On Goals and Resolutions
© 9 Jan 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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A speculation.


Anyone who has read much in this blog or associated with me in any close degree is aware that there are a variety of commonly accepted views that I can’t seem to wrap my mind around. Fandom, particularly as it relates to sporting teams, baffles me. The idea that foreknowledge and choice interfere is another See the comments on a recent post for more on this. . One that arises particularly in this period of the year is goals and goal-setting.

I should note, before going into goals, that I do understand the concept of resolutions quite well. To take the various pressures and invitations that surround us and resolve them into clear and actionable items is laudable. Without resolution only the unopposed decisions are likely to be made.

But goals… I don’t really understand them, but I do have many postulates.

My best guess is that goals are a way of converting real objectives into superficial check-boxes. Apparently, people like check-boxes, they give them a sense of accomplishment. It is certainly simpler to keep busy performing tasks than achieving desires.

But few people seem to be good at keeping their goals. Thus my second guess, that goals are a misguided reaction to lack of motivation. “‍Run ten minutes a day; I should be able to do at least that…‍” You make goals to try to make things you don’t want to do small enough that you hope to be able to grit your teeth do it anyway. You peg your weak objectives to a hopefully stronger sense of honor or dependability or self worth. This has always seemed to me a recipe for eroding that sense of honor or dependability or self worth.

Another thought I’ve had is that goals are the base actions in a programmatic decomposition of objectives. It seems plausible to me that you could take high-level objectives and split them into smaller and smaller pieces until you get down to pieces small enough to tackle directly. Plausible, but not very realistic; I know how hard even well-defined tasks can be to reduce to statements and doubt very much my ability to do it well for vaguer personal desires.

I also sometimes view goals as a priority system for potential activities. Maybe when someone says they have a goal to do X is that they’ve decided that X is higher priority than relaxation or odds and ends that might arise from day to day. If goals are an effective way of turning a mental selection of priorities into a behavior that conforms to priority-base scheduling then we’d all be foolish not to make them. I personally find, though, that I can conform goals to my priorities but rarely the other way around.

I suspect there is some great virtue in goal setting that is completely escaping my notice. Many people I admire both preach and claim to practice a goal-oriented lifestyle. But I’ve never been able to get any of them to specify why goals should be made. They are happy to promise that “‍if you make and keep good goals good things will happen‍”—but that statement holds up just fine without the goals being involved, since doing good things results in good things.

Oh wise reader, is there a point to goals?

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