Goal setting can hurt you.
Yes, I know, goals are one of those sacred things not to be criticized because the evidence is clear; setting goals leads to success. While it is true that goal setting when done properly contributes a lot to your growth and success, there are also times when goal setting can actually harm you.
Whenever you set goals properly, it gets you focused, motivated, and causes you to outperform your usual self. This is fantastic for personal growth, and as I said earlier, goal setting helps you succeed in life.
So what is the danger in goal setting?
The danger from goal setting is when you fail to take a break from the process. Think about elite athletes for a moment. They are incredibly focused and use goal setting during their season. But once their season is over, they back off a bit from their focus. This is a needed time of rest and recovery. Because goal setting can elevate our performance so dramatically, it also has the potential to burn us out if we are not careful. We burn out when we are constantly called to stretch ourselves and grow without any rest and recovery time.
When you workout in the gym, you apply stress to your muscles. The real growth occurs after your workout when your body has a time of recovery. Ask any fitness professional and they will tell you that working out constantly without a time for recovery will actually make you weaker. The key word there is “recovery.” This cycle of stress followed by rest and recovery is evident in many places in life. In fact there is very little growth without the stress-recovery cycle.
Because goal setting can initiate a time of good stress by calling you higher, you also need to have periods of time where you are not being stretched and trying to grow. I know this may sound strange, but typically people set goals and come out of the blocks hard for the first couple of months, then they get tired and realize they cannot sustain this effort forever. It is usually at this point that they quit all together on their goals.
If you want to have a consistent year of goal setting, then break your year into trimesters.
For each trimester, which consists of four months, make the first three months, times of focused goal setting, and the fourth month a time to throttle down and take a break. To give you an example, here is a way you might structure your year beginning in January.
Goal Setting Months ===========Rest Months
January, February, March, ==========April
May, June, July, ================August
September, October, November, ======December
By following a cycle like this you will actually grow more than if you simply try to set goals year round without any break. Go ahead and commit to some goals for the next three months with a planned break from goal setting in your fourth month. You will find this structure very motivating and also you will see some incredible growth as a result.
Your Work-Rest Cycle Will Be Unique To You
I take a longer break in the summer, every year. If you’re from the USA like me, you might also relate to feeling conditioned to working through the 9-10 month school year and then having a summer where you just play and relax. Well, I still see clients during the summer months, but I take from mid-June through mid-August and I don’t write articles, I don’t create programs, I don’t record. (You’ll see content coming from me, but at a slower pace. But that content was created in advance. For example, this article is scheduled to publish on January 11, 2020. But I’m writing this on November 5, 2019.) I take shorter breaks during the year, usually 2 weeks after every 3 month productivity cycle. That gives me the ability to take the longer break in the summer. (Hey, it’s Minnesota. We don’t get much summer!)
That summer break is really interesting. The first half of the break my mind just goes blank. No thoughts about products or what my customers would like to see from me … nothin’. Then the creativity burners start up about half way through my break and I have to journal as the creative floodgates open up. Honestly, this is where most of the ideas for what content I’m going to create for the following year comes from. I don’t have to work at it, it just starts to flow from my subconscious mind and it bubbles up and I capture it. Usually by sending emails to myself, like I do with my journal. I don’t consider this “work.” It doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of summer and I don’t start writing content at that point. I just capture the general ideas that come bubbling up. If they do show up fully formed (which happens!) then, yes, I sit down and take “dictation from myself.” I just type it all out as it comes to me.
The rest of my summer is spent kayaking, gardening, vacationing and hanging out with my family.
By the time September rolls around, I feel refreshed and ready to dig in for another year.
In any case, do step away from your goals from time to time. I have a friend who works 3 weeks on, 1 week off. She’s done that for years and she’s written multiple books and training programs. It works well for her. I like a more extended break and once I get into the flow of my September to June “work year,” I honestly don’t want to be pulled away from it.
Find the pattern that works for you!
The Macro and Micro of Work-Rest Cycles
I also have a work-rest cycle to my day, and to my week. I am most creative and productive in the morning. I schedule clients from 11 AM to about 3 PM when I’m best able to focus on someone else. By 5:00 at the latest, I am ready to focus on myself and my family and I deeply enjoy doing mundane things in the evening – cooking, vacuuming, laundry and washing dishes are like balms to my soul at that point because my brain is spent and I’m ready to do mindless, repetitive (hypnotic, restful) things.
Unless I’m staring down a deadline I don’t work on the weekends. I might draft up a blog post in the morning before anyone else gets up if it’s there waiting for me (in my head). I work so that I rarely face a tight deadline. That’s why I work so far in advance. I have learned that whatever amount of time I think something will take to create, I need to double that. I am terribly optimistic about how much I can accomplish! By applying these two disciplines — doubling my time estimates and always working on about 3 months in advance — I can accommodate the ups and downs of life.
Just in the last two months, for example, my dog Ruby has become a heart patient and we had to schedule visits to the veterinary cardiologist, and my other dog Max suddenly became diabetic at the age of 7. Then I ended up with a cold that lasted for about 2 weeks and kept me from doing any audio recording. I’m able to absorb all of this and still stay on schedule because of how I’ve set things up.
I know that doesn’t work for everyone. You may work for someone else and you don’t have any say in what’s put on your plate at work. But how can you apply this to your home life? What areas of life cause you to scramble? For instance, maybe you’re always stressed out getting Christmas cards out and gifts purchased at the last minute. This year, set a date in your calendar in July to review your mailing list, and to start buying gifts. My Mom usually had her Christmas shopping done by August. (Maybe that’s where I get it!) She bought gifts as they came on sale and tucked them away. There was never any last minute holiday stress in our house.
The graphic for the work-rest cycle can be applied at any level – micro, macro, or anywhere in between. For each day, plan your work. I jot down 3-4 main business goals for the day, in addition to any client sessions I have. I then do the work, according to my habits. I take time to evaluate daily, weekly, quarterly and annually and on a project-by project basis. This evaluation stage is worth it’s weight in gold. That’s where my Six Sigma background comes in. Of course in order to evaluate properly, you have to plan properly — know what you’re trying to achieve. How will you know when you’ve succeeded? Applying this Work-Rest Cycle to my business has increased my productivity and made me more accurate in deciding what goals to set for myself and my business.
I hope these ideas help you to create a more effective and productive life that leads you to achieving your goals!