, listen to it, and use all your senses. Then, forget about the goal and live in the present moment. Focus on every moment in the journey. You have set a direction—now it is time to put it in action!

  • Is your goal an ego goal, serving only yourself or is it actually contributing positively to a bigger cause? Always think about how others could benefit when you accomplish your goal. Many personal growth goals can seem egoic at first, but you can frame the intention behind it so that it still can contribute to a greater good. For example, consider the personal goal of becoming more resilient to stress. If you become more resilient to stress and therefore can serve others better, you are contributing to a greater cause.

  • During your journey, always establish a mindset of collaboration with all the people you connect with. The process and the journey are more important than the outcome. Enjoy every moment, the good and the bad! Remember: Even if you never reach your goal, it is what you have experienced during the journey, how you pushed yourself, and how you have grown working towards your goal that really count! I’m not saying ignore the results—especially in a business context. If you follow the ideas above, results usually happen automatically as a byproduct of your journey.

What are best practices for setting goals?

Looking forward to your feedback and comments!

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