Goals : Ain’t as simple as they look

Even after knowing how important goals are, we are none the wiser in our pursuit of them.

We sit down with a blank piece of paper and ask, ‘ What is my goal?’. The simple assumption is that because we were not consciously having a goal, there was no goal in our life until that point.

Goals & goal setting are multifaceted topics. They have many layers & multiple interpretations. Here are just two observations to get a handle on them.

First, You are already pursuing a goal that you are unaware about.

A more helpful way is to assume that my current reality is an outcome of an unarticulated goal.  Even if I knew nothing about goals in my life. For example, Ranbir Kapoor’s goal in the movie, ‘ Wake up Sid’ should he have articulated it was – live on my father’s money. I haven’t seen the movie, just a few scenes. In those scenes, I did not see him articulate that goal. It is not that he was living a goal-less life till he changes. The implicit goal of being taken care of by the rich father was there.

In other words, you are already living to fulfill a goal though it may not be your choice. It might have been your parents, your significant other, your gender,your community. Or it might have imposed by the context or a system.

Let us take the example of a career woman. She will own upto higher aspirations. And yet, at an ever so subconscious level, a deeper probe into her actions and current reality would reveal that her career choices are constrained by her inability to relocate to a new city. You see, she never brings herself to the point where she can explore relocation possibilities. The unarticulated goal that is holding her back is maintaining stability on the family front. If this unarticulated goal is made explicit, then she can own upto her part and reclaim the power to make new choices.

Whatever our current reality, our actions as a part of that reality are a response to an underlying goal, not necessarily set by us. We must find out what it is as it can then feed our self-efficacy.  What we say to ourselves is, ” Hey, without knowing anything, I was playing my part in the achievement of this goal that isn’t even mine. Now, that I know what my goal is, I can play my part differently and I can do better”. In other words, the actor already knows how to follow a script in a play. When a new script is given, the actor knows she can bring the script to life because she has done it before. We must not be content with the surface goal mouthed in generalities such as get rich, become famous, be at the top. Very often, this goal masks the unarticulated goal that explains our struggling present.

Second, ‘Think big’ is misconstrued.

We are exhorted to think big in going after our goals. Bigger is better, they say.

The intention behind this exhortation is noble. Human-beings create so many self-limiting beliefs about themselves. If you think big, you will have to take a bigger view of yourself. And that will help you overcome self-limiting beliefs.

If every individual is unique, shouldn’t it be ‘ think unique’? Is not conviction of being unique more authentic ? Will it not be more efficacious?  I believe it will. ‘Think unique’ is also sustainable. Big may have to turn into small. But unique is self-contained. Your thoughts are unique because you are and not the other way round.

To ‘Think big’ is an aspiration learnt from the success of empires and organizations. However, beyond the vision that everybody says should be big, ‘Think big’ is a trap for bigger enterprises.The more heft an organization acquires, the more it is weighed down by its own mass, and the less agile it becomes. This is true not just in terms of employees or products or markets, but also capital & cash. Big companies with big cash in hand have to make real tough calls on what to do with it in tough market conditions. They know growing bigger just for the heck of it is a self-built trap. Big, smart organizations do not get trapped by ‘think big’. They seek to structure themselves in such a way that they can retain the soul of a small company.

What is true for organizations is true for individuals as well. ‘Think big’ does not just equate to size and scale. ‘Think big’ can also boil down to impact and time. Gautam Buddha did not think big. Navy Seals do not think big. They focus on the task at hand. But what impact.

Sure, Dhirubhai Ambani thought big, but I submit that ‘think unique’ and not just ‘think big’ was what informed his decisions and actions the most. For the simple reason that one starts with one’s own self & the resources within. The spectacular success later on was due to thinking big, but this thinking was reflective of who Reliance had become as a group – big! To my mind, the operating word continued to be ‘unique’. ‘We are big, so what unique possibilities exist for us’ is a better question that they asked as opposed to ‘We are big, so how can we be bigger’.

Moving onto football.

Recently, Leicester City won their first English premier league title in their 132 year history as super-underdogs. The goal that their manager, Claudio Ranieri set for them at the beginning of the season was this : Avoid Relegation. Each year the bottom three sides are relegated to the top division of the football league, an ignominious demotion for premier clubs. This is as modest a goal as one can aim at. Now that they have won the title, guess what Claudio Ranieri has set as the goal for next season – avoid relegation! This modest goal did not come in the way of Leicester City winning the title! A modest goal allowed them to remain light and agile and play freely without a self-imposed burden of expectations. More importantly, it was an accurate reflection of their side’s limitations. The side was able to tap into their unique potential as an underdog. In doing so, they transcended their limitations. And the rest is history!

To sum up, goals are not as simple as they look. There is a lot of subtlety and nuance involved.

First, Your actions and current reality are serving the cause of a goal. It does not matter that you know nothing about goals or goal-setting. You are already pursuing a goal you are unaware about. Find out what it is.

Second, ‘Think big’ is a standard prescription for unique individuals. Big is invariably thought of as size and scale. Big can also mean impact and time ( long-lasting). Be discriminating in your interpretation of ‘big’. Better still, consider how you can play more with ‘think unique’ because that is what you are!

(Rahul coaches people who are committed to do the work involved in making a significant contribution. After all, he is doing just the same.In addition to being a coach who helps people succeed , Rahul is a trainer, facilitator and consultant in areas related to leadership development  & organizational effectiveness. He believes in using whatever is happening and making it work towards the well-defined purpose. The emphasis is on aligning with fundamental truths & timeless principles. Rahul’s work is grounded in a continuing understanding of the works of Peter Drucker. He likes to keep things simple and is easy to work with ) 

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