Use Your Head To Save Your Tears: The Pitfalls of Setting Goals

Up to about a hundred years ago self-improvement was about physical exercise and reading books. Exercise for sporting prowess and books to learn. Then, in 1936, Dale Carnegie pretty much invented the self-improvement genre with the publication of How To Win Friends and Influence People. That book went on to become one of the best-selling books of all time and sowed seeds for the millions of self-improvement books that followed. But little was said about the pitfalls of setting Goals.

All the self-improvement books, courses and seminars we see today share a common characteristic which is to help get to a different life situation. An admirable intent with many, many people helped over the years.

Sometimes though, we see ambition get the better of common sense with extreme focus on goals taking on a life of its own, creating friction and unhappiness with those around.

So what’s a good approach to keep moving forward in a constructive way without damaging other aspects of our lives and relationships? How do we climb or float to the top at work, spent lots of time at our sport or see every movie and still have non-work friends, a happy family and our health?

Success is getting what you want..
Happiness is wanting what you get.

Dale Carnegie


So, let’s look at how to keep our plans for the future holistically aligned with the rest of our lives.

The Importance of Quality and Meaning ?

What are you trying to achieve? I don’t mean losing 10 pounds in 10 days eating only cabbage or learning a new language in only three weeks. I mean why is now not fine as it is? How will the plan make you a happier person? Is it really that important? And, most importantly, how will it impact those around you? Colleagues, partner, children, friends and pet dog or cat?

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.

Maya Angelou


Do make sure you plans your own and not from work or a web site. What would you do with your time if you had all the money you would ever need? If you’re busy, ditch some time guzzling activities to get more time in your day.

Understanding Cause and Effect

To be honest, a lot of ‘success’ books are just nonsense. It’s true that many successful people are ambitious, motivated and committed but — and this is crucial — these qualities are usually effects, not causes. It doesn’t matter how motivated and committed you are, if you are doing all the wrong things, you’ll never succeed.

As an exercise, have some fun and try reversing cause and effect. Sometimes it’ll make you laugh and other times it’ll make you wonder.

Top of the list is whether success causes happiness or happiness causes success? If it’s the latter then being nice, getting on with people and doing what you love is really important.

Relax and Do Your Best

Your best varies day to day, week to week and month to month therefore some days your best will be a lot better than other days. It’s good to recognise this and give yourself a break on the bad days. C’est la vie, shit happens, tomorrow is another day.

The Limits of Control

People can be imaginative, inventive, skilled and strongminded yet despite the best planning and preparation there’s always the unexpected. We can train and plan for what we know we don’t know (the known unknowns); it’s the unknown unknowns that test our mettle.

And Finally

Like the stream flowing round a rock or the tree bending in the storm, flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances is key. So, if the airport goes on strike, a volcano erupts, stocks crash, you lose your phone or anything else happens to throw a spanner in the works, keep thinking of the big picture and don’t overreact. Just use up some contingency time or money and take it in your stride. It’s only one of the unknown unknowns showing itself.


You may enjoy The Misdirection of Self-Improvement

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