The Dark Side of Goals

Goals are great and they are certainly a scientifically proven method for achieving the outcomes we have in mind.  But while goals help us focus on our desired achievements, they can easily become the very thing that keeps us from being truly successful in life. Don’t see me as a pessimist — I’m far from it. I’ve just seen too many people and heard too many stories about personal failures that have come from goals gone bad.

So how do goals go bad? Here are a few examples.

Goals can become obsessions – A person becomes overly focused on goals of personal achievement to the detriment of more important priorities in life.

Goals can become too self-focused – A person gets tunnel vision and forgets that a goal is best pursued and achieved with the support, encouragement, and help of others.

Goals can redefine how we measure success – A person can easily believe his/her self-worth is dependent upon reaching certain goals. Goals alone should not be a measure of a person’s significance or success in life.

Am I saying not to set goals? No, not at all. Goals are a key motivational force we can leverage to achieve. We do, however, have to take measures to avoid the dark side of goals. You can do this by utilizing one simple principle during the goal setting process. It’s actually a principle about principles.

Focus On Principles More Than Goals

Before setting your goals, I suggest creating or reflecting on your key life principles. While goals are the specific achievement you want to attain, principles are statements of how you want to live your life while accomplishing your goals.

A principle is a standard you set for yourself. I like to think of a principle as a platinum standard. Platinum is the strongest metal on earth. It is not easily manipulated or changed in the face of adversity. It is consistent and strong.

Another way that I view a principle is as a guard rail for life. Guard rails on the side of a mountain keep cars from falling off the side. It keeps them on the right path and avoids tragedy. Similarly, principles are like guard rails that keep us on track to being the person we want to be.

It is helpful to create principle statements that support your highest values. Start with the value, then write a principle for living in a way that will help support the value. Remember, principles are about being, not doing. Here are a few examples of what principles might look like.

Spirituality: I will seek God’s wisdom and guidance in all my big decisions.

Family: My most important roles are husband and father.

Character: I will not trade my integrity for anything.

Time: Time is extensively more valuable to me than money.

Money/Resources: I will live simply and with a mindset of abundance.

Utilizing your own set of principles will help you avoid becoming overly focused on your own success and neglect your values and priorities. Set your principles, set your goals, and move towards them with principle and integrity.