The Problem With Setting Goals

Achieving a goal that you set may end up leaving you feeling empty
Achieving a goal that you set may end up leaving you feeling empty
Image Credit: marcia furman

Every year when New Year’s rolls around we are all encouraged to use our manager skills to set goals for the upcoming year. Most of us actually do this and then we use those goals to guide us as we plan our work. The best part of all of this is occasionally we just happen to achieve one of our goals! The big question is how does this success make you feel? Sometimes achieving a goal can leave us down in the dumps, feeling blue, not happy at all. What’s up with this and what can we do to prevent it?

The Problem With Goals

Goals are good. Goals can give us both a sense of direction and order in our lives. When we have goals guiding us, our need for something to do is taken care of and as we start to check off the milestones on our way to achieving the goal this will make us feel good on the inside. However, what we need to be aware of is that goals are something that can affect our overall sense of purpose and connection. When we have something to work on (because we have goals), we will view ourselves as being smarter, more tenacious, and having more independence. What this means for you is that when you have a goal to work on, you are going to feel as though you have value and you play an important role in your team as a manager. Yep, you are allowing your work to define you.

This is where our problems come in. If we make the mistake and actually achieve one of our goals, then what are we going to do – we don’t have any manager training for how to deal with this situation. All of the links between that goal and how you feel about yourself are now gone. You are not going to be sure how you should view yourself now. Just to make things a little bit worse, the time that we had been spending on working on that goal is now freed up and we don’t know what to do with it. All of this is going to make you start to question yourself. Oh, and our brains like it when we have a goal to work on and it releases dopamine, a hormone associated with both motivation and happiness, in anticipation of reward. When you reach your goal, that release of dopamine drops. It’s harder for you biochemically to have joy. Dang it. What can we do about this?

Many Goals Are Good

One of the reasons that we can find ourselves feeling so down when we achieve a goal is because that goal was the only thing that we were working on. When it’s over, we are left with a big gaping hole in our lives. If you want to avoid having this happen to you then you need to make sure that you have other tasks that you are working on at the same time that you are working on a given goal. The thinking here is that when you do finally wrap up your work on that goal, all you’ll have to do is to switch gears and you can then start to focus on other projects and this will chase away your feelings of being unhappy.

Sequences Are Good

As a manager, your schedule may not allow you to work on multiple simultaneous projects at the same time. No big deal. If this is your situation, then what you are going to have to do is to take the time to map out a sequence of tasks that you’ll be working on after you get your work on this goal wrapped up. The reason for doing this is that it will allow you to in your mind associate the end of your work on the goal with the start of what you’ve mapped out for what comes after that work. You won’t find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what to do next. Completing the goal will seem more like achieving a milestone than reaching the end.

Take Time To Reflect

One of the reasons that we can feel let down after we’ve completed a goal is because we have not taken the time to think about what we just accomplished. It’s all too easy for us to start to feel overwhelmed as we wonder if this is it – was this all worth it? What you need to do now is to sit down and take the time to think about what you have just achieved. Think about what you learned by working on achieving the goal and what went both right and wrong. Next, think about how you are going to be able to apply what you’ve learned going forward. Your goal here is to find a link between what you have done and what you will be doing.

Find Yourself

If you are like me, then you allowed that goal to take over your life. You became your goal. It became part of you. Now that it’s done, you will feel like a part of you is missing. When this happens, you need to realize that it’s just one part of you and you have many more parts. This is the time for you to reflect on all of the other parts of you that make up your identify. Realize that there is more to you than just the part that was dedicated to working on this goal.

Share What You Know

When we achieve a big goal, there is something inside of us that wants all of the work that we put into this project to mean something. We’d like to have a lasting impact. What we’d like to be able to do is to pass on all that we’ve learned by working to achieve this goal to someone else so that they can have the same success that we had. What this means for you is that you now need to become a mentor to someone who is dealing with a similar goal. By sharing what you’ve learned, you’ll feel as though the work that you’ve done will have a lasting impact.

What All Of This Means For You

Who would have thought that when a manager accomplishes a significant goal, they might be left feeling empty inside? It turns out that when we invest a great deal of ourselves into accomplishing something, once that thing is done we can feel as though we are now missing a part of ourselves. We need to figure out what we can do to prevent ourselves from feeling this way.

One way to prevent the sense of loss that accomplishing a goal can produce is to make sure that you are working on many things at the same time. This way once you accomplish a goal, you’ll still have plenty to work on. If you can’t work on multiple projects at the same time, then what you can do is to construct a sequence of work that continues on beyond the goal that you are working on. Doing this turns completing the goal into a milestone, not a termination. In order to prevent your sense of loss, spend some time reflecting on the goal that you just achieved. What did you learn? Understand that this goal probably became a big part of you and you need to understand what parts you have left. In order to allow the work that you did live on, consider mentoring someone with a similar goal.

Too little time has been spent helping managers deal with what happens when they achieve a significant goal. The feeling of let down that they can feel at this point in time can have a big impact on their productivity. Managers need to understand that this sense of loss can occur and they need to take steps to make sure that they are not adversely affected. Performing a few simple steps can help managers get over the feelings that they have when they complete a goal and allow them to move on and get to work on their next set of goals.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that talking to anyone about how you feel after a goal is achieve would help you to fell better faster?

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