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Almost any kind of coach, guru, or individual will tell you, “setting goals is very important”. I think we can all agree on that so many people, so many studies and books have been done to prove how goal setting is incredibly important and valuable for many different reasons.

I would agree that setting goals is important, however it wouldn’t be for some of the many reasons studies have given to us. I’ve mainly been finding this in myself and how I generally approach goal setting. In the end I have one thing to say: “Don’t ‘just’ set goals”.

It’s quite controversial, I know, but read on and I’ll explain.

Yale’s Goal Setting Study

When the subject of goal setting comes up, most people turn to a Yale University study in 1953. It’s used a lot in speeches, articles and this study is even the foundation of great self-help books.

For those not familiar with the study, it focused on senior year class in Yale University with relation to setting goals. Three percent of the class set goals while the remainder did not. Years later the study stated that the three percent had a higher net worth than the other 97% all because they set goals in their final year.

This was a message that was driven home by so many people, why setting goals was so important. But what if I told you Yale University never heard of this study performed on their students?  That would certainly raise some questions as so many people have used this “study” for the basis of books, seminars, articles and more!

My point to divulging this isn’t to say that so many people have been lied to, but it leads a little more towards narrow minded thinking. The purpose of the study is to show that people who set goals will be wealthy, but that’s not really the case. What I’d say is setting goals in general actually limits our mindsets and promotes more narrow-thinking. Here’s how.

Goal Setting

Goals set limitations

“It’s all in the matter of mindset, how you see things.” This is a saying that I use from time to time whenever I want to see someone’s perspective of things. The reason I’m doing it now is it all stemmed from me reading why successful people don’t set any goalsOne of the reasons Graeme Turner provided is that it sets limits on people and I can see why and how it sets limitations.

Let’s take a manager for example wanting to hit a certain amount because the corporate office expects them to hit this amount in production for the month or else they’ll be fired. In order to reach the goal and keep their job, the manager would decide to speed up production, because he’s several thousand behind. The manager does this by getting lower quality materials or skipping steps resulting in faulty products. In the end, the manager hits the monthly production goal and keeps the job, but at the cost of the company shipping out several thousand poor products.

Because there was a limitation, the manager cheated their way to completing the goal. Their goal setting was for the sake of ‘just’ setting a goal. If that goal wasn’t there and the manager was very passionate about the job, they would instead set a goal as something to work towards but even if they hit it, they’d continue to push past it. Let me explain that more.

Why you don’t want to just set goals

With Graeme’s article, I can see his reasoning as to why you shouldn’t set goals, but again “It’s all in a matter of mindset, how you see things”. I believe we shouldn’t “just” set goals. What I mean by that is don’t set goals to simply set some goals and reach them.

It sounds crazy I know and a lot of people will say the purpose of setting a goal is to reach it. But go back to that example I gave you with the manager.

The manager reached their goal, but at the cost of making poor quality products for consumers, basically for creating a company more money all because of a number. To the manager they thought “Reach the goal just to reach it.” Nothing more, nothing less.

What I’m getting at is people are seeing goals as a destination: a place where they work towards getting to and then stop. They may trek back and make a goal to get back to the same place again but the journey in essence is the same. Here’s another way to approach goal setting.

The purpose of a goal: Why I set goals

Now I’m an individual who still has goals, who sets them on a monthly basis and focuses on striving towards them, but one thing I’ve realized when reading Graeme’s article is it got me thinking about why do I set goals and what’s the purpose of me setting goals. After all, when I set goals, I strive to achieve them, but if I’m close to obtaining it, I don’t try to rush it and if I don’t obtain it in the end, I work on it the next month.

It really got me thinking about why I set goals and really I believe setting goals adds a bit of direction for myself, a compass as it would. I don’t just set goals so I can get out there and work towards them, no. I set them to have a bit of perspective to what I want to be doing in life, where I want to be going. And most importantly that I’m making baby steps, little improvements over each day.

The Chinese have a saying for that, kaizen. Making a commitment to continually improve every single day. Putting a number does provide something to strive for, but ask yourself why are you setting that number? Why not hit that number early as you can and go past that? The idea with kaizen is that even if you improve yourself by 1% every single day, you’ll still be 100% better than you were yesterday.

Goals should provide direction, nothing more, nothing less, so don’t ‘just’ set goals, follow kaizen and continue to improve!

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Adventures with Matt · July 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Excellent article! It gave me something to think when setting goals. Thanks so much.

    Eric Burdon · July 6, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks Matt! I’m glad you enjoyed it and got you thinking! πŸ™‚

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Comments are closed.