As the end of the year approaches, many of us turn our attention to defining our next big achievement; new areas of focus; things we want to check off our list next year. But what if goal-setting isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be?
A Harvard Business School Study found goal setting can create a narrow focus that neglects other areas; cause a rise in unethical behavior, erode the organization culture, and reduce intrinsic motivations. The authors of the study suggest goal setting should be treated like pharmaceuticals, carefully dosed with attention to harmful side effects and under close supervision. It is with this research in mind that we consider goal setting for the new year.
We know that goal setting can be an effective way to create ease, meaning and joy in our work lives. We also know that there are strategies for increasing the likelihood we will achieve our goals. For example, writing down goals increases the chances of achieving them by 42%; people who follow a schedule of actions to achieve a goal are 76% more likely to achieve their goals; and presenting weekly progress reports to a supportive audience increases our success rate 40%.
Given all of this data and the importance of carefully choosing goals, what is a woman to do about goals? Spoiler Alert – work on identifying and setting goals for more of what you want in your life. It is important to be very intentional about what you are creating because we know that goals are also limiting.
Step 1 – Make a list of what’s important – consider the financial and professional aspects of life; consider relationships, and of course physical, spiritual, emotional well-being. For example, what is important may be more time with friends; or more financial security; or more engagement with community.
Step 2 – Ask “why is this important?” for each item on your list. If more time with friends is on the list – answer the why. Is it because friends are fun, supportive, interesting? If you want more money in savings, ask why? Does more financial security allow you to be better prepared and feel safer? Does engaging with the community give a sense of purpose or meaning? Maybe it just feels good to contribute.
Step 3 – Use the answers to identify your values. The answers give us insight into the values behind what we want. What we want may reflect that we value comfort, or fun, or helping others – or whatever.
Step 4 – Use your values to set your goals. If we set goals in the context of our values, we are more likely to succeed in creating more of what we want in our lives. Our goals should engage and inspire us.
2023 is an opportunity to create more ease, meaning and joy in our lives – goal setting is one way to intentionally direct our energy and resources.
Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting – Working Paper – Faculty & Research – Harvard Business School
Compared to men, women view professional advancement as equally attainable, but less desirable | Gender Action Portal (harvard.edu)