There’s an interesting piece by Amanda Ruggeri on the BBC Capital site on 20th November discussing the reasons why goal-setting might not be as useful as people think (link).
The piece investigates ‘why a focus on outcome alone can create a hamster-wheel mentality’, and argues that goal-setting is often misunderstood and misapplied.
According to the piece, the principle failings of many efforts at goal setting include:
- Getting “so emotionally attached to a goal that we’re setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment”
- Setting goals for things we should do, rather than our true ambitions
- Deciding on future priorities when you don’t know your future ‘you’
- Moving on to the next goal without dwelling in the present
- Focusing on the glorious future goal rather than the negative conditions of not achieving it
- And setting yourself up for failure
There’s more than can be said about goal setting than this article explores though.
From a sociological perspective, goal setting is closely linked to modern industrial capitalism which, in turn, borrows closely from Enlightenment science. And philosophically, goal setting is ‘teleological’ – meaning that it anticipates a closing – an ending – and thereby a technology of closure not opening.
Goal setting is closely linked to Enlightenment science because it is, in part, about predictability. It relies on our ability to anticipate a future different to today, and reliably achieve this with a set of defined actions. This is one of the reasons why there are so many goal-setting tools and techniques which are generalisable across populations.
Nothing wrong with that you might say. Except that we also often complain about being time-poor; over-wrought trying to balance busy families, busy work, busy lives; lacking time for rest or the enjoyment of the finer things in life. Other people seem to be less obsessed with productivity or striving for a bigger house, faster car or better overseas holiday.
The critical thing about goals from a philosophical point of view though is that they are teleological. They are orientated towards the end, the termination, the closure of something. This might be a job well done, or a patient discharge, but it could also be the end of a relationship or a lovely meal. Focusing on the end predicts the death of things and the extinction of all of the good, juicy, complex, unknown and uncertain stuff that was there when we were in the messy business of travelling rather than the clean order of arriving.
Goals are big business in physiotherapy and healthcare in general. Perhaps this is not surprising given the amount of accounting and value-management now taking place in healthcare. Where ever cent is checked and every ounce of juice squeezed out of care, technologies like goal setting prosper.
Perhaps the critical lesson then is that in times of hardship, be more suspicious of the tools and techniques that prosper.