I’m going to make a humble and transparent acknowledgment. As a coach I used to feel like such a fraud when I worked with clients who are most excellent goal setters.
You know the people I am talking about, the ones who set very specific goals and then create their task list that will help them reach that goal and then actually follow it to the finish line!
I used to feel envious of those super organized and driven people and it made me feel even more deficient in the goal setting department. And what was even worse is when a client might occasionally ask, “So Cheryl, I’m curious about what other people do to set and stick to their goals. How do you do goal setting?”
After many years, I got the courage to say…I don’t!
I went on to qualify that statement. I don’t in the traditional way I was taught in all the many excellent goal setting workshops I attended over the years. Because for me, trying to follow a traditional method, wound up at some point, with me feeling like a failure.
I’d set up the great structure I was taught and then would follow it for about a week and then my daily structure would dwindle to a weekly or monthly attempt to follow and then…well you know the rest of the story…I would fail at keeping it up. Something seemed to keep getting in my way, holding me back, but I wasn’t sure what that something was.
One day, or it might have been one evening in a bar, not quite sure which setting inspired the conversation…a piece of information was share with me by a very wise colleague or one of my coach instructors from CTI or ORSC or one of the many wise mentors I have been fortunate to have over the years.
Apologies to that person as I can’t for the life of me remember which wise sage shared this most important perspective. (So please, if it is you, let me know and I will give you full credit! And know how much you impacted my life with this one perspective.)
This person said, “What if you set a goal and hold it lightly?”
I did not quite get it at first, so we did some more exploration. Okay, now I’m pretty sure the setting was a bar!
“Here’s the thing about goal setting,” Amazing Person X shared, “By setting a goal it starts you on a certain path. You would not be on that path if you had not set that goal. The trick is, to stay conscious as you journey along that path.
So many people and companies set goals and then get tunnel vision. Along that path there may be many obstacles, roadblocks and more paths that veer off in other directions. There might be new information that comes in along the way.
Just by virtue of being on that path and encountering those obstacles, other paths, and new information, you have the opportunity to make different choices. Those choices are there to help you get clearer about what you really want. At some point along that path, what you first thought was your end goal, might not be it at all.
But if you hadn’t picked that end goal, you wouldn’t have been on that path, and then you wouldn’t have gotten clearer or seen that other path that can take you to a different place.”
Could it be that this was what was holding me back?
Exploring this New ‘Goal Setting’ Perspective
I started to pay closer attention to the conversations with others around setting goals.
Many conversations ensued with colleagues and clients around goal setting and inevitably what we talked more about than the methodology was the ‘why’ of the goals they were setting for themselves.
- Why do you want that particular job?
- What’s important to you about attaining that position?
- Why do you want to work in that industry?
- What’s driving you in that direction?
- What do you imagine will happen once you reach that goal?
- What will you regret if you don’t pursue that opportunity?
- Why do you want to start that company?
- Why do you want to take the company in that direction?
Exploring the ‘why’ is where the next aha moment came from. Perhaps I wasn’t so much resisting the goal setting methodology (writing it down, reading it daily, creating action plans, etc.) but I was resisting the ‘written in stone’ perspective.
The perspective that once it is written then anything other than achieving that specific goal translated into failure to achieve my goals. Perhaps the resistance was in feeling that something was missing from the equation for me. The missing piece was the ‘WHY! Mindblowing!
Now this might not be mindblowing for you, but for me in that moment it was. The perspective I held up until that point is that if you set a goal and didn’t reach it, that equaled failure. However, getting tunnel vision while pursuing a goal can have far dire consequences.
Here’s a couple of examples where tunnel vision in goal setting led to some very unwanted consequences:
Coca-Cola had a goal of competing with Pepsi. The company got so focused on that goal that they did not listen to their own customer research. What resulted in 1985 was the release of a product called New Coke and according to analysts it “remains one of the greatest product failures in history.”
Another example where tunnel vision goal setting was detrimental to the company was when Ford challenged its employees to create a car "under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000" within a specific time limit.
That very specific goal plus the short time limit lead to employees overlooking safety features and safety testing n the process of designing the infamous ‘exploding Pinto’. Unfortunately, 53 people lost their lives due to this example of goal setting tunnel vision.
Applying this New ‘Goal Setting’ Perspective
My Amazing Person X said, “Set a goal and hold it lightly!” This year in particular, setting a goal and being flexible has been a key ingredient in pivoting both personal and business goals!
So how do we set goals and avoid tunnel vision?
- As you set goals, explore the WHY! Why do you want to reach that goal? What are you hoping for? What’s the intended outcome for yourself, your team, your customer?
- Set up a system of checks and balances. Invite another person or team to challenge your perspective, your why, your process and systems for achieving the goal. By looking at the goal from different perspectives you can avoid putting on the blinders of tunnel vision.
- Stay conscious! This article shares how tunnel vision can impact what we see and what we hear. “A study performed on youngsters revealed that they didn’t perceive approximately half of the visual cues provided while walking and texting at the same time.” When presented with new information…stop and open your eyes and ears! When we are obsessed with achieving a specific goal it can make us blind to new opportunities.
- Continually go back to your WHY. What might have been different if Coca-Cola and Ford had continually checked in with their ultimate reasons for wanting to achieve the goals they did?
Bruce Lee said,
“A goal is not always something to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at!”
We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and tips for goal setting resisters!
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