The Golden Rules of goal setting

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Rule #1 Don’t get too hung up on setting goals.

We’ve all been told how important it is to set goals, and studies have shown that setting goals can increase motivation and performance. But many renowned thought leaders, career coaches and psychologists have a different school of thought: Don’t let a specific goal drive everything you do.

Goals change

Adam Grant, leading professor at Wharton business school and best-selling author, has studied the world’s most successful people for years. He says, “When I think about what distinguishes the greatest leaders of our time, what stands out is that success is very rarely a goal for them; it’s a by-product of other goals they have.”

Everyone has a different version of what success means for them, and it changes at certain life stages. Currently, success might mean acing those finals. But for future you it might be starting a family.

According to business advisor, author and speaker, Stephen Shapiro, “It’s almost impossible to know if the goals you set now can improve your future life. Even if the present-you would find it fulfilling, it’s impossible to know if future-you will.”

Goals can limit true potential


When embarking on studying a degree, most of you will have a goal like ‘I want to become a successful business person’ or ‘I want to be a PR account director in five years’. While this is a good mission statement, giving it a laser-like focus can exclude other possibilities. You may have the potential to b

ecome a senior account manager in three years, or meet someone who inspires you to start your own creative agency. Conversely, if you only become a PR account director in six years you might feel like you failed, which shouldn’t be the case.
It’s not that goals themselves are bad, it’s how we treat them. Often we get too emotionally attached to one fixed goal and end up closing our eyes to opportunities we may not even imagine! Goals can also be a reflection of societal pressure and what we think we should want.

An endless cycle

Defining your happiness by the ability to reach goals can end up making you miserable.

The Bhagavad Gita, Hindu text, has suggested for thousands of years that “Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.”

Once we reach one goal, we’re constantly chasing the next one, which can lead to burnout, a feeling of emptiness, and a sense of ‘now what?’


Focus on the process, not the goal

James Clear, renowned motivational coach, says, “A goal is not only about choosing the rewards you want to enjoy, but also the costs you are willing to pay.”

We shouldn’t focus on goals, we should focus on the system.

For example, if you want to graduate top of your class, your system is how often you study, the amount of hours spent in the library, choosing the right mentors, and developing a method for improving your essays.

The system is ultimately what gets you there. “The only way to actually win is to get better each day,” says James. Even Mozart accredited his success to thousands of hours of practice.

We also assume that only successful people set goals, and that having a goal is what separates winners from losers. But think about how many people in your class have the same goal as you: to be the best! Every sportsman wants to win. Every candidate wants the job. They share the same goals, but not the same process. It’s the process that wins.

It’s about taking small steps every day in the general direction you want to go, rather than creating one laser-focused plan that can only guess at the future outcome.

Set your goal as a compass not a GPS

So your goal is to be a PR director? Stever Robbins, life-coach and consultant suggests asking yourself why. Is it because you love working with people? If so, set your compass to ‘working with people’ instead.

Instead of focusing on where you want to be in five years, set a goal based on the experience you want to have along the way.

Sometimes the best things happen when you’re not aiming for them. From his numerous interviews with successful icons, Robbins has noticed that the people who have the least extraordinary lives are the ones who manage to adhere closest to their plans.

It’s about giving yourself passionately to your work, but letting go of the outcome.

Invest in yourself

At LCIBS, we incorporate setting the right goals through our Personal Development Planning modules which are central to all undergraduate degree courses in Business, Marketing and Public Relations. We work with our students to understand their individual career aspirations, shape their futures and ensure long term professional success.



Author: Elton Daddow

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