On setting goals

Many years ago, when I was still an undergraduate student, one of my parents’ friends commented that we tend to overestimate what we can achieve in one year and underestimate what we can achieve in ten years. Whilst I have long since forgotten the context of the conversation, I can still hear his voice in my head. It is such an important thought.

If we are not aware of this tendency, we can easily become despondent at the pace of our progress. Things tend to take longer than we think they should. And, for the most part, we find it difficult to take a long term view either in our reflections or our planning.

In reflecting on our progress over a relatively short period, like a year, we notice that we didn’t quite achieve our goals. Perhaps we make allowances because unforeseen diversions did occur which slowed our pace. But in planning for the next year, we somehow forget to factor in the possibility of diversions. For me, this pattern is most evident around New Year. The text for reflection over the past year goes something like ‘It hasn’t been a bad year, considering…’ or ‘I managed to achieve a fair bit, even though…’ And yet, somehow when I look into the bright shiny New Year ahead, I presume that this year will be different, I won’t have the difficulties of the year just past. This year will be better. And inevitably challenges arise which throw me off course a little.

But when I think of what I have done and what I learnt over the last decade I find little need to prevaricate in this way. And as I pause to recall some of the things that I was disappointed that I had failed to make manifest in my annual reflections six or seven years ago, are now beginning to blossom. On reflection I realize that for some, it was a matter of timing, but for others, although the idea was good, I wasn’t yet ready then. There was stuff I needed to learn before I could put it out there.

Having said all of this, the truth is that I am terrible procrastinator, and if I am not careful ‘it’s just not quite the right time’ becomes perpetual! So I also hold the idea that ‘a small daily task, if it be realy daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules’ (Antony Trollope).

The tension held by these two ideas, to understand my incapacity to be realistic about what I can achieve in a given time and to commit to taking small frequent steps towards the goal, provides the impetus I need to keep on going.

2 thoughts on “On setting goals

  1. Rading this, I realised I have never set goals so I’ve never been disappointed about not achieving them. Some may criticise me for lack of ambition but I feel very grateful for not having it.

  2. Thanks for this post Mags. I am very hard on myself for not achieving all that I want to do in a short space of time, no matter what obstacles crept up along the way. Sometimes there are very good reasons why things haven’t been achieved, such as not being ready yet! On the flip side, my time management could probably do with some polishing and honing too, to smooth things along somewhat.

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