Is it too much of a good thing? - Michelle Gibbings, weekly insights

Is it too much of a good thing?

Welcome to the first Weekly Insights for 2021! I hope you had time to rest and recharge over summer, so you are ready for another interesting year.

At this time of the year, most people take time out to think about their goals for the year ahead. For some people, that activity may be cursory and fleeting, while it can be deeply reflective and immersive for others.

There’s no doubt that setting goals are important, as I’ve written about before (How much do you want it?). Research demonstrates that you make more progress when you have goals than when you don’t. So one could argue that setting goals is always good for us.

But are all goals created equal? John Marshall Reeve, in his book, Understanding Motivation and Emotion, backs the argument that you get better performance when you set goals. However, the nature of the goal and whether it’s difficult, concordant and specific impacts behaviour differently (as he outlines in the diagram below). He suggests that the outcome from having a goal is still enhanced performance regardless of whether a person’s behaviour has been energised, sustained or directed.

Looking at that diagram got me wondering, are there times when having a goal doesn’t help you? In fact, it does the opposite; it holds you back in some way and is unhelpful.

Being totally goal-focused can create blind spots. When you have a goal that you are obsessed with achieving, it can take over elements of your life. You can fail to notice what is going on around you. You can ignore the needs of others because your priority is a goal that you have set.

In doing this, you can miss opportunities to connect, help others, enjoy the moment and just ‘be’.

I’ve been there. When I have been so driven and focused on reaching the goal I set out to achieve, I’ve had times that other aspects of my life faded into the background. One of the gifts from last year’s lockdown was going at a slower pace. What I noticed is that the slowness didn’t mean there wasn’t progress. Instead, I progressed differently. I was more present and enjoying what was in front of me, rather than thinking about what comes next. My schedule was more fluid and so better able to respond to changes and opportunities.

These days, it is often drummed into us that doing nothing is a waste of time. And yet, it’s usually in those quiet times that you get your best ideas and learn the most about yourself. When everything is scheduled and running from minute to minute, you miss the joy of the moment and don’t have time to reflect on what is, and what could be.

Yes, we need goals. But we also need unstructured time. Time that isn’t allocated against a particular purpose or outcome. Time to ponder, get bored, and to wonder about the world around us. The world will always demand more from you and want to chew up your time. It’s your choice as to how much time you let it chew up.

So as you ponder this week’s missive, think on the words of the fabulous author, Henry David Thoreau, who said:

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion“.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.


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