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