Can you remember back to last January with the goals and the hopes you had for the new year? Me neither. Trying to get back into my head from twelve months ago is proving a difficult challenge. I know I was anxious for the presidential election and dreading the nearly full year of campaigning that lay ahead. I was also committed to losing the extra baby weight that I’ve been carrying since my daughter’s birth. It’s the same weight that I shall commit again to losing this next year. Only this time around I’ll rely less on wishful thinking and more on exercise.
It is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it. – Somerset Maugham
In researching how to effectively set goals, I ran across an article in Psychology Today by Ray B. Williams that argues against the validity of goal setting. Although I don’t agree with many of his assertions, there are a few points I concede to, such as the case he makes about crafting goals without consequences. For example, if I set a goal to lose weight, and go about it through a starvation method that not only takes off the pounds but also does damage to my organs, I’ve accomplished my goal at a high cost. The same applies to companies who pay out bonuses to executives for meeting goals even though the achievement comes at the cost of damage to a company’s reputation, stock price, or any number of other negative consequences. What good is using harmful or destructive methods to achieve a goal, when the end result leaves you worse off than when you started?
There’s also bad goal setting, which can lead to failure that demotivates and depresses. If you make the goal “to be more productive in 2013” not only are you unable to measure progress, but you haven’t defined what “being more productive” looks like. You have no way of feeling a sense of completion or accomplishment.
Someone who wants to set a goal to be more productive this year would need to set smaller, measurable goals, such as:
- checking email only twice a day, in 30 minute increments
- limiting going out to lunch outside of the office to once a week
- posting and holding to schedules of times when you are not to be disturbed by coworkers
- eating your frog first thing every day
- committing to a healthy breakfast each morning to eliminate the mid-morning coffee crash
You should tailor the goals specific to your situation and personality. Start with only one or two goals at a time, and after you’ve done it for several months and established a new habit or routine, then focus on the next item. If you fail and fall back into the old comfortable ways, analyze where you went off course, make adjustments and then try again.
There’s always going to be room for improvement, and it’s going to be easier to keep to the status quo rather than taking a chance, trying something new, or acting differently. However, I think a person only living in the now, with no plans for the future or excitement for “what could be” is missing an element to life that sets us apart from the animals. To have dreams, aspirations and expectations is to be uniquely human.
Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen, even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind. – Leonardo Da Vinci