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The Problem With Goals

So, you hit your May goal. Do you feel good and successful? Or are you already worried about June and the end of Q2? In the business world, it seems like a never-ending cycle of “what have you done for me today?” There is no time to celebrate yesterday or bask in the glory of a win. It’s just a never-ending cycle of hit or miss. Therein lies one of the greatest shortcomings of the goals we set. Once we achieve them, we might have a momentary celebration, but it’s only temporary, before the pressure begins to build again.

Yesterday, we shared the importance of “systems” for achieving your goals from James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Today, we share the four problems Clear has identified for goals:

1. Winners and losers have the same goals. Because winners and those who don’t win share the same goals, logic suggests that the goals are not the issue.

2. Achieving goals is only a momentary change. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results aren’t the problem.

3. Goals restrict your happiness. Once you achieve your goals, you then must set new goals, and you find yourself living on “someday isle.” Someday, when I achieve this goal, then I’ll be happy.

4. Goals are at odds with long-term progress. The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.

Clear says: “True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It’s about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it’s your commitment to the process that will determine your progress. You don’t rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.”

In other words, it’s the journey, not the destination that can give us the most joy and feeling of accomplishment. It’s the process of always getting better, trying new things and refining how we approach old methodology that is exciting, rewarding, challenging and fun. “Hitting a goal” is merely a benchmark along the pathway that confirms our journey.

If you’re finding yourself frustrated with the seemingly endless cycle of achieving goals (or not) and starting all over again, consider looking at the process, your habits, the activities it takes to achieve the goals and make sure you’re enjoying that process.

Everyone wants to win the game, but staring at the scoreboard (goals) isn’t going to make that happen. It’s how you play the game. Focus on incremental improvements to your skills and your systems; the scoreboard will take care of itself.

Jeff Schmidt is the SVP of Professional Development. You can reach him at Jeff.Schmidt@RAB.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Source: Jeff Schmidt, RAB