Why You Should Stop Setting Goals

Ask yourself, if I were put into a situation where I was in a perpetual state of failure, how would that impact my mood or energy levels? I’m willing to bet that the clear majority of you would say that it would be “depressing” or “draining.” I think we’d all agree that we wouldn’t want to place ourselves into such a situation.

However, we almost all do it, particularly around this time of year.  It starts as a resolution to lose weight, learn a new language, or get more sleep at night.  Soon, challenges arise and those goals and resolutions quickly fall by the wayside. It is the reason I believe setting goals doesn’t work as a mechanism to achieve a long-term objective. They drain your most precious resource: energy or willpower. The better strategy for long-term success? Implement systems.

If you think about it, as soon as you set a goal, failure is built into the equation. Until you’ve reached the goal, you are in a perpetual state of failure. By human nature, this drains your energy or willpower to keep going. We live in an environment where distractions are all around us; making it easy to lose focus on doing the things that are critical to achieve the desired results. Our subconscious mind looks for opportunities to distract itself from being in that state of failure.

For example, you may resolve that you want to read more books. That’s the objective. You then set a goal that you want to read twelve books this year; the equivalent of one book per month.

At the end of January, you just finished your first book. Looking at this from the perspective of your goal, you are currently failing. This is despite the fact that you are on a pace to meet your goal. At this particular point in time, relative to the goal, you are eleven books short. Now, how do you feel about starting your next book? Chances are likely that your energy levels to start the next book are lower than they were when you started the first one.

Fast forward yourself to the end of March or, even further, the end of April. How do you think you’ll feel when you ask yourself the question, “Have I reached my goal?” Again, energy levels are likely depressed even further and distractions are likely piling up. Spring is here; summertime is around the corner. You may have even already “fallen off the wagon”, so to speak. Point being, when you are in a perpetual state of failure, your mind will continue to lose the necessary energy to continue.

So, now what?

Start thinking about implementing systems. Let’s go back to our example. Instead of setting the goal to read twelve books this year, commit yourself to a system of simply reading for one hour, three days a week before bed. The average adult can read about 200 words per minute. The average book is about 64,000 words. So, if you follow your system and make this a habit, you’ll end up reading nearly 30 books over the course of a year!

From a business perspective, what does this say? If you are a business owner, you may say that your objective this year is to grow your business. You set a goal to increase your sales by 15%. But until your sales people sell the same dollar figure as last year, plus an additional 15%, they are in a perpetual state of failure. How will you motivate them to keep going when their subconscious may keep directing them towards the day-to-day firefighting that doesn’t advance them towards the goal?

The better strategy would be to implement a system for your sales people that, if followed, will achieve the objective. For example, to reach the 15% sales growth objective, you determine your company needs to add roughly 30 new clients. For a sales person, that may translate into needing to make 15-20 phone calls to leads per day. Getting into the habit of making 15-20 calls per day is much more manageable from a maintaining energy and focus perspective.

The momentum gained from this process is why I’ve stopped setting goals and started building systems for success. Goals have an expiration date. Systems go on in perpetuity.

Posted in Blog, Insights, LRC Blog.