Okay, who else has goal-setting fatigue?
It seems you can’t do anything any more without being told that you’ll never succeed unless you Set Goals. (Yes, apparently it’s so Important that it requires initial caps. *snort*)
SMART goals, EPEGS goals, BHAGs… apparently, no-one in the history of mankind has ever achieved anything without using these HR management-speak magical tools. Whether it’s corporate domination, personal productivity, athletic achievement, weight loss, habit change, or creative output, we’re constantly bombarded with the message that we will never achieve what we desire unless we not only specify and delineate in sensory technicolor our aims, but also write them down and then submit them to public scrutiny under the guise of ‘accountability‘.
Well, I call bullshit.
I’m wondering. Did Leonardo da Vinci sit down on January 1, 1498 and make a list like this:
- By 1 April, I will have designed a single person flying machine, complete with technical drawings and mechanical notations
- By 1 July, I will have completed that fresco of the last supper, incorporating single point perspective and an androgynous John for interest
- Within 5 years, I will get a job with the Borgias …
Forgive my scepticism, but I sorta doubt it.
The point of setting goals is supposed to be to motivate you.
But what if it doesn’t? What if it actually makes you feel less inclined to pursue them?
Here’s what happens in my brain when I sit down to Set Goals:
“Ack! Goals! I hates ‘em!
“Omigod, I have to set goals or I’ll never amount to a hill of beans.” (Sidebar: Huh? And I would want to be a hill of beans, why, exactly?)
“Okay, goals. Gotta be specific. But, I’m not really sure what I want yet. So…
“Okay, gotta be measurable. But, um… how scary is that? How do I know how high to set the bar?
“Never mind. Go with attainable. Yeah, pick something attainable but still challenging. Oh shit. What if I fail? I hate failing. It makes me cry and feel like, well, a failure. And I hate that.
“Oh, and then there’s that whole relevant thing too – or is it realistic?” (checks notes) “Well, if Everyone can’t even agree on what the R is for, how the hell am I supposed to plan it?
“Timely. Argh! Deadlines! Deadlines make me itch! I always leave things to the very last minute and then have major panic productivity rush. I try not to, but I do. I know I will and I’ll feel horribly stressed. I’m itchy already. Help!
“Can’t I just go back to bed and do this tomorrow?”
And even supposing I do manage to come up with some, and write them down to ‘make them real’, what happens next is I feel squashed and restricted and bound by this sodding great SHOULD of a goal.
As in, “I really can’t just play around with this because I SHOULD be working to make that goal happen.”
When I think like that, the weight of the SHOULD usually results in nothing happening – neither the playing I wanted to do nor the working I think I ought to do. Result? Resentment of the goal itself for making me feel grumpy and frustrated and stressed.
Or, I think about the goal and I think about how friggin’ far away it is, and how difficult, and I feel sad, and discouraged, and yes, stressed again.
In fact, the only thing setting goals has ever resulted in for me has been a whole load of stress. Oh, and guess what stress does? Funnily enough, it demotivates me.
So does failing to achieve a goal, even in the tiniest aspect. It feels like another chalk mark on the FAIL side of the board. (Yes, that’s the perfectionist streak talking.) But seriously, if it’s demotivating me, what’s the point?
Despite that, I have in my life, actually managed to achieve some things. I completed a BA Hons degree in Romance Languages and was accepted at Oxford University for a grad programme. I won a scholarship to study in Italy. I’ve moved countries and changed jobs. I’ve taught myself about bookkeeping and business and computers and websites and online commerce. In the last two years, I’ve complete three large textile works, entered them in exhibitions and participated in an Open Studio.
No, I haven’t discovered a cure for cancer, or managed to stop The Two Bad Dogs from barking too much, but c’mon, some things are a little too difficult, even for me.
And I did those things without setting goals for them, SMART or otherwise.
I did them one little step at a time, looking no further ahead than was comfortable. Did I sometimes go down the wrong path? Probably. But who knows what I wouldn’t have seen or learnt about if I hadn’t taken a little detour now and then?
Sometimes I had a vague idea of what I’d like to do, like the Oxford thing, which had appealed to me from childhood. Other times, I had no plan or idea at all, like going to Italy and loving it so much I stayed. It turned out living in Siena was one thing that reminded me about the whole art dream I’d given up on ten years before. I didn’t plan for that.
So, yeah, if setting goals is a thing that motivates you, then go for it. I certainly want people to achieve whatever they dream of.
But if, like me, you find the whole thing a nasty, big, demotivating tangle of shoulds, then I encourage you to look at it this way, in the words of the very wise and wonderful Jo VanEvery:
“Moving down the road. In roughly the right direction. That’s my goal.”
And if you need permission to not Set Goals for 2010, then here it is:
You do NOT have to Set Goals for this year. It’s okay if you don’t. I doesn’t mean you will fail in your dreams. It’s okay not to. Really.