Fool’s Gold or the Real Deal?

How do we as professionals stay on course and focus our time and energy on only that which is truly most important?  What can we do, and what maybe should we consider not doing, to increase the likelihood that we will reach and surpass the goals which are so meaningful to our success?

If you are anything like me, I suspect that you will find the answers to these two questions quite surprising.

Let’s start with looking at our most important goals. These are the ones that you hold most dear and, once achieved, will provide you with the most satisfaction and success.  It has long been known that people with specific goals tend to achieve much more success in their field of endeavor than those who have not articulated their goals. I think everyone agrees that this is a given and no controversy here. All the literature that has looked at this topic also tends to agree.

The next step that surprises most people is that those who have not only clearly defined their goals, but have taken the next step and have actually written them down, have a tremendously higher rate of achieving them than people who have defined goals but have not written them down.  We are not talking about a few percentage points of variance here. Harvard research indicates that, on average, the 3 percent of their graduates who write down their goals earn 10 times as much in their careers as the 97 percent who don’t!

So, let’s say we have developed our goals. We have clearly defined them and written them down.  Now what?

Here is a point of divergence that is really surprising. Do you tell your colleagues and friends about your goals, or do you keep them to yourself? For years many people, myself included, felt that by sharing the goals with others you were somehow psychologically committing yourself to a high level of achievement.  I mean, who wants to publicly state they are going to do something — only to come up short?

Some of the more recent studies seem to indicate just the opposite: When people share their goals before they have been accomplished, the likelihood of achieving them actually decreases. How can this be?

This concept is discussed in greater detail in the TED TALK (see link at end of this article).  The presenter, Derek Sivers, is a serial entrepreneur best known for being the founder of CDBABY, an online CD store for independent musicians. Sales at CDBABY have surpassed the $100M mark. The basic idea is that the mind and body often don’t distinguish between reality and conjecture.  In other words, by telling people about our intended goals, the body gets much of the same feeling and reaction to positive comments as if the goals had actually been achieved.

Having that feeling of satisfaction, even in a lesser degree, can actually decrease the amount of effort and focus one may place on achieving it. It’s as if the mind gets a taste of that positive satisfaction and downshifts a bit.  I am sure this does not apply to everyone, as I have seen pure stubbornness play a large factor in achievement. This basic concept, however, does lead me to think a similar phenomenon may play out with social media.

The issue is where and how do we get the majority of our positive support? We all need and crave it to one degree or another. I think what the example above is really pointing to is that the more positive support we get, the better we feel — and the better we feel, the more likely we are to relax a bit and enjoy the feeling of success. This is where, if we are not careful to realize where the positive feedback is coming from, it very well could create a real false sense of security.

A good question to keep in mind: Do we feel good because we have truly accomplished significant milestones that are metric based, measurable and meaningful by agreed-upon standards? Or is it possible that as we check in to our LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, we are simply getting a lot of “atta-boy” and pats on the back from our support system?  It can be so very easy to get caught up on “checking in” to these sites, and to relish the camaraderie both personal and professional, that we take our eye off the ball.

We have long been taught that one of the best ways to truly understand our activity is to track it. If you want to lose weight, we are told to keep track of everything you eat and every step you take. If you want to save money, track every dollar you make and every dollar you spend.  These are time-tested techniques to see what is really going on in our lives. Most people are astounded by the results when they take this simple step.  If you want to take that step to track your actual time spent on the social sites, you might be shocked as to the amount of time, effort and energy you expend that could be much better spent on the business at hand.

Everyone has to find their own balance, just be careful not to lull yourself into feeling great when there is much left to accomplish.

To review Derek Sivers, talk on this subject or learn more, watch the video below and follow the link provided.

Forbes: How To Set Goals (And Why You Should Write Them Down)

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.