It’s that time again: New Year’s Resolutions. These are promises made to be broken – proof positive of a fundamental flaw in one’s character.
This year I bought myself a Fitbit for Christmas. This wrist band device counts steps taken with a default goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day. This number is supposed to be a good rule of thumb for a minimum amount of daily exercise. Now the pressure is on. Will I meet my daily goal?
I am ambivalent about the value of goals. Of course, I am ambivalent about many, if not most, things, hence the name of this blog “The Middle Ground”.
Like many of you, I have a “to do” list that never seems to get shorter. Even now that I am retired my list is way longer than the time or money available to satisfy it. I plug away at the list and occasionally “Check one off.” But I am not sure if I am actually achieving what I should. Am I meeting my goals?
So I do see some value in having quantifiable or at least identifiable goals. Did I get it done or not? How many times did I actually do what I said I would? Is there more that I should be doing?
Goals can also help me in making daily choices about how I spend my time and money. I can ask myself, “Which choice will get me closer to my goal?” Often having a goal sets up a “yes” or “no” choice that is easier for me to make.
The Fitbit keeps me honest by actually counting the steps I have taken. I may think I have done a good deal of exercise, but then I push a button and see that I am significantly below my 10,000 step goal. This goal motivates me to get off my butt and take an evening stroll.
And yet there are things that bother me about goals.
People and organizations I have known or been a part of set goals using metrics that are easy to count: Quarterly sales, enlistments, re-enlistments, revenue, income, repetitions, miles, pounds, membership, and even attendance in church.
Yet even the best metrics always seem to miss something qualitative. I know skinny people who don’t look healthy; I’ve seen revenue manipulated to influence quarterly performance/stock prices; I’ve seen that money alone does not buy peace of mind or happiness; and I have even known people who go to church regularly who are really not good people. The goals may have been met, but all was not as it should be.
Setting goals seems to force me into comparing myself with others. “Ryk lost 50 pounds, surely I can lose 25.” Comparing myself to others then sets up a competitive situation. Being competitive (and winning) is great fun in games and pretty much mandatory in war, but in all other aspects of life I find collaboration and cooperation much more effective, productive, and rewarding.
Goals that involve “beating” someone else just don’t give me satisfaction. Competition also makes me a loser. Even if I “win” more than I lose, I am still a loser at some point. Why be a loser at all?
Even the most successful businesses don’t really “beat” the competition, they find markets where there is no competition and offer goods or services no one else has. They didn’t “win” the game, they invented a new game.
You can’t really set a goal when there is nothing previous against which to measure. You kind of know success when you see it. That’s more like having a vision than a goal.
People who have made a significant difference in our world in my life time such as Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Einstein, have been innovative and have stretched old limits, but there successes were not exactly “goal based”. They did not even know the limits of their personal impact, so how could they have defined a goal? Value based, yes. Goal based, no.
And having multiple goals makes for more difficult decision making: “Do I keep my budget goal for the month or buy this fitness device that will help me with my weight loss goal?
Of course I could set a singular goal like an Olympic athlete does. Then the decisions would be easier, but I fear becoming very one dimensional which I have become at various times in my life. I don’t look back on those times fondly.
“So which is it Jim, goals or no goals?”
I plan to continue to use goals and “to do” lists but not beat myself up if I don’t make them.
“Oh, so just want to be let off the hook if you don’t make your goal?”, you might ask or, “You must be willing to settle for mediocrity?”
Hmmm, those are good questions.
The school book answer (and a pretty weak one) is something like, “I will review my goals periodically and adjust them based on new circumstances and updated information.” I have used answer that in the past but it never really seemed quite honest. It is basically a BS answer.
A better answer has something to do with focusing on values and having a moral compass. I’ll work on that answer and get back to you in a future post to this blog.
Take CARE Always,