6 min read

Why Goals Suck (Part II)

Why Goals Suck (Part II)

OK, so they may not literally suck, you got me, they’re just misunderstood, and hopefully the title grabbed your attention a little bit.

In the first part, I commented on things to avoid or give serious consideration to, when setting goals.

tattered goals
CC Anjan Chatterjee

I also alluded to the fact that goals are great for short-term planning but fall short in long-term achievement and success.

Nearly every single ‘successful’ individual I’ve read about from Warren Buffet to Steve Jobs to Benjamin Franklin, prize having a sense of purpose and values, above and beyond mere goals…

They built systems for success.

Build Systems not Goals

The heart of this topic comes from a mistake I made once.

That mistake was thinking that goals help people find a focus, but they don’t, focus helps people find goals.

To repeat myself, goals drive short-term success. They may even do it well, but they forget to take into account the long-term a key component of the philosophy we try to teach at SBF and Fettle.

Goals cannot always be sustained long-term and having too many goals, decreases their effectiveness.

We need time to sharpen our wits and regain perspective, and there is some more recent research that may even indicate that not having focus can be very important for our work and creativity too.

Life demands a break, then some time to recharge and explore.

Is a person considered fit only if they hit their weight loss goal at the end of this year?

Where does that leave them next year?

What new objective can one hit, if you’re already at your target weight?

Now you’re going to feel the urge either to regress — lapse back into the state you were in the previous year — or surpass what you did this year?

How do you beat losing 50 lbs?

What if maintenance is the goal?

How do you maintain without ‘striving’ towards anything?

Or perhaps diverting your attention back to other things like work or family?

If we think about it critically, we see how goal setting becomes cyclical and somewhat meaningless if used inappropriately.

That initial goal certainly doesn’t define greatness, you do.

Be Great - Self Defining Goals

Greatness requires a consistency of effort over an extended period of time, in alignment with your definition, your purpose and your values.

What is actually wrong with simply saying, ‘I want to set a good example for my kids by eating right and maintaining an optimal body weight; and this is how I’m going to do it….by laying out all the things you think defines setting a good example for them.’

*Note: in my recent research, prominent ‘Goal Researcher’ Peter Gollwitzer, refers this this type of goal, fittingly, as a ‘self-defining goal,’ which also disobeys all the traditional goal-setting doctrine.

It’s hardly a SMART goal as most people know but it still gives you a very strong sense of duty or purpose.

And it’s OK that it can never be completed by nature of it’s design. It’s just something you’re trying to Kaizen, or continuously improve upon.

How can you align your values towards becoming a great <insert anything here>, utilizing your present strengths?

What weaknesses could you shore up to hit greatness?

Then we should be working backwards towards goals that will help us achieve our greater vision.

There are some great development tools in business like the SWOT analysis, and mission and vision statements, that can completely apply to you and your life.

They also help you develop a better understanding of yourself and help you align goals with your greater sense of purpose.

Stealing some business strategy tools, also presents you with an opportunity to list qualitative perspective on top of any number values.

You now have a list of your own expectations that you can apply to your current situation.

There is fun to be had in defining what a successfully ‘fit’ individual is to you, and then working towards achieving that — perhaps with the use of goals and quantifiable measures, but not exclusively.

Just how much stress can do these goals cause, particularly if you ignore some of the things I mentioned in my previous post?

Well, I’ve literally witnessed panic attacks and public breakdowns when goals are not completed before their time lines.

If you are creating goals for the sake of creating goals, which many people do, you are almost guaranteeing yourself unneeded distress.

You may also be distracting yourself from the more important self-vision.

A Personal Example

I once sat down with an employer once after drawing up a ‘5 year goal plan’, only for them to be shocked that I didn’t list a single income goal.

Apparently this is the norm?

I wasn’t (and remain not particularly) motivated by money, in fact there is not a lot of money to be made as a personal trainer under typical circumstances. All I can do sticking within my existing profession is train more hours or charge more per hour.

Both can work, but people will only tolerate a certain max price. Even if I’m really good at what I do, and the more I do it, the worse I get later in the day after many hours of work (i.e. being overworked is not good for providing a quality service).

I was far more interested in making a difference and educating people based upon the knowledge I had acquired over the last few years (hence this blog).

I strongly believe that working really hard at getting better at what I do, will lead me to whatever monetary rewards I deserve for my service to my industry and to the public.

I make enough to live comfortably at present, enjoy a pretty good life overall and have other things going on that are more important to me than purely money.

Does that mean my goals sucked?

I tend not to think so (though maybe I’m wrong?), all of the goals I presented at the time, met the criteria of traditional ‘SMART’ goals but just not in the typical monetary or quantifiable measure.

Not Your Grandfather's Goals

Traditional goals tend to ignore qualitative properties.

Monetary measures are a pitfall of our western society in my opinion. That’s not to say that they aren’t important, just overemphasized. Do yourself a favour and don’t use monetary rewards in your pursuit of weight loss.

I’m much more of the mind that quality of life is better off equated something like this and not exclusively with money. Money is an easy gauge to use, so many of us tend to use it. And it is important to a degree but most people reach a threshold of earning and earning more doesn't appear to make them a lot happier.

If I make more money than you, then I must be more successful, right? That's an easy way to gauge our status in the societal hierarchy.

What if more people know you though?

What if you enrich the lives of a lot of them?

What if you’ve helped more people in your lifetime than me?

What if you built something that really helps other people a lot? Like a clean atomic energy plant or a solar cell?

We do not always need quantifiable measures for a goal, but measurable stats we are told are critical for success with goals.

I did not write that plan with intent on ‘being different’ or ‘going against the grain,’ I wrote it with the mind that it needed to stay true to my values.

There is nothing wrong with qualitative measures in any goal-setting-process, they are just harder to define so nobody looks for them.

When we use both types of measures, we may be even more effective.

Hundreds of thousands of people try to stay fit every year, not by going to the gym but by playing a sport that they have signed up for just for fun.

By the same accord, people sign up for music lessons, martial arts, dance lessons, public speaking courses, travel courses, wine courses, and so on and so forth, just for fun?

Does that mean these people are less effective at goal setting because you will not be able to quantify their progress in those disciplines? Of course not…

These things are almost entirely qualifiable, nobody does them to achieve some outstanding goal, they do them for fun, a sense of purpose, achieving mastery, autonomy and yet they are all very effective for well-being.

The point of all this is that, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how you plan goals; do they meet the criteria of your life?

Have you gone through a self-analysis process?

Are you fulfilling goals that are in line with your values as an individual?

What could you do instead to build a better road-map?

What vision do you have for your life?

Do you have a mission?

Going through the process is the reward, not the finish line.

Or as Greg Childs, a famous climber once said, “Somewhere between the base of the mountain and the peak, is the reason we climb.”

Note(Update): You may not care, but part 2 is less modified than Part 1 and is a more accurate representation of my writing circa 2010…I wanted part two to represent a more emotional side to the story.