Taming the Fear Around Goals

“I just hate goals!”  Barbara, a successful client of mine, was sitting with me sipping an afternoon latte. “First, I’m never sure how to express them, but more than that, I’m afraid that I won’t achieve them, do I just don’t set them. I have a general sense of what direction my business is going, so I just keep working.”

Oh, here we go again, I thought. I’d heard this lament from several leaders at small organizations – a fear of goals and just letting the business or organization move forward (or backward) naturally.  And sooner or later, the leader gets frustrated because where the organization is isn’t where the leader wants the organization to be.

Being a goal-oriented person myself, I found this puzzling.  What was it about goal setting that was so off-putting to so many people?  What did this say about me?  What did this say about them?  More importantly, what did it say about the overwhelming sense of burden that goals create for many people?

The word goal is defined as the result or achievement toward which effort is directed.  This got me thinking.  Do we set goals in daily life?  Well, have you ever gone on vacation?

Did you do some research and planning before deciding where to go? Well, when you made your vacation location choice, you established a goal. Yep, a goal is simply a destination.  Someplace you want to go; to experience.

Your goal can be big or small.  Long-term or short-term. Personal or professional. Think of it like a place. There’s a lot of information out there about goals.  Just put “how to write a goal” into Google and you’ll get more than 200 million results. Now that’s goal overload. So let’s keep it simple.

A good goal is something you are committed to. There needs to be a reason behind why this is an important destination. And there must be a desire to get there.  When you were a kid and you were going to the beach, there was a reason. Maybe it was to go swimming or go fishing or spend time with your cousins.  And desire? Well, if you were like me, we couldn’t wait to get there. We were excited. And that’s how a strong goal should make us feel.  Energized, excited and even a little anxious.

Most information on goals tells us to make them SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. That’s five factors to deal with and, in talking with friends and clients who are goal reluctant, having to work with these five factors seems to make things feel heavy and complex.  Once again, let’s make it simple.

If we are going to the beach, we have to decide which beach. Where is the beach located? That’s the specific factor. Done! And since we know why we want to go there, we have the relevant piece handled. When do we want to go to the beach? Today? Next Wednesday? On the 4th of July? If we can nail down the when, the “T” in SMART is done. Can we actually get to the beach? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s attainable. And finally, how will we know if we were successful? That’s your measure.

It’s really not scary to set a goal.  We do it all the time. We just don’t realize it. Deciding what to have for dinner tonight is setting a goal.  It important to eat to maintain our health, well-being and energy.  Relevant? Check! And as you decide what to eat (even if you elect to go out or bring in pizza) and when to eat, you’ve begun to use the five factors. Stop for a minute and look how it fits into SMART guidelines.

So be confident. Set a goal. Experiment with it and start small.

“Ok, ok,” Barbara replied after we talked about the parallel between vacations and goal setting. “Maybe it’s not about setting the goal.  Maybe it’s about getting there. You know, achieving the goal. That’s what’s scary.  Sometimes the goal seems so big and so far away. I don’t really know where and how to start.”  “Ah,” I said, “that makes sense.” And that’s the subject of our next blog. Stay tuned.