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Goals: The Pros & Cons and How We Can Make Them More Effective

a woman writing a goal on a notepad.

Goals. They can either benefit us or hinder us. If you're wondering how so, as goals are always good, this is what I'll be exploring in this blog post and some ways to navigate them. 


The benefit of creating goals


There are many benefits of having and achieving goals and I'd say having a sense of direction is a big one. It's difficult to work towards something when you don't have an overall vision of what it is you want. Take my career for instance, I did different things (mainly in education), but I didn't feel I had the clarity, purpose or focus until I figured I wanted to be a coach (career and life). 


This direction and clarity allowed me to prioritize and make better decisions, other benefits of goals. When you know what you're aiming for, it becomes easier to decide what's important and what can be ditched or delayed.


There's a level of accountability too when making goals, either to yourself or others. It's also a way to measure and monitor your progress. Goals -by definition- are aspirational, a striving towards something, so it encourages personal and professional growth, a sense of achievement, motivation, and even resilience. You're more likely to deal with setbacks when you have a goal or long-term vision in mind, which strengthens your ability to deal with future difficulties.


The pitfalls of goals


As with most things, there's a downside to goals, however. How can this be? 


For starters, when setting goals there's generally an overemphasis on the outcome. If the result is not achieved then that can lead to disappointment, or a sense of failure, and the value of the journey, and what one learned, can be overlooked. 


This point is nicely illustrated in Dr. Russ Harris's YouTube video on Values vs Goals. Making the distinction between a goals-focused life and a values-focused life, the video shares the experience of two boys who are going to Disneyland. 


It's a three-hour drive and one boy is constantly asking "Are we there yet?" and "How much longer?" (goal/outcome focused). The other boy, having the same goal of getting to Disneyland, is connected to his values of curiosity, adventure and fun and enjoys looking out the window, seeing the different farmhouses, animals and vehicles and playing games along the way (values-focused). The second boy is appreciating the journey as he heads to Disneyland, it's fulfilling for him not frustrating as an overemphasis on goals or outcomes can be. 


Setting unrealistic goals doesn't help, doing this can lead to procrastination, overwhelm or burnout, feeling demoralized and, in some cases, excessive or unethical behaviour (doing whatever it takes to get the outcome). 


Setting goals can also contribute to rigidity and short-term focus. Strictly adhering to specific goals can cause inflexibility which affects the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. It can also lead to neglecting other important areas of life, such as relationships, health, or personal well-being. This reminds me of a friend of mine who wants to have a relationship and have a family, and has a lot of love to give, but is focused on being financially independent by 50. This goal, although lonely sometimes, comes before all else. 


 Also, some goals may emphasize short-term results at the expense of long-term sustainability, leading to decisions that are not beneficial in the long run.


Understanding the pitfalls of goals can help us be more effective and efficient in our day to day and lives. Here are some ways I have used to help me, and my clients, navigate goals: 


  • Start small. In all the habit books I read, every one suggested starting really small to get started. If a step or goal is too big, break it down to manageable steps (steps that are not overwhelming). For instance, if you want to do 30 minutes of yoga, start with setting your yoga mat first then work up to 30 minutes. Starting small is often more achievable and helps build momentum for more. 

  • Be realistic. It's great to imagine and want to "shoot for the stars," however, it's best to make achievable goals so you feel successful. You can then build on that. 

  • Be flexible. Despite having a goal in mind, some things are not in our control like the weather or an accident. If we mentally prepare ourselves that reaching our goal may not be as smooth as we hope, we are better equipped for roadblocks that come up. If you cannot do A, what you want, what's a close alternative to A? Building in some flexibility to your goal and having some plan Bs or Cs will help.  

  • Focus on habits. There are a lot of benefits of focusing on the habits to achieve your goal than the goal itself as often goals have end-points (a habit generally continues), it can reduce effort when presented with a new situation (a goal of saving requires self-discipline each time you make a purchase whereas setting up automatic savings -a habit- doesn't), and habits can compound (starting and maintaining a healthy habit can have wider impacts on our life e.g. quitting smoking can reduce the chances of lung cancer but also encourage other areas to be healthy in). 

  • Focus on values. Some of us can get in a trap of constant goal setting and achieving and not derive the satisfaction we hoped for as we're seeking extrinsic forms of validation as opposed to intrinsic ones. Connecting to your values will help you achieve more meaningful and sustainable goals.  

  • Focus on progress over perfection. We can often drop a goal if it doesn't live up to our expectations (think New Year goals here). If we turn our focus to progress, then we are more likely to continue a habit or goal. It keeps the momentum to continue. 

  • Imagine. It's difficult to strive for more or better if we don't see ourselves as the way we want to be. Identity is key in changing and identifying as a non-smoker or financially savvy person, as an example, will help keep our goals or habits. 

  • Have an accountability professional or buddy. If you're having difficulty keeping a goal or habit, seek an accountability professional like a coach or mentor or a buddy. We are more likely to follow through on something if we are accountable to someone else. 


Of course, there are other suggestions like making goals specific or time-bound, however, I feel the above suggestions provide a good basis to start and maintain meaningful goals. 


If you feel you need more support with your goals, you can apply for a Get Acquainted Call to see if I, as a career and life coach, can help. 





Ps. If you're wondering how a career or life coach can help you, check out How Can a Life Coach Help Me: 10 Reasons it May Be The Best Decision for You.

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