It was Tony Robbins who said, "Goal setting is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible."
Now, I'm certainly not here to argue with the importance of setting goals. For many, goal setting brings clarity to decision making and helps sharpen its focus. It can make your dreams and desires attainable in a measurable, structured way. You've probably even heard of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)--those lofty, compelling goals used to incite major change, typically in organizations.
Yes, goal setting has many benefits.
Alongside the oft-mentioned pros, though, there are some adverse side effects to goal setting, particularly for stressed-out, time-constrained entrepreneurs.
You may not realize it, but you could be sabotaging your own growth efforts. Here are five insidious ways goal setting can suck the life out of you:
1. You May be Focusing on the Wrong Things
Entrepreneurs have to think fast on their feet. Market conditions can change quickly and you have to stay in position to react.
One of the adverse side effects of goals is that they can result in a bit of tunnel vision. The authors of a Harvard Business School paper called Goals Gone Wild warn that the use of goal setting can actually cause a shift in focus, away from important but unspecified goals.
At the end of the day, will you feel a sense of accomplishment if you've achieved one goal, but at the expense of another important area of your fledgling business?
2. Goal Setting Can Breed Dishonesty
The authors of Goals Gone Wild also cautioned that when people fail to achieve their goals, a "significant portion" lie to make up the difference between their actual accomplishment and the anticipated outcome.
Now, in organizations, this can erode a culture of honesty and trust. But think about how it can affect your efforts as an entrepreneur--you answer only to yourself (and possibly your staff and funders). Even if you could stomach living with the lie, what happens if you're exposed? Worse, how can you move forward making good decisions if you're lying to yourself?
3. Goals Imply All or Nothing
Ray Williams wrote in Psychology Today, "Goal setting sets up an either-or polarity of success. The only true measure can either be 100% attainment or perfection, or 99% and less, which is failure."
This all-or-nothing mentality can keep us from recognizing smaller or more gradual successes. You're going to have plenty of missteps and failures in your entrepreneurial path--do you really need to set yourself up to feel like there are more of them?
4. You Can't Control Everything
This can be a really tough pill for entrepreneurs to swallow. You're probably a motivated, driven person and you have this vision in your head of how things will look once you accomplish your goal. In order to get there, you've probably set out some kind of process. You know what this is going to look like and how you'll feel once you achieve it. Awesome, right?
Except for this on little, annoying issue: you can't control everything. As an entrepreneur, there are thousands of things happening around you that are either somewhat or completely beyond your control. Random forces of chance, market conditions, competitors, current events, and social trends can all wreak havoc with your plans.
It can be disheartening for entrepreneurs to see their goals slipping away with nothing they can do about it. Don't set yourself up to feel powerless.
5. Failure Can Be Demotivating Over Time
In his book Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time, Aubrey Daniels cites a study showing the individuals experience a decline in performance when they repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals.
As an entrepreneur, you are your own manager. Are you setting yourself up for failure and the inevitable bad feelings that come with it? It could be that your goals are too specific (or not specific enough), or that they're too lofty or unrealistic.
If goal setting and the process of trying to achieve those goals don't get you revved up and motivated, what is it supposed to accomplish?
Make Sure You're Setting the Right Types of Goals
If you're struggling with any of the adverse side effects of goal setting outlined above, try a new strategy. We're often encouraged to set outcome goals; that is, you're striving to achieve a certain outcome.
Set process goals, instead. These focus on the technique or strategy you need to perform well, rather than achieving this one thing, at this specific point in time.
Jim Bouton, retired MLB player and author, simply recommends, "Forget goals. Value the process."
At the end of the day, improving your processes and focusing your energy there can only help build your business. Cut all of the emotion and uncertainty out of the equation.