The other day I was listening to a speaker that I really admire and they were talking about goals. They talked about sitting down and setting over one hundred goals.
They talked about how important it was to do this and how most people never write down any goals, which means they keep them in the wish arena rather than concrete goals.
While I appreciate the idea of setting goals, I did think that this particular advice was a little misguided. If we take someone that has a history of complacency and has never set goals and have them write down over one hundred goals, they are likely going to get overwhelmed and not hit any of their goals.
The reason is simple. We have to focus on change and make sure we change our habits and the key systematic elements of our life in order to really find sustained success. If we skip this and instead just list a bunch of goals and hope we get there, it isn’t much different than simply wishing for things to change.
In How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, he analyzes human brain functioning. In one section he says, “If the mind were an infinitely powerful organ, a limitless supercomputer without constraints, then rational analysis would always be the ideal decision-making strategy.”
In other words, our brain has flaws in the way it operates and causes us to use a combination of emotions and logic. This means that sometimes emotions or logic get the best of us and moves us to the wrong answer instead of the correct one.
He goes on to say, “The biological reality of the brain, however, is that it’s severely bounded, a machine subject to all sorts of shortcomings.” Then he quotes psychologist George Miller from his famous essay, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.”
Miller states, “There seems to be some limitation built into us by the design of our nervous systems, a limit that keeps our channel capacities in this general range” (Seven, plus or minus two).
So if we decide to set one hundred goals, we are trying to have our brain focus too widely and will likely result in failure. Instead we could make the list of our goals and THEN narrow it down to a smaller number. This would allow us to focus our efforts, thoughts, energy, etc. on these few goals. We can then have the focus necessary to keep going with our goal and change the habits and routines in our lives that most likely need to be adjusted in order to reach the goal.
So if you are leading a team at work and coming up with objectives, or you are setting goals for you personally, remember to take the time to focus what it is you are working on. Find the most impactful goals, or the lowest hanging fruit or some way to limit the number of things that you are trying to do. If you don’t you will likely find yourself jumping from thing to thing and not making real progress towards any of them.