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I’m going to take a break from marketing and talk about something sort of personal – specifically, why I believe that a lot of advice about “Goal Setting” is incorrect. If you’re not interested in my thoughts on goal setting, personal growth, etc., this is a blog post you’ll want to skip.

What Is Goal Setting?

A lot of people – from business development consultants to self-help book authors to every motivational speaker – talk about the importance of “setting big goals.” They say we must make a list of the specific things we want to accomplish, post that list in a place where we’ll see it every day, and then read each goal out loud. This practice, they claim, will help us accomplish great things.

To which I can only say, “meh.”

While it’s true that this practice has worked for a lot of people, I believe it’s primarily a mental trick. A good trick to be sure, but still just a trick. This “big goal setting” trick works because:

  • Humans crave structure
  • We struggle if we don’t have that structure guiding our day
  • “Goal setting” creates daily structure

For example, I might ask myself “Should I eat a cheeseburger or a salad?” If one of my big goals is to lose weight, and if I remind myself of that goal daily, I’ll (hopefully) make the right choice.

But goal setting isn’t really about goals or outcomes at all…it’s about helping ourselves make the right choices and take the right actions on a daily basis. That’s the great lie – setting big goals isn’t about accomplishing anything. It’s about giving our day some sort of structure.

Why Big Goals Are Bad

Lying is bad, but lying to ourselves is the worst. If we set big goals for ourselves like “Become CEO” or “Become a Hollywood Star,” we trick ourselves into thinking that these are the things we really want. Before long, we convince ourselves that we need these things to be happy. If we come up short – and let’s face it, most big goals will never be accomplished – we feel as if we’ve failed. We feel as if someone or something has died, and that our ultimate happiness in life is somehow diminished.

These feelings of failure and loss inevitably lead to either a) depression or b) a new lie we tell ourselves, something along the lines of “I didn’t really want to be CEO anyways”…and that’s the problem with big goals. They’re a lie we tell ourselves that – at best – will only lead to more lying. At worst, they’ll cause us to accept failing at things that never should have been goals in the first place.

Why Not A Process Instead?

If you accept my argument that “goal setting” isn’t really about the goals or the outcomes so much as it is about giving ourselves structure, you may conclude that goal setting is a waste of time. That’s pretty much my feeling…I believe that setting big goals is a distractionWe don’t need goals – we need structure!

I use a daily process to create structure in my life, and it looks a heck of a lot like a to-do list:

  • Be the best husband and father I can be (daily)
  • Challenge myself (daily)
  • Learn and try new things (daily)
  • Help the people in my life grow (daily)
  • Try and do everything at a high level (daily)

These daily to-dos guide my decision making. While I have goals too (business goals for the year, things I want to accomplish personally in a specific amount of time), I do not have some concocted list of “big goals” that I maniacally recant daily. I’ve got a process instead.

Goal Setting Isn’t The Point

Summing up, I don’t believe we need “big goals.” Writing “I want to be President of the United States” (or whatever) on my bathroom mirror isn’t going to make me the President. At best, it will help me focus. At worst, it will make me feel like I’m failing, and cause me to question my motivations and my path.

Instead, I believe that we need to:

  1. Understand what makes us happy and what makes us productive
  2. Create a short and simple daily to-do list that will lead to a positive outcome if followed closely

The beauty of this approach is that it will inevitably lead to good outcomes. If I can complete my to-do list every day, I’ll have a great life…and that’s the only big goal that matters.