All that glitters is not goals

Hold on Mom and apple pie, you could be next. One of the most hallowed articles of faith in the personal effectiveness manual is being sliced onto the specimen glass and slid under the microscope. The heretical question is being whispered, “Are goals the only way to make progress?” That is akin to saying, “Is breathing the only way to stay alive” in the minds of most personal improvement gurus.

Few people are ready to throw out the goal baby with the bath water, but some are questioning the approach of throwing the baby into the ocean and calling, “Keep your mental focus on a beach, and you will be fine.”

Some experts are pointing to a darker side of goals.  Just as a hammer can be used to drive a nail or turn your thumb nail into a throbbing black olive, a goal can move you forward, spin your wheels, or send you into a dead end detour.

One potential problem with goals is that we confuse making them with doing them.  Mark Twain said of the cigar that he was attached to (often literally), “It’s easy to quit smoking.  I’ve quit at least a hundred times.”

As a young teenager (teenagers come in many stages of young not necessarily correlated to their number of birthdays)  I read an advertisement proclaiming that playing piano could guarantee being invited to parties, meeting cute girls, boosting your IQ and athletic prowess, clearing up your complexion (OK I made that one up). They had me at “cute girls.”  I was sold. I badgered my mother until she caught the vision, or at least her vision which was me on stage at the keyboard in Carnegie Hall.  My vision was me the life of a party full of future Miss Americas.

Alas neither vision was to be realized.  The magazine ad never mentioned the deal breaker in the promise—practice. I should have known there was a catch to it.  No, what I should have known was a goal without a commitment is a pipe-dream.

A goal should encompass what you will to do to attain it.  The goal should also include what you will not do. You have only so much time and energy, and doing things toward your goal may involve leaving out other things.

Another challenge in using goals is that they are sometimes like computers and prayer. They may give you exactly what you ask for. The financial aid department of a large-university set as their goal to help students get financial aid as quickly and efficiently as possible. They succeeded. The students were borrowing so much money that they were graduating with a future flattening load of debt. The financial office restructured their goal into helping students handle their financial affairs wisely. That was a much better service to their clientele. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you pray for (or set a goal for).  You just might get it.”

After all these disclaimers however, nobody has found a better way to achieve the things we want to accomplish. We are after all goal-driven creatures. Look at babies. (Who can help but look at babies?) They babble, and goo, and cry until people begin to understand and give them what they want, which was their goal in the first place. Toddlers stagger and fall, get up and stagger again until one day they are running, jumping and shooting basketballs, and spinning pirouettes. Babies are goals on wheels. Almost all of us start out that way. It’s only later that obstructions such as embarrassment, laziness, and peer pressure get in the way of our natural born drive to accomplish and move forward.

So I suggest, set a goal to make a goal and see what happens.