I’ve read my share about goals. I used to set a lot of them. I’ve achieved some and not achieved many others.
I’ve come to the conclusion that goals generally don’t work.
- Many goals seek results that are out of our control. And oftentimes, we get too attached to specific outcomes that we can’t control.
- If we never achieve the goal, we feel like we’ve failed.
- If we’re wed to a specific goal, then we may fail to seize different opportunities along the way.
- And if we do achieve the goal? Does it meet our expectations? Are we satisfied? For how long?
- What do we do after we’ve met our goal? Sometimes, we revert back to the mean, our gains fade into memory, and we are back where we started. (e.g., weight-loss goals)
I’m sure you’ve heard of the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting method (i.e., make goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). That framework may work for some goals, but cannot work for others.
For example, a goal to be “healthy” wouldn’t work. But why is that such a bad thing to strive for? Shouldn’t we all seek to be healthy?
What if you want to be a “great lawyer”? That goal won’t fit into the S.M.A.R.T. method. How could anyone “achieve” that?
Instead of goals, why not instill habits or work a process?
Nick Saban (University of Alabama head football coach, in case you don’t know) employs “The Process” with his teams. We can’t dispute the results. His teams have won five national titles, played in another national championship game, and are consistently at or near the top of the college football rankings.
Saban believes that focusing too much on future results unnecessarily distracts and causes anxiety.
“It’s the journey that’s important. You can’t worry about end results.” – Nick Saban
He would tell us to focus on what we can control and do our very best at it. In other words, think about what we can do today or in the moment, the task at hand. And work hard to continually improve.
Process thinking emphasizes preparation and hard work over consideration of outcomes or results. We can control what we do on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, so focus on that.
If we must set a “goal,” we should use it to design our daily actions or set our course. But we shouldn’t get tied to the destination or the result. Just work the process day in and day out.
So if you want to be a “great lawyer,” you just need to work backwards. What attributes does a great lawyer have? How can you learn or obtain those attributes? What can you do every day to move towards becoming a great lawyer? So, if you’re a trial lawyer, you need to know how to give a closing statement. What actions can you take on a daily basis to get better at making closing statements? Then just make sure you take some action everyday.