Legendary coach John Wooden was well known for de-emphasizing winning and losing while focusing on effort and process. To some extent this may seem at odds with the teachings of countless ‘success’ books and coaches that clearly defined goals are critical to success.
While goals serve a purpose, they should be secondary in terms of focus and effort to the process you follow and the system you have in place for achieving your goals. This is something that is often overlooked and undervalued by those advocating and using goal setting. To achieve goals the focus needs to be more on the journey than the final destination.
The Downside of Focusing on Goals
When there is too much focus on the goal, it can be a distraction from the actual process itself. To use a sporting analogy; if a basketball player is focusing on the fact that he must get the 3 point shot to win the game, this will impact on his ability to focus on how he takes the shot.
The very essence of focus is that it can only be directed on one thing at a time. Plainly the process for getting the ball into the basket is more important than what rides on the outcome i.e. the goal. Research has demonstrated that focusing on the process both reduces psychological pressure and increases enjoyment of the task.
When you have a system for achieving specific, measurable goals that builds in daily tasks, milestones and accountability, the actual achievement of the goals appears to take care of itself. You’ll arrive at your intended destination, more efficiently and with less stress.
The Upside of Goals
The above comments should not be taken as devaluing the importance of goal setting. Without clear, measurable goals there would be little point in creating a system or process for achievement. There needs to be some clarity about what the desired outcomes are.
Professor David Kohl, formerly professor emeritus at Virginia Tech University, found that those who write down their goals are 9x more successful than those who don’t.
Goals can provide inspiration and motivation. If the goals are big enough and you are emotionally connected to their outcome, they can be the fuel that keeps you going through the days, months and sometimes years of process. So make sure you have clear, measurable goals but keep always your focus on your process and system.