Why you may need to rethink your goals
It’s time to scrap goals, for good. Ten year plans, five year plans, annual and quarterly targets. Not only the goals you set yourself but the measuring devices of activity that you are accountable to hit or risk facing punitive measures by the hand that feeds.
Goals are arbitrary numbers or achievements that we pull from our skull at a forced point in time. They hark back to a corporate mentality when everyone believed you needed to create a sense of job satisfaction by requiring people to hit a target to quantify an achievement.
That little spike of dopamine that you receive from hitting a target feels good but it’s short lived and no sooner have you felt it than you’re plunged into the void of feel good hormones forcing you to find your next goal to work towards, your next quest.
This leads to a life of constant struggle, a mixture of short lived happiness of achievement followed by a long stressful struggle to hit the next target.
They drive a mission to acquire a set number of whatever it may be by whatever means necessary and in no way do they foster any learning or development in the process. They place no emphasis on quality or experiential learning, merely a single little quantifiable package of data a the end of the year.
Worse than this, they can lead people to take increasingly desperate steps in order to achieve their goals. If the goal is the only thing that matters, not how you got their, there is an incentive to be inventive with your boundaries.
Reading Atomic Habits by James Clear really crystallised these thoughts for me. As he explains, the key, is to make small changes, develop habits, every day, that allow you to grow and develop.
The difficulty is that the rewards for developing these positive habits is not immediate, it’s the accumulation and compounding of the daily benefits that drive us forward. You won’t wake up the day after starting a new habit, to find that your life has immeasurably improved, but the accumulation of the daily benefits and the ability to maintain positive habits in the long term rather than stopping once the goal has been reached will enrich your life for years to come.
I’m not advocating scrapping all direction from your life. The benefit of goal setting is that it can give you clarity over your direction that you wouldn’t have otherwise. We rarely stop to reflect deeply on the direction our life is taking and this is where we have traditionally gained from clarifying our goals, we’re really clarifying our direction.
It is more effective to take this time of reflection to assess which direction we want our lives to take, and what habits we can implement in our daily lives to work towards this.
Goals narrow your focus to the end of the tunnel. We have one aim and all our energies are focussed towards it.
Habits help us to develop a routine built towards success, making our daily positive actions subconscious. This in turn liberates our minds to take a broader view of the world around us and react to the changes and opportunities that present themselves.
It will come as no surprise to learn that if you successfully implement the right systems, you will smash through any goal you would have set yourself. Not only this, but your performance will be sustainable and you will be able to repeatedly break through to your next level time and time again.