Why goals could be counter-productive.

Goal setting

New Year, New Ideas





If you are active on-line, your inbox has probably been filled with two types of Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays or Happy New Year emails.

Sincere ones from people you know socially or through business, who prefer to send their greetings digitally rather than by the time-honoured and much appreciated actual Christmas cards. (The ones that are made of card, sent by mail and arrive in an envelope with a stamp). A much larger number from people you do not know personally but have had some contact with on-line. Perhaps publishers of newsletters or blogs which you follow, providers of services, email marketers who have got you on their lists, social media “friends”.

Despite regular, drastic purges of my email newsletter subscriptions, this year I still received many seasonal greeting emails from people with whom I have no real connection. It was particularly irritating this year, as being away from home and trying to keep my email in box from overflowing using an unfamiliar tablet, I resented the time it took. That left me with a negative impression of some of the senders.

While appreciating the good wishes, the cynic in me reflects how easy it is to send out these greetings using an autoresponder.

For those reasons, I no longer send a mass email greeting to my subscribers. I do not want to add to the flood of emails you will probably delete without reading.

As I was away for the two weeks immediately before Christmas and trying hard not to work, I did not publish a “Happy Christmas” blog post either. However, I do hope you had an enjoyable Christmas break and wish you the very best for 2014.

Other over exploited subjects at this time of year are, reflecting on the year just over and goal setting.

Both are important, I have published posts on them before: Heretical thoughts on Goal Setting and Last Year’s Archives.

Recently, I have come to believe that both can be double-edged swords, that spending too much time on them could be counter-productive. Reflecting on what we did or did not achieve in the previous 12 months can become an exercise in making excuses, justifying failure. From there, it is easy to lower our sights for the next 12 months, create more modest goals and handicap our efforts before we even start the year properly.

There is also the downside to positive thinking and affirmations, that by trying to convince ourselves that goals are about to be achieved, we can fail to take the action necessary to achieve them. Or, while believing in them on one level, we know that we are lying to ourselves on another, the result being an exercise in futility and the same failure to take action.

So this year between Christmas and New Year, I did not spend hours analysing what I did not do well, just a quick review, acknowledged that I could have done better in many areas, that I spent too much time on unproductive stuff and not enough on a few key areas. Even though I spent far less time on the exercise than in previous years, I still learned valuable lessons, it was still worthwhile.

Like wise with setting goals for the new year and beyond, I have kept it simple, a few key goals that will make a big difference to my life. A one page simple vision statement to keep me on track each morning. A determination to use time more effectively.

I keep getting reminded that some of the major achievements and discoveries throughout history have been made by people who did not spend time developing nicely worded goals, they just went out and did what they needed to do. When I decided to run an ultra-marathon, I did not write that goal down, just held it in my mind and ran the distance I needed to run each day in training.


That’s why I believe the goal setting exercise is important but not one to spend too much time on. I will not be joining the herd of bloggers, social media subscribers and other experts currently writing about the art of goal setting for 2014.

Goals, written or not, stupendous or modest, realistic or wildly optimistic, are only achieved by taking action, not by reading carefully produced lists every day.

My goal setting advice for 2014 is simple, decide what you want in life and do something everyday towards achieving it. If reading your list of goals every morning works for you, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, or if it prevents you taking action, change your approach to setting and reviewing your goals. Find what works for you.

Here is how my year has already started on a high note.

I have two sons, one in Canada and one still in Zimbabwe. The elder has two children by a first marriage, he remarried a year ago and his new wife produced a son on January 1st. My younger son in Zimbabwe left it late to find the right woman and even longer to start a family, their first child, a daughter arrived about 16 hours later, yesterday, on January 2nd. Both babies and mothers are well, fathers sound a bit excited but are expected to recover.

How many people get two new grandchildren within 24 hours in the first two days of the year?

Being the eternal optimist, I take that as a sign that 2014 is going to be a wonderful year for me. I sincerely believe that you can make it the same for you.

Peter Wright


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  1 comment for “Why goals could be counter-productive.

  1. Roberta
    January 4, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I do not do New Year’s Resolutions. Have not for 25 years or more. What I do is make goals on a daily , weekly, or monthly basis depending on what the goal is. And they change as events on the ground change or warrent. I am not suggesting anyone adopt what I do. This just works for me. I think everyone has to find what works for them.
    I like your new goal setting idea as expressed here – do what makes you happy.
    Congratulations on the two grand children. How wonderful!!!
    Wishing you the happiest of New Years, Peter.

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