I really like this blog. It’s got the best readers and comments on the web. So when Chris told me I should go ahead and submit a new post, I was totally game. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m out and about a little more than usual today because my new book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, has just been released.
But back to the task at hand: goals. Well-defined goals can be the difference between success and mediocrity. But goal setting does have a dark side. The large-scale financial disasters of 2008 were in large part due to executives who blindly set and followed goals without paying attention to developments around them that should have prompted them to stop and think.
Sometimes, setting a goal works so well that we become irrational and unethical in our attempts to achieve it.
A classic example is the top-notch student who cheats on tests and plagiarizes term papers in order to maintain her straight-A average. In 1999, psychology researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons set out to investigate the phenomenon that goals can have a negative effect on performance.
They told subjects to watch a video and count how many times the people in the clip passed a basketball among themselves. The subjects concentrated so intently on the goal that they failed to notice anything else taking place in the testing room – including when a woman in a gorilla suit took her place among the group!
The bottom line? You’ll get an edge by setting goals for sure, just be aware of the potential pitfalls.
Success won’t happen overnight, so you need a series of long-term goals in order to get to where you’re meant to be. I generally advise on gaining an edge in the workplace, but your aspirations might include artistic, family, financial, physical, and public service goals.
Spend some time thinking about the areas that are most important to you, and keep working until you have just a handful of goals to concentrate on.
Please make sure these significant goals are truly your own, and not your partner’s, family’s, or employer’s. The motivation to achieve won’t be very strong or last very long if it’s driven by someone else. Once you have your short list, use your goals to gain an edge by answering these questions:
• What exactly are you going to do, when, and how? For instance, it is better to say that you will attend three sales meetings this month than simply to remark that you plan to increase your knowledge of sales. Make sure you phrase the goal positively (i.e. not “Sacrifice my weekends to attend sales meetings,” but “Make good use of my Saturdays this winter to master the mechanics of the sales process by March.”)
• How should you determine if you have achieved your goal? How will you tell if you’ve made progress along the way? For example, you might say: “I will know that I am making progress toward my goal when I am able to complete the meeting exercises the other sales reps are responsible for.”
• Is your goal something that you can realistically achieve in steps? While there should be a challenge inherent to the goal, you don’t want the task to be so large or difficult that it destroys your motivation. Also, you don’t want your success to be based on factors that are out of your control (i.e. the economy, the weather, fate).
• Why is this goal important to your long-term success in this area? Will completion of the goal actually bring you closer to getting what you consider to be truly important in life?
• When are you going to start working on achieving your goal, and what is the deadline for completion? At what point should you stop and revisit your goal to make sure it’s still a worthy exercise?
Did you write down your answers? Don’t be lazy, because writing is half the battle. For even more of an impact, turn the page and jot down some notes on your own strengths and weaknesses, obstacles you’re likely to encounter, sacrifices you may have to make, knowledge you may need to acquire, and the people who can support you as you work to achieve your goals.
Make your action plans for each goal short-term so that goals don’t fall off the radar while you’re coping with your boss’ latest meltdown.
Immediate to do lists are a great idea, but don’t let your Sharpie get too excited. Too many tasks on a checklist will either spread your attention too thin or cause you to feel so overwhelmed that you won’t do anything.
Remember that no one experiences overnight success, so you’ll need to be patient and focused. Periodically review your goals to ensure that you’re on the right track and to determine if they need adjusting. And when you achieve a goal, don’t just nod and smile and move on to the next big thing. It’s important for your self-confidence and motivation that you celebrate the accomplishment and reward yourself for your hard work and dedication. Analyze what the experience taught you and what that means for future goal setting.
Overnight success is a myth, and so are many other things that sabotage your career even as you accept them as conventional wisdom. Stop the cycle. Grab your copy of Blind Spots, available everywhere books are sold.