Goal Avoidance. Why Some People Do Not Set Goals


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by Jayaram V

A goal is an idea, state or object, which one wants to achieve within a specific time in future through a concrete and specific effort, with or without a specific plan. Complex goals require plans, while simple goals require right effort. A goal is similar to an aim or purpose but defined or framed more clearly and precisely.

Goals can be long term or short term. Some cultures may encourage people to have supra mundane goals that span the whole lifetime of an individual. For example, Hinduism prescribes four chief aims human life namely Duty, Wealth, Pleasure and Freedom. By their pursuit it is believed that human beings have a better opportunity to enjoy happiness here and hereafter. In career planning also, people are advised to have different goals to cover different aspects of their careers and lives, and different timeframes.

People differ in their temperament and attitude towards goals. As people change, so also their goals. Some use them with professional finesse, while some may not even bother to use them. They may have some vague ideas of how they want their future to be but may not translate them into clear goals. Many people just drift along, rather aimlessly, expecting the best, but not doing enough to secure their future. For them having goals is rather a tedious affair, which requires intense effort, discipline and focus, for which they are not prepared mentally or emotionally. Everyone dreams about future, and about the good things that one wants to possess and enjoy.

However, dreams, desires and wishes are not goals. Vague thinking about future does not qualify as goal. A goal is not just what you want to do in life in a wishful way. It is a dream with a theme, a picture with full details, and a purpose with a definite plan. Goals must be clear, specific, written, realistic and achievable. To be qualified as goals, they must be pursued with resolve and with a clear plan, purpose and hard work. If you have clear goals, you will have greater focus, confidence, resolve and clarity. Only a few succeed in shaping their desires and dreams into meaningful and well-written goals.

Reasons why people avoid goals

Goals are useful to us in many ways. They bring some certainty into an otherwise uncertain life. They help us conserve our energies and resources, and focus upon priority areas that are vital to our success and happiness. In the process of achieving them, we also learn the importance of persistence, dedication, devotion and discipline, apart from learning many valuable lessons and discovering our own strengths, weaknesses and potentials. Goals add structure to our lives and improve our performance.

However, in spite of their value, many people avoid having goals in their personal lives. The reasons are many. Some of them are internal, and some are circumstantial. For example, fear of failure, low self-esteem, lack of drive and ambition, ignorance, prejudice, irrational beliefs, resource constraints, daily pressures, limited opportunities, etc., are a few reasons why people go about their lives without having any goals.

Internal factors

In his book, the Maximum Achievement, Brian Tracy identified seven reasons why people do not prefer having goals, and thereby fail to unlock their potential to succeed. They are stated below.

  1. Lacking seriousness about success
  2. Unwilling to take responsibility for one’s life or career
  3. Feelings of guilt, low self-esteem and unworthiness
  4. Lacking knowledge about goals and their importance
  5. Lacking skills to set clear and precise goals
  6. Fear of criticism or rejection
  7. Fear of failure

External factors

All the above-mentioned reasons are intrinsic. However, external factors and circumstances may also prevent people from setting goals. If people grow up in a certain culture, which emphasizes the importance of austerity, simplicity and contentment, they may not show much interest to improve their lives through self-effort or materialistic pursuits.

The same may happen if there is some group or family pressure not to excel or deviate from the group or family norm. People who are fatalistic may also not show much interest to take control of their lives and change their destinies through the pursuit of goals. People with the growth mindset may pursue goals to improve their lives or skills or behavior but those with a rigid mindset who do not believe in the possibility of self-grow may not show much interest.

Four types of people who avoid goals

Those who do not keep any goals for one reason or another can be divided into the following four main groups.

1. Those who do not know anything about goals or their importance. There are millions of people in many countries who live below the poverty line and who have not been exposed to any formal education. They do not know they can improve their lives by having concrete goals. They may still think about their future or improving it, but do not know how to achieve it through goal-focused effort. With some education and training, they can be helped to incrementally improve their lives with achievable goals and proper planning such as paying off debts or improving their daily or monthly income or saving for their children’s education.

2. Those who know but do not think goals are necessary. These people may have some formal education and know the importance and value of goals. However, they may not believe in them or have the conviction that goals can do them any good. They may even feel that goals may take away their freedom to work as they please or enjoy life. This is a problem of ignorance, and such people can be helped to grasp the importance of goals. With some education, information and training they can be motivated or encouraged to change their thinking and attitude to set precise goals and work for them, such as overcoming certain habits in specific time, finding a better job, learning a new skill or improving some aspect of their behavior.

3. Those who keep goals but do not have the discipline or commitment. Many people who have been exposed to formal education and have regular jobs know the importance of goals, since they might have participated in many in-house training programs or engaged in goal centered effort as a part of their job responsibilities in their work places. However, when it comes to their personal lives, they may not show any interest in using goals to improve their lives or benefit from that effort. They may not like to bind themselves to any goals or have the patience and motivation to pursue them. They may also feel that by having goals in their personal lives, they will be adding more stress to themselves and making their lives stressful, miserable and mechanical. It is difficult to motivate such people as they may have rigid opinions about it.

4. Those who avoid having goals due to fear. Goals should be achievable and realistic. At the same time, they also need to be challenging. People who know that importance of goals may still not keep them due to negative thinking and due to fear of failure, criticism or ridicule. Generally, people with self-doubt and low self-esteem or those who depend upon others’ approval and appreciation fall in this category. They do not want to pursue goals because they do not want to fail and suffer from the consequences, or face the anxiety and uncertainty that may arise from the effort. They may also do not possess enough ambition and motivation to give their best. Such people can be encouraged to take small steps to break their negative thought patterns and face their fears. They can also be encouraged to learn from their failures and improve their performance, rather than looking at any failure as the end of all.

If you are one of these, see what you can do to overcome your resistance to set goals and work for them. Goals and success go together. Successful people are usually goal minded. It is a universal trait among them. They keep written goals, so that they know where they want to go and in which direction they want to progress. We may not correctly predict future, and we may not know how far we succeed in our efforts. However, by having clear and precise goals and by planning for them, and intelligently working for them we can minimize a lot of uncertainty. We can translate our vision into goals and our goals into reality by maximizing our potentials, working on our strengths, working around our weaknesses, learning from our failures and keeping ourselves in a positive frame of mind.

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