Friday, 8 January 2016

Scoring an Own-Goal in Life and Learning

Well if ever there was a time of year to talk about goals it inevitably seems to come up around the start of a new year... I've got issues with this and I'll come on to them shortly, but for now let's take a look at goals, what they are and how to avoid putting the ball in the back of your own net (football anecdote - soccer to some of you too).  These days it's pretty trendy to have goals all round isn't it?  The look of horror and disgust on your friends' faces if you admit to drifting through an entire year without having a well-defined and documented personal goal - let alone the work goals.

Now before I get too far in to this let me start by saying I've got nothing against goals - in football it's frustrating and sometimes even depressing sitting through 90 minutes without one - but I do believe we have a tendency to over-analyse and put too much detail in to our goals.  We had a discussion on this on #pkmchat this week and I couldn't help but be drawn back to when I was a child and had my heart set on being a stunt-man like my childhood hero Lee Majors in The Fall Guy.  It was fairly well articulated in that I was happy to discuss it with anyone who cared to listen, but I didn't have a ten-step plan and neither, as it turned out, was it terribly realistic.  Does that mean my 'goal' aged 7 was a bad one? Probably, but maybe not for the reasons we may have it pegged as.

Firstly if you really want to do your goals an injustice make them really easy and if possible really un-inspiringly dull.  If my goal at 7 was to be able to ride a bike or walk to the shops I would have achieved the goal, ticked it off and reaped the awards.  Well, kinda.  I did those
things and sometimes little things were an achievement both back then and now - but if I was always going to achieve them then putting them as a goal seems pointless.  I might as well have said breathe in and out was a goal (one I'm glad to still be achieving at this point at least).  If your work goal is to hit a target that you know you're going to make easily regardless of how much effort you put in, then well, yes, it's a pointless exercise that really doesn't make you a better person or worker.  On the flip side of that there's a certain futility in setting goals that you'll never achieve.  I'm a bit of a dreamer so I'm all for those big hairy audacious goals that will really push you, but if you set them in the realm of those that you know in your heart you'll never do then they're a de-motivator rather than a motivator.

Modern self-help literature may have told you that it's essential that you write down your goal and tell as many people as possible to increase chances of success.  This definitely can hold some truth, particularly if you often lack self-motivation, but it really does depend on what your goal is and how you want to achieve it.  I do think it's daft to make a goal, write it down and tell everyone about it and then just not bother to do much about it. You'd be better off keeping it to yourself and achieving than sharing and doing nothing.  In fact, whilst we're on the whole achieving or not thing, it's great to share what you're doing and how it's going, but don't just share when things go well, we learn and get so much from what we don't achieve, particularly when we try to do our best and still don't meet the targets we set.  You may not achieve what you set out to do, but often the achieving of goals is less important than what we've learnt along the way... so if you're after that own-goal again try making sure your goal is totally achievable (if not easy as above) and that you brag like hell about it after you get there.

Make it complicated! Everyone knows that the more complex and clever sounding a thing is the better it must be. Don't go for simple goals like 'do a bungee jump', make sure it's a specific type of jump involving a bunch of conditions, the right temperature, participating friends, the right location, before the 15 December this year, the time of day, the colour of the rope etc etc.  In fact, here we go, let's make it SMART - you all know that acronym right? Specific (tick), Measurable (tick), Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.  Inwardly I groan at these type of things that we've been taught from day one it seems.  Don't get me wrong, there are times we need to get specific and we need some conditions at time - but if I'd set this up and done a different bungee jump on the wrong coloured rope on the 18 December would my achievement of the goal be invalid?

You can only set goals in January.  Just remember that just like resolutions or changes of any sort we put aside a specific time for them and after that the window closes and you're doomed. Don't try and give me that flexibility mumbo-jumbo - you either get ready for the 1 Jan or forget it.

The end totally justifies the means - succeed at all costs.  Don't get drawn in to the journey argument, you know the only important thing is that you can tick off the goal at the end of the day/week/month/year.  Your success will be totally measured on the ability to achieve the original goal you set no matter what occurs.  Make sure your goal is set nicely in reinforced concrete - what good is a goal that changes with your life? I should be judged purely on my 7 year old goal (okay, it's closer to 40 years ago, but it was the goal I set back then) and it's pretty damn important that I make it to be a stunt-man or my whole life has been wasted. 

Okay, so tongue out of cheek, it's hopefully clear that we don't have to be super anal to set and use goals in life.  We have to remember a couple of things; firstly is that the idea of a goal is to inspire you to achieve something and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) the achievement of the goal itself isn't necessary the measure of success. On my failed career as a stunt-man I've actually enjoyed some of the learnings and hopefully had some positive influence without breaking as many bones.

Oh learning you say?  Well here's the thing, read all of the above and replace the word 'goal' with learning objectives and ask yourself if learning can take place without them?