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Goal Setting Run Amok?

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Goal Setting Run Amok?

Don’t think about white bears.

We hear a lot of goal setting and, as a coach, this is one of the most common activities I do with my clients. So how could goal setting be bad? There is an interesting post from Psyblog that discusses the downside to goal setting.

So what’s the bPolar Bearig deal?

Goals are necessary. They show us the way to go. If my business needs more clients or I need to get administrative tasks done, it helps to focus the thought into a mini-action plan. However, the study cited in the Psyblog post pointed to three downsides that make goal setting a bizarre kind of feedback loop:

  1. Too specific: According to author, if we make the goals too specific then we focus only on the process and not the purpose behind it.
  2. Too many: Our brains cannot focus on more than 3-5 items at a time. Having too many goals just feeds into our insecurities and feelings of overwhelm.
  3. Too soon: According to the study, it encourages short term thinking. For a small business, this could set up a reactive posture and it becomes subject to the whims of its customers and circumstances.

But what about the goals you’ve already set?

The best written goals (yes, get them out of your head) have 3 components: specifics (what you’re going to do), measurements (how do you know you met the goal) and a deadline (a specific date or length of time). These should fit neatly into your business plan. Start with your business vision.  The goals are how you make the purpose of your business happen. If a goal does not support your vision, it’s probably worth re-evaluating the goal. It may sound like a good idea and other small business owners might be doing it but if it doesn’t fit, there is a good chance it will create stress for you.

In his book, 59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman details his study of the research of what works and doesn’t work for achieving goals. Curiously, he found that many of the techniques recommended by professionals are either ineffective or even harmful. Remember how I started this post with the sentence, “don’t think about white bears“? As you’ve been reading this post, how many times have you wondered about white bears? Trying to ignore your thoughts is thought suppression. We’re often advised to think only positive thoughts about how wonderful things will be when we’ve completed our goal. Often this is couched in terms consistent with the Law of Attraction or being a magnet for good vibes. Supposedly we’ll sabotage ourselves if we think negatively so we’re to stop thinking negatively. However, our brains don’t work that way. The more you try to avoid the thought, the stronger the thought becomes.

Wiseman also recommended against simply imagining how wonderful everything will be when you achieve your goal. Wiseman argues that you will engage in mental escapism rather than the hard work of making that goal reality.

The commonsense approach to achieving your business goals

  1. Write down your goal and review it on a regular basis.
  2. Set goals that fit with your business vision so you don’t waste time and money
  3. Limit your goals to 3-5 at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself
  4. Be willing to modify or change goals if they don’t fit
  5. Keep track of how you are progressing
  6. Find an accountability partner and tell him/her what you are doing
  7. Reward yourself along the way (wonderful procrastination prevention)

Your goals don’t have to run amok. Good things are going to happen when you achieve your goals! It just takes time, planning and action.

You can stop thinking about white bears now… (wink, wink)

Growing a business locally or internationally takes a different mindset; the CEO Mindset. Elli St.George-Godfrey, a behavioral economics coach, international expansion consultant and founder of Ability Success Growth, uses her 3 Keys Coaching process to help business owners and executives in the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland to unlock the CEO within. Under her guidance, personal styles are fine-tuned allowing the senior leader to “authentically inhabit” the role of CEO and collaborate with their team more effectively. With this focus on both the people and the organization in which they work, Elli’s market-proven coaching helps leaders and their teams develop styles and capabilities which enables them to collaborate and effectively join together to optimize the business outcomes.

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  • Good post Elli. I like point 7, “reward yourself”. It probably sounds the easiest, obvious and effortless point for everyone but I bet most of the people forget to do it. Besides procrastination, not rewarding yourself makes you see all your goals the same: a whole bunch of never-ending work. Boring…

  • Anonymous

    Paul,nnYou are not alone with goal setting! Start with “why”. What is the purpose of your blog? Then the goals make more sense. Granted, accomplishing the goal is the best reward, you can create milestones to show progress and reward yourself as you reach these milestones. This develops a track record of success. As you know, success begets success!

  • Anonymous

    Fred,nnI like point 7 too! I’m not sure where we got the idea that achieving our goals should be equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest (and even the climbers celebrate reaching each stage of the climb). For most business goals, we need to see our incremental progress and acknowledge it. The best part is that the rewards can be any size from candy to time off from work.

  • Now I have an image of a big blue bear.nnI agree with overwhelm, and setting only a certain amount of goals.nGoals need to also be identified as long-term, medium-term, short-term and instant (I am trying a goats cheese tartlet tonight)nVery good points Elli, and I would add:nSometimes when we meet “overwhelm”, it can be hugely releasing to move back a little, and create smaller steps. Small steps are also great for procrastination, they can almost fool us into thinking we are successful at procrastination, when really, little things are happening to push us ever closer.nnDisclaimer: slow doesn’t mean “sloth” slow, there has to be at least minimum momentum 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Haha! You’ve got a blue bear! nnLove your correction about slow not equaling sloth. You can draw things out so you are going at a painful pace. Definitely a quick way to procrastination! nnThank you for adding to the conversation of how goal setting can run amok! Always good to team up with you!

  • Any strategy needs to include the all-important follow up. No point in letting the trail just fizzle away into nothing after all the hard work of setting it up in the first place. Thanks Niall, I agree completely with your comments.

  • Info

    Have I to publish a new blog post on my blog and than add the link of article at Bizsugar in “Rock your biz”category?

  • Thanks Nishada, Delighted that the post helped and I can be guilty too! 🙂

  • Hi Angie, some great suggestions here. One I’d add is exceptional customer service, which for me is one of the best sales tools there is.

  • scott_duncan

    I’d be curious of your take how I can achieve all star. I understand that if I don’t, LinkedIn won’t help in ways of being searchable. Any help would be appreciated. I was recently laid off after 25 years, so that said, my age also becomes a concern.

    Your Industry and Location (Check)

    Current Position with description (Problem here is, I’m not working now)

    2 Past Positions (Check)

    Your Education (It asks me for “activities or societies have you participated in as a student”. I don’t have any, and I don’t really think (IMO) it would be smart to say Auto Mechanic when I’m looking for an IT job. Wouldn’t it be best just to say XYZ Technical School. Then years attended comes into play. Age discrimination possibly. ???

    Your Skills (minimum of 3) (Check)

    A Photo (200 by 200) (Check)

    At least 50 Connections (Check)
    Thanks for your time!

  • Well if you want, I’d be happy to take you through a good micro brewery; you might quickly find a new taste bud or two! 😉

  • Lol – actually I do quite like a beer too. We have a local brewery here – Dungarvan Brewery Co – and they are doing well. I like their stout

  • Elish Bul-Godley

    Welcome Jason , and what a fun way to start ! – Your Shoestring note made me think of another new one ” We’re Bootstrapping” aka we have no money to pay you

  • Ha yes! Great one. “Insurance Poor” anyone?

  • How about saving in real money, like gold and silver coins? I am getting hungry for bacon after reading your post… 😉

  • I struggle to see gold/silver as 1.) real money, because it can’t be spent, and 2.) the long-term value is relatively negligible. There is no risk, so there is little return. Just my two cents. 🙂

  • Alex Wilson

    Hi Niall,

    Reverse Merger is a complicated process. The start of a merger is a rough road for the employees and for the companies as well. Bear in mind that it is a merger of two companies, you will be sharing not only the benefits and assets but also the drawbacks and the liabilities before you could see and achieve good things. Visit to know more.

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