The improper setting of goals triggers a destructive pattern of behaviour that ultimately squashes them even before they are achieved. Photo/FILE
The beginning of 2015, just as was 2013 and 2014, will be the year when Mary will “shatter the ceiling of her professional life”.
She has charted a plan — the clichéd New Year resolutions — and top on her priority list is enrolling for a masters degree programme on scholarship, and perhaps apply for the numerous fellowships organised for women in science.
“I hope this time the resolutions will be more than thoughts and morph into something substantial by March,” she told her three friends over a cup of coffee recently.
But, even before meeting Mary, Central Bank of Kenya’s human resource director and life coach, Waceke Muia, has a “diagnosis” on Mary’s problems.
From her experience in human resource management, which spans more than a decade, Waceke has met many Marys.
“Every January, I remember the statement ‘if wishes were horses beggars would ride’. If only all these resolutions were actualised!”
Waceke says that even though her checklist of what it takes to achieve the resolutions is dominated by attitudes, it is thought patterns that make even the best plans fail.
“Many professionals have a scant understanding of the concept of resolutions,” she says.
“They liken them to good dreams and nice expectations, and hence fail to realise that the process of coming up with any resolution should consider both short- and long-term goals. A lot of thought needs to go into setting goals.”
Because of the poor understanding of goals, many people set themselves up for failure. “You end up writing down goals that are impossible to achieve because you did not consider other factors that might affect outcomes, or the work needed to actualise the resolutions”
True to Waceke’s observation, Mary did not consider the financial and social changes she would need to make in pursuit of her masters degree.
If she aspired to get a European scholarship, for instance, she needed to sit a test, but did nothing to make that happen.
Mr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London (UCL) and author of the book Confidence, says many professionals set goals “that go against nature”.
In an opinion piece for Harvard Business Review (HBR), Prof Chamorro-Premuzic says “we all have predispositions, character traits, and habits that we have built over many years, and most of our New Year’s resolutions involve breaking these patterns, which is very difficult to do and requires a lot of work… So you have to be deliberate and strategic”.
The improper setting of goals triggers a destructive pattern of behaviour that ultimately squashes them even before they are achieved. These self-destructive behaviours include procrastination, lack of commitment and focus, and failure to be accountable to the goal.
Take 33-year-old George, for instance. He is in the public relations industry, and has been an accounts manager for five years.
He would be elated if he was given more and bigger accounts to manage, but that would happen only if he met two conditions: earned an undergraduate degree, and brought good business from the accounts he already manages.
Last year, he says, he conducted a “post mortem examination” on why he did not grow professionally, and other than the lack of good papers, he says, he realised he had been a poor communicator. For this year, he “plans to work on” these.
Mary, on the other hand, had been pushing forward her scholarship application until one day she logged onto a website and learnt that one of the requirements was that she must have graduated two years prior to the application. She was in her third year. She had procrastinated too long.
Speaking to Forbes magazine in August 2013, Dr Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services at The University of Texas at Austin and author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career, picked out procrastination as one of the 14 bad habits that will not only get you fired, but also upset the working environment and, in the long term, impede successful achievement of goals.
“Such a bad habit can lead to isolation or shunning in the office, which can affect everything, from your performance evaluation to your ability to do your job,” she said.
Exit Mary, who procrastinated her way out of a scholarship, enter John, a lab technologist who has been locked out of many opportunities by his idealism. John says he sees the world, which includes his professional environment, as “it should be, not as it is”.
He has been hopping from one job to another because of his inability to get through challenges at work that include, among many things, “working with a difficult boss”.
In 2012, he had set his mind on convincing the administration to introduce an electronic system in the management of data in the labs at his workplace and train staff on how to use the system.
When the administration raised queries, as expected of most millennials, John not only gave up on the idea, but jumped on the next offer of an alternative job in another company.
Why fight when opportunities are all over the place, he reasoned.
All these young people are setting themselves up for failure, and, according to Ms Waceke, the human resource director at Central Bank, they need to change. Immediately!
Should they find it hard, recommends Ms Waceke, they should enlist the services of a life coach, who will guide them through the path to self-discovery.
Also, and this is important if they are to actualise their resolutions for the year, they need to put everything down in writing, especially the goals and how they plan to achieve them.
“Give each step a deadline,” she says. “Mental ink fades very fast. Write your goals down and chart them out like a map over the year.”