Four Reasons Why Focusing on Goals Leads to Failure

Have you visited lately? In addition to all the insightful presentations that are part of the TED Conferences, they are now including talks from other conferences.

I came across this gem — a presentation that Srikumar Rao gave at Arbejdsglaede Live in 2009. It’s entitled “Plug into Your Hard-Wired Happiness” and is definitely worth the 18 minutes to watch.

The insights he makes are obvious, yet profound — yes, we all have identified the things in life that will make us happy, but fast forward 10 years. Where are we? Wanting more/newer/different things! And still unhappy that we don’t have everything we want.

Srikumar Rao proposes that, instead of keeping your eyes trained on where you want to be, pay attention to where you are in the process right now.

Not that you shouldn’t have goals or strive to achieve things, but there is a distinction between having the goals in mind and making the goals the primary (or only) focus. As it was said in the video:

“Focusing on outcome is fine. It gives you direction. Investing in the outcome means you make the achievement of a particular outcome dependent on your well-being, and that is a sure-fire recipe for failure.”

This is where job seekers can get tripped up. There is such a huge focus on the goal of getting a job that the process of attaining that goal is all but forgotten.

Say you get called to interview with a company, and you make it pretty far in the hiring process.  Unfortunately, the company goes with a different candidate.  If you have been spending the majority of your energies looking only at the goal of getting that specific job, the following events can result:

  1. It will be more difficult to identify and replicate exactly what you did to make it to that point.
  2. You will also find it challenging to objectively figure out what you could have possibly done that negatively impacted your candidacy for that job.  With these first two points, you essentially learn nothing.
  3. Many questions will surface (“Why didn’t they pick me?”  “What did I do wrong?”) that will create and/or reinforce negative tapes that you may have running in your head.  Not only does this shake your confidence, it takes away time that you could be spending exploring other opportunities.
  4. Because you were so invested in getting that job, the failure you feel as a result of not achieving the goal is more likely to lead to feelings of inadequacy and depression.

So, have goals and use them as your guiding force.  But don’t forget about the process that gets you to those goals.  In the process, you will find the lessons that will carry you through this goal and many thereafter.

How have you used the lessons learned in the process of achieving goals to get you where you want to be in your career?

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