Researchers Find Evidence That Setting Goals May Actually Be Bad For You

Researchers Find Evidence That Setting Goals May Actually Be Bad For YouResearchers Find Evidence That Setting Goals May Actually Be Bad For You
Sebastian Dillon
September 9, 2014
We’ve all heard how important it is to set goals for yourself if you want to reach success. According to Psychology Today however, there’s evidence that setting goals can actually do more harm than good.
Sources in the past have cited a 1953 Yale survey as evidence that goal setting is optimal for success. In this alleged study, they asked class members whether they had written their goals for their future. Three percent of them did, while the rest did not. Twenty years later, they observed the same class and saw that those who had written their life goals were richer than those who didn’t.
But there’s one problem: This study doesn’t exist and members of the 1953 Yale class deny ever conducting such a study.
Why can setting goals be harmful? In the book, Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time And Money, author Aubrey Daniels cites a study that shows a decline in performance when individuals repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals. Even in the business world, professor Sim Sitkin at Duke University business school says that stretch goals are typically common with desperate companies.

“We conclude that stretch goals are, paradoxically, most seductive for organizations that can least afford the risks associated with them.”

According to research from four top business schools, including Harvard, goal setting can have some serious effects. They claim that in worse case scenarios, it can cause a promotion of unethical behavior, a narrow focus, distorted risks, the damage of company culture and reduced intrinsic motivation.
On a more psychological level, Psychology Today says that setting goals often get’s people to list things they don’t currently have, but want in the future. Whenever we desire things we don’t have, this sets our brain’s nervous system to produce negative emotions. Also, the higher the goals you set, the more likely you are to experience failure, which is demotivating within itself.
So what should you do instead? According to psychologist Karl Weick, a more optimal approach is to take your stretch goal and break it down into smaller challenges that are attainable, and work your way up. This strategy of focusing on small wins, instead of the bigger picture, motivates you to do more, which thereby helps you slowly reach your goal. According to Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, even the smallest wins, like having everyone agree in a meeting, can motivate and inspire everyone.
So if you want to build your company to be valued at $5 million in two years, perhaps start with how you’ll make $5,000 for the month in revenues first. If you want to become the next Michael Jordan, focus on perfecting the most basic shots first. The key is to focus on small attainable challenges, visualizing the progress, and then continue forward.
Source: Psychology Today
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