Why Goal-Setting Drives us Crazy

Why Goal-Setting Drives us Crazy

CWI has a vision of ending suffering at work, so it would be wise to understand why so many of us hate setting goals.  One of the reasons we suffer at work is we are unable to set and fulfill goals each year, and because of that, we resist or refuse to debrief our accomplishments at the end of the year or the end of a project since it just feels that will prove that we have failed.

And yet, without the direction provided by goals, we are adrift without a map.  We might do well until something significant changes.  Then we can’t remember what to do next! One way to consider effective goal-setting is to consider them like a GPS system.  GPS/goals allow you to:

1.  Have a destination.  I can’t tell you the number of people who contact us who want their suffering to end, and yet have no sense of what life would be like if it did.  That’s like saying;
I am in New Jersey, I don’t want to be in New Jersey, so I am going to the bus station and taking any bus as long as it gets me out of New Jersey.

When you end up in Buffalo you are annoyed, yet you never actually decided specifically where you wanted to go.   (We usually say, “I don’t want to feel this tired or drained all the time” when it would be more specific to say ,” I want to have enough energy to walk a mile every day.”)

2.  Have more than one way to get there.   The goal we set often seems to promise great things, and yet, in reality, it often has no connection to what we think it will give us.  Many of our clients say they want to make a million dollars.  When asked why, they are confused about the question, implying that everyone who makes a million dollars has a terrific life.  We personally know people who are making a million dollars and are not fulfilled at all by the experience.  Without a specific, underlying understanding of what you are actually after, when another way of obtaining that state of mind or those circumstances comes around, we can’t even see it because it doesn’t match our goal.

3.  Take side trips and not get lost.  Sometimes there are tantalizing distractions.  GPS allows for those distractions, and when the attraction is over, GPS will guide you right back to your original destination.  It helps you maintain focus, yet enjoy what comes along in a relaxed manner.

What we’ve found is that almost everyone is either actively trying to improve or are resigned that they can’t.  New Year’s Resolutions are set by almost 50% of Americans, yet an  astounding 88% of resolutions end up in failure.  Is it any wonder we just don’t even try?

Turns out the way we’ve taken on Resolutions set us up for failure.  We take on something big (Eat healthy food, exercise more, quit smoking).  The harder we try to “keep” this resolution, the more we sabotage ourselves.  In a Stanford experiment by Prof. Baba Shiv, a group of undergraduate students were divided into 2 groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember. The other was given a seven-digit number to remember. Then, after a short walk through the hall, they were offered the choice between two snacks: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit. What’s most surprising: The students with 7-digit numbers to remember were twice as likely to pick the slice of chocolate cake compared to the students with the 2-digits.

The reasoning of why this happens? According to Prof. Shiv, it’s very obvious:

“Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive
load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”

It takes an enormous amount of effort or will power to hold onto a resolution the way we normally set them. A great way to think about it is that we suddenly take on lifting a 300 pound barbell without any previous training.  That is too much of a cognitive load.

The trick is to make this instinctual, experiential and small enough to tie to an already ingrained habit.   For instance, instead of “I want to eat healthy food”, try this instead:

“I want to have more energy throughout the day, so instead of a donut for breakfast, I’ll have a banana instead.”

This goal has how it feels, as well as the actual end result you are after.  You can then try small steps tied to your scheduled activities to see if substituting a banana for the donut or pastry will indeed give you more energy.

Let us know how it goes, and don’t forget to take inventory of how 2013 has gone.  I am sure there are accomplishments you have learned from.  It feels wonderful to take the time to remember them (go through your schedule!), and ask yourself what you learned, what you liked and what you might do differently next time.


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2017-08-22T15:16:34+00:00 November 17th, 2013|