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Friday, 2 October 2009

10 Reasons Why Goal Setting is Harmful

Just say NO to this crap!

For decades goal setting has been promoted as the best way to amp up motivation and increase performance. It is as prevalent in the 'health and fitness' industry as it is in the corporate world. Advocates state that you won't achieve any success unless you have S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, a? can't remember actionable, realistic, timely) goals.

I disagree. The practice of performance based goal setting is harmful and dangerous and actually makes the process of growing, learning and evolving more difficult. Let's take weight loss (I want to weigh 55kg) as an example.

1.  Goals can focus attention so narrowly that people overlook other important features of a task
Seeing 55kg on the scale is my only focus. I don't notice what effect it has on my health, sleep patterns, sex drive and energy levels. 

2.  Goals focus on short-term targets at the expense of long-term growth
Seeing 55kg on the scale will be possible by x date if I lose 1 kg a week. I can't see that in the process of reaching that goal I am developing long term habits of exercise bulimia and starve/binge eating patterns.

3. Goals are ceilings rather than floors
Once my goal of 55kg is achieved I can relax, rest and pause. The extreme disciplined behaviour I employed to reach that weight is now too difficult to maintain after meeting my target.

4. Goals motivate risk taking
Reaching 55kg may involve the use of fat burners, colonics, laxatives, and water/salt manipulation.

5. Goals lure people into unethical behavior
I might declare that I've reached my goal by either cheating (hello steriods) or misrepresenting my actual performance level (it wasn't quite 55kg but I had a PMT/salty meal/carbs/DOMs which is only water and doesn't count)

6.  Goals inhibit learning
I will stick to the method of weight loss that has worked in the past. I am not likely to explore alternative methods of weight loss which may suit me better when I am pushing to reach my goal by a certain date.

7.  Goals increase competition and feelings of failure
I have reached my goal of 55kg but there are people who have lost weight quicker than I have, more than I have and look better than me. OR
I haven't reached my goal by my target date so I must be useless, worthless, lacking discipline and lazy (let's eat to numb the pain!).

8.  Goals push the stakes higher and higher
I have reached my goal of 55kg and now I need a new goal. It has to 'stretch' me so my next goal will be to lose another 5 kg by the time I run that marathon.

9.  Goals decrease intrinsic motivation
A goal is extrinsic (from without) and while I am focused on achieving my specific outcome I am not motivated by the intrinsic (from within) value of the process itself. I can't stay motivated unless I have the carrot dangling from the stick in front of me.

10. Goals justify excuses for failure in other areas of your life
I can't visit family, I can't go to the school fete with the kids, I can't function properly at work because I am on a diet right now.

So piss off the dangerous habit of goal setting by recognising that it is limiting you achieving your full potential. Striving to achieve a performance target is a fatally flawed method of motivation that causes more harm than good.

So, what would I like instead?
I set my intention to live each day with an open heart, focussed on gratitude, growth, learning and my personal evolution. There is no measurement of quantity/quality, there is no success or failure, and there is no finish line. I am simply aware of my thoughts and actions, evaluating how my choices and decisions impact on my head, heart and health.
A life filled with happiness, peace and joy is not reliant on being 'good enough', 'better/best' or 'taking action'.

Happiness is deeply and completely loving and accepting my uniqueness, individuality and my flawed vulnerability. I can simply 'be'.

Adapted from: Goals Gone Wild - the Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting


  1. Bravo beautiful!!

    The only worthwhile goal is to love ones self.

  2. OMG I TOTALLY agree. Every time I read one of those goal setting spiels I'd get sucked in and think it was the answer to my problems, little realising that it was contributing to my problems. And it RARELY worked bar a couple of very short term goals while I was prepping to compete. So my new goal is "balance" which absolutely doesnt fit the SMART model but its whats important to me :-)


  3. WOnderful post. Just wonderful.

  4. Makes so much sense Katie.