CIO Olympics skills special - Setting Goals

Whether pursuing goals related to work or personal life, many people struggle to bring the important ones to completion. This is no trivial matter. Dr. Brian Little, psychology researcher at Carleton University, reckons the best predictor of life satisfaction is project outcome - or more precisely, how likely people feel it is they will successfully complete their projects and reach the goals they set for themselves.

Problems in Goal Attainment

Most of us spend our lives juggling a variety of pursuits. At any given time, each of us has around a hundred different goals, which may be as insignificant as picking up milk on the way home from work - or at the other end of the spectrum, they may target an impact as large as changing the philosophy of the industrial world.

Why is it so hard for some people to finish what they set out to do? The three most common causes of frustration are:

Not knowing what you really want:People don’t always know what they want, so they set their sites on a project that may seem meaningful at first, but turns out to not be what they’re truly after. Once the shiny object loses it’s luster, any motivation to obtain it fizzles out.

Setting unreasonable goals:People sometimes set goals that are beyond their control; or sometimes they shoot for an objective that simply can’t be achieved in the amount of time they allocate to work towards it.

Losing site of the goal:People don’t stick to the plan they laid out to reach their goal. Sometimes they get distracted by some new opportunity, and put aside what they originally wanted to accomplish.

This whole business of setting and reaching goals is important enough to open up several lines of research, with results that might help IT directors bring both their work and home projects to completion quicker and more predictably. Consider some of the more salient findings.

Research in procrastination shows that people easily turn their attention away when they are doing something they feel forced to do or when they aren’t comfortable with the expected outcome and what it means to their self image. If you don’t have a choice in the matter, you tend to work like a slave, which is neither efficient, nor the right attitude for bringing the project to completion.

People who are afraid of what project outcome means to their self image also seek to avoid working towards the objective, and are easily distracted. Think of all the people who have trouble finishing a thesis, a presentation, or a book. Going on stage is always a scary prospect.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, if you set out to do something with the attitude that the results will prove you have talent, you’re likely to put off working on that project, and you won’t work as well. You’ll probably interpret all minor setbacks on your way to achieving your outcome as indicators that you don’t have the talent you wish to display.

Dweck says that a healthier and more productive approach is to maintain a learning-orientated attitude. All you have to do to reach your outcome is learn. With this kind of attitude, obstacles that stand in your way say nothing about your core self. Whenever you come up to a hurdle, you just learn the things you need to jump over it.

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