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The conventional wisdom in leadership development is that setting goals to pursue in your professional life is important. It helps you focus on what you want to achieve and outline concrete action steps to point you in the right direction.

Are there ever negative effects to focusing on goals?

Surprisingly, according to a recent study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the Korea University Business School, the answer is yes. Ayelet Fishbach and Jinhee Choi studied participants in a variety of activities: exercising on a treadmill, creating origami, dental flossing and practicing yoga.

On the positive side, the researchers found that participants who thought about their goals while in pursuit of them had increased intention to be successful. On the negative side, however, when participants focused on setting goals, they derived less enjoyment from the activities, which made them more likely to quit and fail to achieve the goals they are visualizing.

The study states:

We find that directing people to consider the goals of exercising increases exercising intentions but decreases the actual amount of time people exercise, potentially because such focus renders exercising more effortful and hence more difficult to prolong. Noticeably, pursuers persisted less in their workouts for the same reasons (i.e., considering the benefits) those stating their intentions planned to exercise more. Although intentions often predict behavior, and participants’ stated intentions predicted the length of their exercise, we find attention to goals has an opposite impact on what people plan to do and on their actual behavior.

In a nutshell, setting goals boosts your motivation and intention to act, but it can also take away from the positive feelings you get from your actions. And if you find the activities needed to reach your goals tedious or labor-intensive, you are less likely to keep doing them.

The goal-setting process is still an essential part of leadership development, however, so how can you make progress in your career without falling into this trap?

3 Tips for Keeping the Fun in Reaching Goals

1. Set goals you are excited about.

You should still work toward goals, but be selective and choose goals that inspire you or have a real-world, practical application you can use. Sign up for that business writing class you’ve been eyeing or explore your interest in marketing software.

2. Enjoy the journey.

Once you set your goals, try to put them aside and stay focused on what you are learning, how you are growing and what you are enjoying. Don’t become so blinded by your goals that the process is no longer fun.

3. Get moral support.

Find others who are pursuing goals of their own and are supportive of yours. Check in with each other, encourage your progress and talk about the positive aspects of your leadership development.

Improve Leadership Development


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