Goals Gone Wild

My third grader recently came home with a list of challenging goals for the month ahead. She had written down on a sheet of paper:

I will participate more in class.

I will raise my hand when I want to say something.

I will play with friends I don’t usually play with.

The point is to encourage the kids to set their own goals and to help them come up with a plan to achieve them. It is empowering for the kids to set their own goals instead of having a parent or a teacher set goals for them. As my daughter says proudly, “my goals are all mine.”Goal-setting is a powerful motivator and has been shown to boost performance in all kinds of settings—sports, education, dieting, management, to name just a few. Politicians, celebrities, and gurus tout the benefits of setting goals. As uber-athlete Bo Jackson once said, “Set your goals high and don’t stop until you get there.”I am a big believer in setting challenging goals and have witnessed firsthand how helpful they can be for patients navigating their way through a difficult time. But can goal setting go too far? Absolutely, says a team of behavioral scientists at Harvard Business School.  In a paper entitled Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, they argue that goal-setting can be downright harmful:
“We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”
Sears’ experience with goal-setting in the 1990s provides a typical example of goals gone wrong. Sears set specific sales goals for auto repair staff of charging $147/hour. To meet this goal, staff overcharged for work and completed unnecessary repairs.
"Ultimately, Sears’ Chairman Edward Brennan acknowledged that goal setting had motivated Sears’ employees to deceive customers. Sears’ goal setting process for service advisers created an environment where mistakes did occur,’ Brennan admitted."
Enron is another classic example of goal setting gone wrong.
“In sum, ‘Enron executives were meeting their goals, but they were the wrong goals,' According to employee compensation expert Solange Charas. By focusing on revenue rather than profit, Enron executives drove the company into the ground.”
Other examples abound—for individuals as well as organizations.  If a student’s goal is to get an “A” in math no matter what, might she be tempted to copy another student’s work? If a bride’s goal is to lose 10 pounds for her wedding, it is possible she will resort to unhealthy behaviors to shed the weight.If you don’t want your goals to lead you astray, be sure that they reflect your core values. Because if they don’t (apologies Bo Jackson) you better stop before your reach them.

Dr. Samantha Boardman x Marie Claire: The Shrink Is In

The Shrink Is In : Psychiatrist Samantha Boardman Takes on Your Biggest Issues!In my debut column, I answer reader questions about stress, doing a million things at once, and those annoying suggestions to just "be yourself." Click below for more:

On a Hot Day, Reach for a Cold Can of…

"There is nothing better than a Coke with lemon and lots of ice on a hot day," announced one of my closest friends. I try not to impose my opinion on others, but soda is a hot button topic I simply cannot resist.On average, Americans guzzle 50 gallons of soda per person every year. That is 39 pounds of sugar a year. Think about it- 39 pounds is a lot. That's about as much as two car tires, a small child, or more than 5,600 copper pennies. Waistline aside, soda is bad for your complexion, your heart, your bones and your teeth (it dissolves your tooth enamel!).And on a hot day, Coke, Pepsi or any of their canned cousins can actually make cooling off harder. This study highlights how drinking soft drinks to rehydrate actually worsens dehydration and can lead to kidney injury, especially among adolescents and young adults.On the next sweltering day, reach for some water post-tennis match or when lounging by the water to cool off.
Marie Claire Anne Fulenwider

Anne Fulenwider

The Editor in Chief of Marie Claire lives with purpose and perspective.
Penicillin

Stumbling Upon Greatness: The Magic of Mistakes

While the pursuit of perfection may be noble, the reality of trying to be perfect is thankless. Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and undermines the ability to learn from and benefit from mistakes. When we play it safe and mindlessly follow routines and rules, we miss out on opportunities to grow.Mistakes are often a good thing. Consider, for example, the discovery of penicillin. It was discovered accidentally by Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming in 1928. Fleming was a highly regarded bacteria researcher, one known for keeping a messy laboratory. Before leaving for a month’s vacation, instead of doing the dishes, he stacked a bunch of Petri dishes filled with bacteria he had finished studying on a back shelf. When he returned, he noticed patches of mold growing on the dishes he had forgotten to clean. Where there was mold, there was no bacteria.From that minor act of sloppiness and scientific observation, we got one of the most widely used antibiotics today.Post-it notes are another example of a “good mistake.” While trying to create a super-strong glue, chemist Spencer Silver erroneously created an easily removable adhesive and Post-it notes were born.The wonderful children’s book Beautiful Oops captures the blessings of blunders. It highlights how every mistake – a smudge, a spill, a rip — is an opportunity to make something beautiful. Grown-ups can learn from a “beautiful oops” philosophy too.Here are three ways mistakes are life-enhancing:

1. A mistake is a cue to be present. It takes us off autopilot.

2. Mistakes make things more interesting. Consider the difference between a perfect store-bought cake versus a lopsided homemade one or a hand knitted scarf versus a machine made one.

3. A mistake in one context may be a success in another like Penicillin or Post-It Notes.

How we think about mistakes and how we respond to them makes all the difference.As Albert Einstein once said:
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

Win your Next Argument Without Saying A Word

“How do you know the world is round?” My daughter asked me the other day. “What a great question,” I say, thrilled at the prospect of teaching my kids something I know much about. But 30 seconds later, my confidence wavered as I realized how little I actually know.“Uh…It started with the Greeks. And looking at the stars and the shadows and calculations from eclipses and then, you know…” I stumbled. “…It was obvious! And they just figured it out…” I mumbled something about Newton, Columbus, Magellan and how ships never fell off the edge of the earth. I pull out the globe. “You see? It’s round.” And try to change the subject.My answer was pitiful. How did I know so little about something I thought I had an in-depth understanding of? Leave it to a curious child to reveal how little you know about how things work. In the movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington’s unstoppable trial lawyer Joe Miller has a favorite line of inquiry: “Explain it to me like I'm a two-year-old.” He is well aware of the limitation of presumed knowledge, and he knows how to expose it.I clearly failed the two-year-old test. I seek solace in the fact that I am not alone in my ignorance. It turns out that most of us assume we know far more about things than we actually do.Researchers Leonid Kozenblit and Frank Keil conducted a study to explore the gulf between assumed knowledge and genuine understanding:
“People feel they understand complex phenomena with far greater precision, coherence, and depth than they really do; they are subject to an illusion—an illusion of explanatory depth.”
In other words, we are not as informed as we think we are. In this study, participants were asked to rate how well they understood how some everyday items work — how a toilet flushes, a zipper zips, a can opener works. They were then asked to provide a detailed step-by-step description of how the items work and to rate their understanding of the items a second time. Faced with the inability to explain precisely how the items worked, their confidence dropped. It was an exercise in humility and an excellent reminder of the fragile nature of knowledge.Related research suggests that when people realized that they know less than they thought they did, they become more open-minded and less dogmatic. Knowing what we don’t know may be the greatest knowledge of all.The next time you find yourself in a heated debate about an issue you are passionate about — be it climate change, women’s rights, health care or immigration — consider invoking the illusion of explanatory depth. Instead of trying to convince the other person why you are right and they are wrong, ask them a question: “Can you explain your position to me as if I were a six year old?" Sit back and listen. Without saying a word, your point will come across loud and clear.

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Marie Claire Anne Fulenwider

Anne Fulenwider


The Editor in Chief of Marie Claire lives with purpose and perspective.

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