Goal Setting - Should We Do It?

accountability goal setting mindfulness personal development professional development Dec 04, 2023

It’s always the end of the year when you start hearing a lot about goal setting and planning for the next 12 months. It’s natural that when the calendar reaches January, we all start to think about where we are and where we want to go. But is there any downside to setting goals?

Former NFL player Emmanuel Acho has a TED Talk where he argues there is. He strongly feels we shouldn’t be setting goals. He shares how focusing on a goal can actually cause us to feel negatively about the journey and work we’ve done if we don’t hit that mark we set. 

Emmanuel highlights the reasons we all set goals - from the belief that we need them to succeed, to how they give us something to work towards, and the desire we all have for feedback. And then he shares the realization he’s come to in his own life: “the only way to fail in life is to set a goal”. 

We all have likely experienced that disappointment and frustration when we fall short of a goal. For example, maybe we wanted to save $10,000 this year, and we find we’ve only saved $6,000. What Emmanuel argues is that we should not discount the progress we’ve made to save that $6,000. We can’t get so frustrated we didn’t achieve the goal that we throw out the progress we’ve made all together.

Emmanuel instead encourages all of us to set objectives without limitations. For example, instead of saying “I’ll run two miles today,” we can say “I’m going to run as far as I can today”. Maybe we’ll actually reach three miles, instead of limiting ourselves to two. Instead of saying “I’m going to save $10,000 this year,” we can say “I am going to save as much money as I can each month” and maybe we will end up reaching $12,000 in our savings. 

So how do we put this into practice? Define our objectives. Yes, this may seem like setting a goal, but we want to be more general here. The idea of an objective versus a goal is to avoid setting limitations on a total number or final outcome that we will reach. Instead we want to focus on the process of that objective, understanding that this will be a continuous journey. 

Let’s go back to our money example. Instead of saying “I am going to save $750 dollars every month” and feeling the frustration when we only put away $500, we can say “I want to save as much money as possible every month”. With this mindset, when we put away that $500, we are embracing the process of saving money and avoiding that negative feeling that comes along with missing the goal we set. 

Instead of setting a goal, we want to build a habit. Saving money each month, running as far as we can, reading more often - these are all objectives that we don’t have to set limits on. 

So as we approach the new calendar year, instead of coming up with the specific goals we’ll accomplish in 2024, let’s focus on our objectives - what habits do we want to build in the new year? How can we avoid setting limits on our growth in those areas? It’s by embracing the journey and the opportunity to grow without limits that we can reach our potential. 

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