Sunday, October 2, 2011

Goals Are Good And Dangerous Things

Over the years, I've written a great deal about setting and achieving goals. The consensus seems to be that high achievers "always" have written goals, but I don't happen to think that's true, and it may surprise you that I don't think goals are always a good thing.

Make no mistake, in most cases clear, written goals ARE a good thing. I have a variety of personal goals and I review them frequently, discuss them with my wife, my coach and my advisors, and re-affirm them every morning. In general, I believe most people will benefit from selecting a handful of important goals, writing them down, and going after them.

Here are the major advantages of written goals:

1. They force us to choose. Too often, we want too many things and scatter our time and attention among all of them. Selecting a small number of specific goals helps clarify your priorities.

2. They focus our efforts. By defining exactly what you are going to achieve and writing it down, vague desires or wishes become concrete action plans.

3. Goals attract allies. When people know where you are going, it's easier for them to help you get there. There is great synergy, power and enthusiasm in a shared goal.

Most people, most of the time, will benefit from carefully defining their goals, writing them down, developing an action plan, and following through.
There are, however, risks to setting goals and for some people, setting goals can be a dangerous thing. Here are the major weaknesses of written goals:

1. By focusing our attention on the future, goals can rob us of the present. Some people get so caught up in their vision, that they forget to "smell the roses" each day. John Lennon observed that "life is what happens while you are making other plans." Don't let your dreams get in the way of celebrating the present. Live each day and be grateful.

2. Goals can prevent us from seeing even bigger or more vital opportunities. Like blinders on a horse, we can become fixated on our goals and miss opportunities all around us. Some people are so determined, so ambitious and so disciplined that they forget to consider the alternatives.

3. Goals can become excuses. Some people set exciting goals, then use their future achievements as an excuse to avoid doing what they can and should do today. I've seen teenagers so caught up the dream of becoming a "rock star" that they forget to study. Some adults fall into a similar trap.

Should you have written goals? Almost certainly. Carefully selected, well-defined goals are the path to achievement, fulfillment and satisfaction. But some areas of life should not be "goal oriented." When it comes to personal integrity, or time with loved ones, or celebrating the miracles of your life, these are not "goals," they are simply choices. Do them NOW, not tomorrow.

Use clearly defined, written goals to create your future and reach your dreams, but never confuse future achievements with living each day of your life! Life happens today. It happens right here, right now. Ready or not, this is your life, and it must be lived to the full. Use goals; live life. Never confuse the two.
Thanks to Philip E. Humbert, PhD

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