I see this all the time: the would-be client comes to me in need of help. Many times, they say something like “I have a system but it’s not perfect.” Or, “I do okay on the day to day but I’m not being strategic.” And by strategic, they mean: driving their own bus toward the destination of their dreams. Often, these hard-working folks don’t even know what their dreams are–they’re too busy to take the time to dream their dreams. And ultimately, the real problem comes down to goals. Not that they don’t have them. They have loads of goals. Just the wrong kind.
Take, for example, one of the vaunted destinations of the GTD enthusiast: the status of so-called Captain and Commander. This is high perspective (loads of strategy) and high control (meaning having and tending and working from a trusted system). Getting to “Captain and Commander” is a performance goal. And like all performance goals, it’s very either-or. You’re there or you’re not. You’ve succeeded or you’ve failed. You got it or you don’t got it. The productivity practitioner rarely ever achieves this goal and if they do, it’s a very temporary victory. And therein lies the problem.
By turning the practice of a method into a performance goal, you are constantly having to measure yourself as succeeding or failing at it. Not only is that exhausting, it’s a complete waste. A waste of your time, energy, talents, strengths, and all the other beautiful ingredients that make you who you are.
There is a powerful alternative to performance goals. I call them MASTERY goals.
Motivating: MASTERY goals are highly motivating. If you’re participating in your pursuit of a MASTERY goal, you’ll experience motivation because motivation follows involvement. That’s right. Motivation does not reliably precede involvement. If it did, you’d have tons of motivation. Nope, motivation follows involvement. That’s why, with just a little activity, you begin to feel like doing more and you gain momentum. That feeling of momentum and progress is highly motivating.
Applicable: Unlike performance goals, which apply only to that exact situation, MASTERY goals are broadly applicable. If you walked into your boss’s office and said, “Hey, I made Captain and Commander today! He’d probably think you were nuts. But if you walked in and said, I found about a tool that helped me to learn to be more strategic and feel calmer and in control, he’d want to hear more. The destination of a performance goal isn’t applicable beyond the moment of achievement. A MASTERY goal applies over broad areas and can find many outlets for expression.
Stretch: MASTERY goals help you to stretch and grow and be challenged in ways that feel good. Unlike the downer of failing at reaching a performance goal, you can always see how you’re growing with a MASTERY goal. And that growth invites you to think about how far along the continuum you might travel. And the continuum is…. unlimited. There is absolutely no limit to how good you can get. No matter how far you travel, there is always a new horizon to look toward.
Timeless: Life-long learning is encouraged and encouraging. There is a real joy in learning more and improving your performance. When you arrive at a performance goal, that’s it–it’s done–and you’re forced to set a new one. Not with MASTERY goals–a well-stated MASTERY goal will outlive and outlast many, many performance goals. This means that goal setting becomes an investment that pays huge dividends and is super-efficient because with care, a good, well set goal will carry you along for many months or even years.
Engaging: What happens when you see that yet again, you’re failing to make a performance goal? Disheartening, isn’t it? Unlike the either-or, succeed-fail, the only way to fail at a MASTERY goal is to do nothing at all. You will never experience that sense of failure that you get with performance goals because with a MASTERY goal, you’ll always being moving forward, even if just a little bit. Success is highly engaging: it makes you want to do more. And full engagement is joyful and fun. It leads to the experience of flow and opens the door to expertise.
Un-realisitc: Because the sky is the limit, MASTERY goals encourage you to think beyond what you believe you’re limited to. And that’s a very good thing. One of the dangers of performance goals is that they encourage short-shifting your dreams. That’s a side effect of the succeed-fail nature of a performance goal: if you are risking failure, you might pull back and set a goal that seems within reach. And who can blame you? You want to experience success! MASTERY goals, on the other hand, grow success on success. That kind of building from strength to strength encourages the confidence to set high goals, beyond where you think you can reach.
Yearning: Last, but certainly not least, MASTERY goals tap into that deep yearning that often marks a calling that’s bigger than you are. Contribution is where it’s at, my friends. Contribution is the ticket to a life well-lived. To make a difference is a deeply human desire. This yearning is a great big power source that fuels you toward your MASTERY goals.
What does a MASTERY goal sound like?
They begin with big verbs like learn, understand, improve, increase. An example might be “learn how to fit in my big rocks on a daily basis.” Now there’s a MASTERY goal that has legs! You can constantly be improving your ability to fit in the big rocks–those important, not urgent projects–into your daily work and life. And every little bit of progress moves you along the continuum of knowing more and being better at it–always succeeding!
When you fully grasp the strength and power of MASTERY goals, you’ll see that productivity performance goals ruin your productivity by setting you up to fail again and again. By setting aside performance for MASTERY, you’ll harness the power of success to move you forward toward the joyful life you were meant to live.