Why setting goals can backfire
From Sunday’s Boston Globe, “Ready, aim…fire” by Drake Bennett, an examination of the downsides of goal-setting. Within a historical framework, the author points out that while goals often work, sometimes “success” involves a few unpleasant side-effects.
While Bennett focuses primarily on the corporate landscape, we can transfer his points to a creatively relevant scenario. For example, let’s say your goal is to complete three canvases this week. You manage to complete those three canvases, but you weren’t able to enjoy the process because you were so focused on completing them — and in the end, you weren’t happy with the work you did, because you cut corners to just get finished. You met your goal, but you can’t sell the paintings for as much as you’d like because they aren’t that great. In this scenario, you met your stated goal — but what did you really accomplish?
Two excerpts from the article:
It is a given in American life that goals are inseparable from accomplishment. President Kennedy’s 1961 promise to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade is held up as an example of a world-changing goal, the kind of inspirational beacon needed to surmount immense societal challenges. Among psychologists, the link between setting goals and achievement is one of the clearest there is, with studies on everyone from woodworkers to CEOs showing that we concentrate better, work longer, and do more if we set specific, measurable goals for ourselves.
Today, as the economic situation upends millions of lives, it is also forcing the reexamination of millions of goals — not only the revenue targets of battered firms, but the career aims of workers and students, and even the ambitions of the newly installed administration. And while it never feels good to give up on a goal, it may be a good time to ask which of the goals we had set for ourselves were things we really needed to achieve, and which were things we only thought we should — and what the difference has been costing us.
You can read the full article here.
What do you think of this premise — perhaps in light of the February Finish-a-thon experience for those who participated?
Perhaps shorter-term goals are better; more achievable and more inherently flexible. What about having a group goal of the most basic currency and commitment: spend on hour this week being creative. Is that too little to be of value? Does it still become the trap that Bennett describes?
I do like the idea that goals (and priorities) need to be reassessed from time to time. There’s nothing worse than waking up one morning and realizing that you’ve been busting your a** for something you don’t really care about anymore.
Clearly, we need to make sure that our goals are really serving our larger intention, whatever that is.