Are Goals Overrated?
Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University, liked to challenge his students and clients by asking questions that popped into his mind that pushed them outside of the box in their thinking. One day while being interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he very casually said “I feel that goals are overrated and unnecessary.” This was ironic at the time since he was currently teaching a course called “Life by Design” in which goals were the central thesis. Needless to say, he was berated rather severely in the newspaper.
I love thinking about how goals can be expensive if we take them too deeply to heart. Goals can certainly induce me to get up each morning to get a specific task done, or to move toward completion of a project, but they often do not inspire me to any great degree. I’m going to step out on a limb here, and state that I believe that is the case for the majority of people working in the United States. They will push themselves to complete a project or task, but rarely does the project or task excite them. Nor has anyone, let alone themselves, put something in front of them that does. So, let’s talk about goals for a minute.
A goal is often an object we are striving for. Many of you know about how all goals should be SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Rather than the traditional definition – let’s talk about how these SMART criteria could be limiting you.
- Specific – The goal has defined limits, specifically defined. Out of the box thinking is not encouraged, taking you to something bigger and better when you consider the possibilities.
- Measurable – Unless this goal is just for your fulfillment, whether or not you accomplished the goal satisfactorily is being measured by an external source – your boss, your family, your friends – rather than satisfaction being found from within.
- Attainable – If the goal is deemed attainable by someone else – it is often not a stretch for the person accomplishing it, designed for the purpose of growth. While I am not a proponent of creating goals that are impossible, I do believe in growth.
- Realistic – One question here. Was the electric light bulb realistic, or flying in an airplane realistic, or splitting atoms realistic – in their time? True innovation often is not considered realistic at the time.
- Timely – By putting a target date on a project or task, you are putting the accomplishment of the goal firmly in the future – thereby causing you to concentrate your thoughts more in the future than the present. The present is where you find the opportunities and ideas that move you forward, and when your attention is elsewhere you may miss them.
Often I find that goals are created because we are trying to fulfill a want or a need. By definition, a need is something that drives us, and will often take precedence over our values. An example of a need that I see being played out over and over is the need for power. This need for power may override our values of compassion, respect, kindness or our life intentions to be a loving family member or an exceptional leader.
Now, if you think I’m bashing the setting of goals, I’m not. However, I think that people sometimes confuse goals with tasks. For example, we set a goal of losing 30 pounds. Or a goal of being able to walk 5-10 miles in one day. What if your goal was to be able to hike in Switzerland through the mountain meadows in 12 months on your wedding anniversary? This is a fun goal. The tasks then are to eat healthily and walk 1/3 of a block further each day in preparation for the trip to Switzerland. This still meets the criteria of a SMART goal, but it inspires and fulfills a life intention or value.
What becomes even more interesting here is how people sometimes confuse vision with goals. Vision is the art or power of imagination; living out of the box we put ourselves into each day. Vision easily defines purpose. It inspires, and does not limit. It is specific, because a great vision is detailed, not only visually, but you can feel it, smell it and touch it in your imagination. It is measurable, because you will know you have attained it when you get there. It is attainable, but not without a stretch and action on your part. It is realistic, because anything you can dream you can create. It is timely, because you will fulfill your vision when it is time.
A vision pulls us forward – setting tasks along the way because we see the next right step to take. As each task is accomplished, we are one step closer to the vision. When we sit back after we complete the task each day to look at the vision again to see if it has changed, we will see the next right step.
People, teams and organizations need a vision and a purpose that inspires them. It helps them align their thoughts and their actions each day to what they hold dear. Goals, as often defined within our performance management systems rarely do that, and often create rote activity that inspires no one.
Georgia Feiste, owner of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth coach, writer, and workshop facilitator. She is also a Usui Reiki Master. Georgia specializes in career, business and personal life transitions for people seeking change in their life. Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life. You can find her on her websites http://www.collaborativetransitions.com, http://www.rainbowbridgecoach.com , and http://www.georgiafeiste.com. Georgia can be reached at (402) 304-1902 or you can schedule a 30 minute consultation via Automated Appointment.