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Setting vague goals can be counter-productive for personal development March 17, 2012

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Goal Setting and Realization.
Tags: , , , , ,

Setting goals and realizing them is a key component of any program of personal development or personal growth. Without specific tangible goals our self-improvement efforts may be no more than an unfocused positive thinking exercise.

Before we explore the concept of setting goals, however, we need to ask ourselves why we need to set goals in the first place. Why don’t we just get things done and move on to a new task or project? Why for example would we need to set a goal to realize the accomplishment of a particular circumstance that needs to be dealt with? For that matter, why do we need to have a personal development or growth program?

The answer I think lies in the complexity our lives have assumed in recent years. We have the same needs for success in various areas that people have always had: earning a living, contributing to the community, raising our children, looking after our family, assisting our parents if they are elderly, paying taxes, and on, and on, and on. It has been like this for hundreds of years in human history.

But what has changed in recent years is that in each of these areas of responsibility, the requirements for success are much more detailed than in the past. Each component of our life responsibilities has many more areas of concern in which we must be successful compared with even ten years ago. The result is that in effect we now have to look on our lives as a management project in which concepts such as scheduling, setting priorities, and time management are critical. Therefore we feel compelled to set goals that we need to accomplish.

Let’s look at the growing complexity of the component of our life that we call “our work”, for example, which has become very complicated compared with only a few years ago. Meetings, deadlines, interpersonal relationships, productivity targets, key result areas, performance improvement, and employee evaluations; each involving, of course, many separate tasks and timetables.

Faced with all this detail that needs to be dealt with, we turn to the concept of personal development and personal growth programs and then discover that setting goals is going to be an important part of that process. But some of the required goals we need to set seem very difficult to execute or deal with on a daily basis. How then do we go about successfully meeting these growth challenges we establish for ourselves? The answer lies in the old question: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” That may seem simplistic, but let’s examine the idea.

In establishing our goals in our personal development program we need to ensure that they are specific and embody measurable objectives. While the overall objective of a personal growth program may be to improve our effectiveness and confidence in dealing with the situations and challenges that life presents to us, such an overall goal is not easily measurable, other than subjectively.

The danger in not being able to concretely measure a goal we have set for ourselves is that we will not be able to see specific progress on a goal and might become discouraged because of the apparent lack of moving forward in our program.

Measuring a major goal that has been set means more than simply either achieving the goal or not achieving it. If an overall goal is too broad or large to be realized all at once, or quickly, it is better to break down such major gaols down into smaller sub-goals, ideally with timeframes or deadlines for completing each of the sub-goals that we have set for ourselves to complete.

A major goal we may have set could be overcoming a habit of procrastination. Again this is a difficult goal to quantify unless we reach a certain point in our lives when we no longer procrastinate anything and can say we have definitively cured ourselves of that habit.

The sub-goals we could set for overcoming procrastination could be to simply list the things we have been procrastinating, and then tackle them one by one, breaking down if necessary the items on our list into even smaller goals or tasks.  We can then feel we are accomplishing something in the overall goal we have set of dealing with things we have been putting off.


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