Saturday, January 1, 2011

On Goals

Since today is THAT day, I thought I'd clarify for myself what I've been reading and learning about goals from Danial Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

According to Pink, who is discussing the work of Carol Dweck, how you view intelligence will determine not only 1) what kind of goals you set but also 2) how you will deal with new situations after reaching your goals and 3) whether you will persevere through adversity.

According to Dweck (according to Pink), goals are of two kinds: performance goals, such as, "I will get an A in French this semester" and learning goals, such as "I will speak French."

Both, , apparently, can lead to high achievement: but the former can also interfere with one's ability to apply whatever you learned on the way to getting your A to new situations. So, theoretically, one can get A's in French class without being able to follow verbal directions on a street corner in Quebec City.

(And why do I say "theoretically"? It happened to me.)

Learning goals, on the other hand, can lead towards mastery. You persevere on that street corner, apparently, when your goal is to improve your abilities. You don't judge yourself as "stupid" and give up (as I did). Challenges are just a part of the journey, not a deal-breaker.

Performance goals arise from the perception that your intelligence is an entity. It is fixed, immutable. If you fail to meet your goal, then, it is because you weren't (fill in the blank) enough. Given enough failure eventually, in order to protect yourself you make your goals small and reachable (or you give up making goals entirely).

And even if you do reach your goals, according to other research, you won't be happy. Pink shifts the terminology and calls these goals "profit" goals. That is, goals which pertain to extrinsic aspirations, such as to achieve fame or become wealthy, once achieved, do not increase your happiness.

Apparently, it's gets worse. achieving these so-called profit goals can lead to more anxiety, greater depression and "other negative indicators." These insights are from research conducted by Edward Deci, Richard Ryan and Christopher Niemiec.

Intrinsic goals, however, goals called "purpose goals" --those oriented towards helping others, and to learn and to grow-- can lead to happiness.

And so here we are.

performance goal--challenge--failure--helplessness
profit goal--achieved--(greater) anxiety and unhappiness


Here's the kicker: from what I've seen, (though I've hardly conducted an exhaustive search) most of the literature out there on goal setting will be about setting performance or extrinsic profit goals. It's just in the recipe.

When I gave the link to Lifehacker's post on setting goals the other day, I couldn't help but glance at the "SMART" formula. Take a look. Doesn't it seem like this formula is dealing with performance and/or profit goals? From lifehacker.
  • Specific. Don't just say "Lose weight." Decide to "Lose 12 pounds."
  • Measurable. Instead of "Be better about corresponding with old friends," decide to "Send out birthday and holiday cards to my high school friends."
  • Achievable. "Be the perfect employee/mom/sister/spouse" is an admirable goal, but nobody's perfect, no matter how resolved they are. Make your resolution something that's possible—like, "Improve next year's performance review by at least one grade."
  • Realistic. You've only got so many hours in the day, so make your goals realistic based on what resources and tools you've got on hand. Learning how to milk a cow, for example, is less realistic for someone who lives in the middle of Manhattan.
  • Timely. Since these are New Year's resolutions, set goals you can reach at most within the next 12 months. Giving yourself a "deadline" of sorts will help you figure out where you should be when while tracking your progress.
This goal of mine to "lose weight" for example, could be cast strictly as a Performance/Profit/Smart Goal. That is, I can express it in these terms: It is June 30th, 2011. I feel happy and energetic now that I weigh xxx.

And that, though it follows the SMART formula perfectly, given what Pink has written, would seem to be a goal that, even if it is acheived, may bring me greater anxiety and more unhappiness than I have now.

And you know what?

I think he (and the researchers he cites) are right.

I'll continue this tomorrow.


Diana said...

Wonderful blog. Met you on Picture Winter. So happy to know you!

Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily think this is an either or situation. SMART goals and the like come from a project management perspective and are valuable for setting goals in the workplace, for the workplace. But people need to be motivated intrinsically as well--part of that comes from successfully achieving a SMART goal, but there is more--which probably falls into the learning category. At any rate, I think both qualities must be taken into consideration.

Alana in Canada said...

Lauralynne, of course, you're right. Pink maintains, though that the workplace--where it is a place that requires its workers to be creative--is actually hurting itself--and its workers by setting (or having its employees set)goals of the SMART variety.

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