Does Goal-Setting Work?

As a 23 year-old blowhard, I told the first college team I ever coached that we would win the conference championship in three years. 

It was a ridiculous statement.

First of all, 23 year-olds don't know anything about anything, so that's pretty ridiculous in itself.

But looking at recent history, predicting a conference championship for this team at this school should have qualified me for a psychiatric exam. In the school's history, there had only been one conference championship in any sport. And my team's conference record in the previous five years was 18-37. 

And yet I believed, without a single doubt in my head, that we would win the title.

Can you guess what happened?

Three years later we had the trophy. 

I set a goal, ridiculous as it was, and it came true.

There's a whole anti-goal-setting movement that's become popular lately, and these people will tell you that goals are destructive. Goals make us feel bad when they don't get accomplished and actually set us up to fail.

They say we should, instead, look only at The Process. We should never say things like, "Our goal is to be #1." No, to be effective, we should only try to be as good as we can be each day. We should embrace the PROCESS of getting better. If we do that, we never get sad about un-reached goals and we stay on a constant path of improvement that will end up in a good place.

That makes sense. That sounds really good. 

But what about my three-year goal that went exactly as predicted? Would sticking to The Process have enabled that to happen?

Isn't it possible that focusing on The Process could actually slow us down quite a bit? If we settle for incremental improvement, but have to no goal to reach, we can end up moving at a snail's pace. For example, I've seen tennis players get better fundamentally while focusing on The Process of fixing their strokes--and then go out and get smoked during matches. 

On the other hand, I've seen kids who state their goal of getting to a certain ranking level then win match after match all the way to their previously-stated goal.

How do Process people explain that?

The thing is: there's one fundamental element that runs through both goal-setting and using The Process. 

And that's action. 

If you set a goal and you're an aggressive personality, that goal immediately spurs you into action. Having a goal permeates your day and gets you to do the amount of work necessary to get to the promised land.

However, if you have a different personality, then sharing a goal might make you shy or distracted. For that type of personality, just working on The Process is perfect. You don't have to worry about people criticizing you for not reaching your goal yet. Those distractions are eliminated. All that's left is a huge amount of work on improving incrementally. Eventually, you wake up and you've hit a nice target.

So, in the end, which philosophy is right? I think maybe it's both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.

As long as we're taking action, anything is achievable.

So pick the philosophy that gets you out of your chair, and you'll be just fine.

My latest book is The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.