Why Setting Goals Undermines Success and Erodes Happiness

What are you going to accomplish this year? Or perhaps at this point, a better question might be, what were you going to accomplish?

Have you already given up that plan to lose ten pounds? Is making a million still on the table? If you’re like most people, you set your sights high. Living up to those aspirations, is more challenging though.

One reason so many of us fail to achieve our goals is because of the way we frame our objectives. It’s a human habit to frame goals in terms of what you want to accomplish. We have a tendency to talk about goals in reference to their outcome. In other words, a do goal; it’s an end game with little or no reference to the behaviors involved in achieving a goal.

You’re more effective framing goals in terms of what you want to be; it’s a nuanced difference with game-changing implications, for organizations and individuals.

Let’s look at a simple example; the age-old resolution to lose 10 pounds is often abandoned by January, after little to no progress. Instead of a “do goal,” lose 10 lbs., framing it as a “be goal,” of wanting to be healthier, provides more daily motivation. You can be healthier right away. You can also stay (mostly) healthy with lots of small choices. Losing weight shifts from being the goal, to becoming an indicator of how well you are being the person you want to be.

This is an important difference. The way we establish and talk about our goals is a determinate in how we act upon them. The same thing applies to organizations. Organizations will say, we want to get our productivity to X level, or we want to achieve a certain dollar figure.

Those are worthy goals, but they’re a fixed point in time. If you want to be a market leader, you can start acting like that now. It gives your people a template to modify their behavior. So, instead of saying “We want to get our revenue to X by this date” try, “We want to be a better resource to our customers.” When your goal is to be a better resource for customers, you’re more likely to send helpful articles, ask better questions, and be a better listener. These behaviors will be what drives the revenue increase. They’re Be goals. Be goals make it easer for leaders to say, this is how we want to be, to get where we want to go. Be goals are easier to add to your daily life than an overwhelming “generate a 30% revenue increase, somehow, somewhere.”

Framing a goal in terms of behavior, instead of outcome, also saves you from the fear of not hitting a specific target. I’m all about the numbers, be they on a scale or a spreadsheet, but they are derivatives of your behavioral patterns.

So, this year, if you have a goal, be it personal or professional, try framing it in terms of outcome. Want to lose 10 pounds? Make your New Year’s resolution to be healthier. Want to make more money? Set a Be goal resolution to add more value to your customers, and outreach to more prospects. Instead of narrowly focusing on what you want to do, the outcome, focus on who you want to be, the behavior.

Who do you want to be? If you aspire to be healthy and rich, start acting that way today.

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