Editorial – Ends and Means

In any situation?academic, professional, and personal?setting goals is a given. After all, we’ve been told, It’s impossible to achieve without first defining what that achievement is going to be.

But this isn’t an article about goal setting. In fact, It’s recommending just the opposite.

A recent Harvard Business Review article convinced me that placing too much emphasis on goals can actually hurt us in the long run. At first look, the concept seems strange and even disconcerting, since it flies in the face of nearly all the self-help wisdom we’ve encountered since elementary school. But the author makes some good points. Focussing too much on achieving goals as an end result as opposed to an ongoing process can cause us to cut corners, take on an ends-justify-the-means approach, and lose motivation. Worse, the overly narrow focus encourages us to put on blinders, missing opportunities and overlooking potential problems.

But without clear-cut goals, how to avoid distraction? The phrase ?we’re all a little bit ADHD? isn’t necessarily medically accurate, but we’ve all experienced how life and its myriad of distractions can keep us from getting anywhere. While in theory a goal-setting session might help combat distraction, perhaps a better tactic would be to look at the present rather than toward the far future. As the Harvard Business Review author suggests, ?[instead] of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus.?

Identifying areas of focus forces us to decide where and how we want to spend our time?with the unspoken idea that we’re working to further the aspects of our lives that are most important to us.

To get started, an excellent resource is the Zen Habits blog’s piece, ?72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life.? While the premise is simple?author Leo Babauta advises the reader to ?Identify what’s most important to you [and] [eliminate] everything else??in real life, It’s a little more complex. That’s where Babauta’s 72 ideas come in. Through a series of questions, he helps readers evaluate their commitments, goals, and dreams, and determine what, essentially, they need or want to focus on.

In a way, It’s a thought process that guides us beyond goal setting and achieving and allows us to focus on goal seeking and pursuing. After all, creating a list of proposed achievements doesn’t necessarily help us arrive at our destination when we’re still trying to sort out our conflicting commitments (and keep from being distracted by the ?noise? of our busy lives).

And when we’re forced to concentrate on the here and now as opposed to the future, we do a better job of ensuring that our time and energy are in fact focussed on the things that really matter to us?the half-formed ideas and concepts that mean we’re following our dreams now, not just hoping to attain them in the future.