As a recent divorcee, you’re eager to start fresh. You may have already set a few ambitious goals. There’s nothing inherently wrong with forging a new path, but be careful: the wrong approach could result in additional suffering.
When Goal Setting Doesn’t Work
In a culture of New Year’s resolutions, we simply assume that ambitious goals are the cure to all that ails us. Unhappy with a specific aspect of your daily life? Set a goal, write it down, and take steps to achieve it. Unfortunately, this approach oversimplifies what can be surprisingly complicated challenges. Choose the wrong strategy, and you’ll make no progress—you might even go backwards.
For instance, Americans are obsessed with weight loss, and we spend billions a year on exercise, diet and surgical solutions to that end. However, an alarming one-third of the population is currently obese, and the crisis seems to be deepening. Perhaps our fundamental understanding of obesity as an “energy balance” disorder—caused by eating too much and not moving enough and cured by eating less and moving more—is wrong. If our paradigm is wrong, the strategies we use to pursue success can prove useless or even backfire on us.
Another fatal flaws of goals: they encourage short-term, and often drastic measures, while failing to encourage necessary reflection. Focused exclusively on the pursuit of a wild dream, the goal setter neglects other, equally vital areas of life. The monomania leads to excessive risk-taking and even unethical behavior.
The Brain’s Role in Failed Goals
Brain chemistry may be responsible for the average individual’s inability to reach even modest goals. Neuroscience research indicates that our brains resist change, instead acting in a protective manner. Goals that require substantial adjustments in thought patterns are heavily resisted, with the brain instead seeking comfort in easy-to-attain (but potentially problematic) rewards or avoidance.
The Importance of Selective Goals
It’s not necessary to banish the term ‘goal’ from your vocabulary. Just be realistic about your prospects. Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management’s Adam Galinsky believes that, instead of being viewed as an effective over-the-counter medication, goal setting should be regarded as a prescription drug: potentially helpful, but only for specific people facing specific circumstances.