When Your Goals Get in Your Way

…And they can, you know. Take our main goal, that of total world domination. Sure makes it hard to slog to our day job, y’all.

Are Your Goals Holding You Back? – by Dan Shipper

…[H]ow do you get good at something? Here are some common answers. I’m using coding as an example but this really applies to everything.

1. Set broad long-term goals and put time limits on them like “Get good at coding in the next 3 months.”

2. Set specific short-term goals like “Do one coding exercise a day.”

3. Be held publicly accountable by writing about your goals on your blog or having your friend hold you to them.

4. Keep track of how you’re doing every day so you always know where you are.

5. Get a little better every day.

6. Look for little tips and improvements for how to get better more quickly.

All of these are self-help clichés. And they’re not wrong. In fact like all clichés, they contain a nugget of truth, but they’re too general to convey the subtlety required to become actionable advice. You can go from zero to somewhere using this advice, but I think it’s as likely to make you fail as it is to help you.

Why is that? The reason is because it puts emphasis on the results of what you’re doing, and relies entirely on your willpower to get you where you want to go. The reason this is dangerous is two-fold: your willpower is a finite resource and its availability is controlled to a large extent by your ego.

Your ego is a funny thing. It a lot of conceptions about who you are. It thinks you have all the talent in the world, and all the ability in world. It carries within it your precious self-image. The problem is that if your brain feels that your self-image is threatened it will shut down your willpower, and allow you to rationalize giving up in the interest of maintaining your ego.

This recognition helps us see why setting firm goals and keeping track of what you’re doing is a problem for beginners. It risks your self-image when it’s at its most vulnerable: when you’re trying something new. If during the first few days or weeks of coding you fail to reach a goal, either because your willpower is depleted or your goals were unrealistic, it’s easy to feel your self-image being threatened. Your fear center kicks in: what if I’m not as smart, and talented and special as I thought? And then it says to you: it’s better I stop trying than find out. And so your willpower is gone, and you’re right back where you started.

Setting goals and keeping track of your progress is putting the cart before the horse. It is certainly a part of getting better at what you do. BUT it’s not Step One in the process.

Oddly enough, in my experience, moving away from willpower-driven progress is more fun and helps you become more emotionally engaged in what you’re doing. Which produces better results, and allows you to maintain your rate of progress. So if setting goals is not Step One, then what is step one?

Step One is concentrating on habit creation.

Read it all

This is one of the most overwritten articles ever posted on the interwebs, but once the writer gets going he makes a very good nails his point. And the point applies to writing as much as coding or anything else. Take a look!

One thought on “When Your Goals Get in Your Way

  1. geraldsanford says:

    C’mon! What is all this? You wanna write? WRITE! There’s nothing worth writing — MOVIES, TV, PLAYS, NOVELS, RECIPES — that, if you’re really a writer — can’t be written in a relatively short length of time. Writing is simply telling a story on paper. Obviously, if your carving your masterpiece on stone…that’ll take a bit longer. Depending, of course, on the kind of stone. Marble is tough. gs

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