Setting goals is only half the battle, or maybe even less: Once you figure out what you want or where you want to be, you have to figure out the strategy you’ll use to get there. Imagining that you already tried and failed, for example, can help you become more attuned to the potential pitfalls you may face. Or focus on the process, not the outcome, by breaking a larger goal down into more manageable pieces. Or avoid situations where you might be tempted to undo your own progress.
Or, as writer Stephanie Vozza recently argued in Fast Company, you could try ditching the concept of goals altogether. “Goals can lead to undesirable behaviors and unintended consequences,” she wrote. “Could a more haphazard approach actually be better?”
Her answer: Yes, if you can make room for some spontaneity. It’s not ambition that can backfire, she wrote; it’s the single-minded pursuit of it. A goal is fixed; our needs and desires, on the other hand, are constantly in flux, and an objective that made sense last year or last week may no longer mesh as well with who we want to be or what we want to accomplish. “Sometimes we forget what’s important to us,” Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who studies goal-setting, told Vozza. “But this changes over time”:
Instead of asking yourself if you’re meeting your goals, Galinsky suggests asking, “Am I meeting my preferences? Writing those down can be helpful because it allows you to not lose track of it,” he says. “It’s okay to have goals and then make your decisions consistent. Understanding your own preferences and what you want is critical, and it’s how you avoid making mistakes. But the value gets lost when you say things like, ‘Three years from now I will be assistant vice president.’ People get too strategic.”
In other words: When you’re going after what you want, make sure it’s still, truly, what you want. If not, it’s fine — good, even — to let it go.