For anyone who has been in my circle long you will know I have a genuine belief in the importance of goal setting.
From the wonderful Napoleon Hill and his Think and Grow Rich, to the work of performance psychologists one thread runs through it all – the importance of being able to visualise an outcome and ignite our desire to achieve it.
However, there is a risk when we become consumed by the “thing” we become fixated in the target.
The importance of goals is NOT the attainment, but it is who we become in the process of attainment.
I wanted to run a marathon and in 2015 I completed the Paris marathon. Crossing the finish line was a great experience and was a proud moment but who I became and the changes this made to my life, my way of thinking, my resilience and my health far outweighed the momentary satisfaction of crossing the line. I became a fit, strong, healthy man in my pursuit of the goal.
However, for many the goal itself, the thing we have set ourselves takes too much importance and this can lead to a phenomenon called target fixation.
Target fixation is a term that was coined in World War II when fighter bomber pilots would get so focussed on a target they would actually fly their planes into it. It is a common phenomenon in traffic accidents, plays out on the sports field and can even show up in the board room.
Target Fixation is where we literally fix out attention so firmly on something that we are naturally drawn towards it, and we devote all of our energy and resources towards the thing – at the expense of everything else.
In many cases this fixation can be the source of our determination and persistence BUT it can also be the source of problems. If you have ever played golf and you stand on a tee, you’re playing partner says watch out for the water down the right. You start to fixate on the water and where does the ball go? In the water – target fixation at play.
In the UK look at what happened in the lead up to January 31st this year – Brexit Day. As the world was rapidly facing into the reality of a full-scale pandemic our UK government was obsessed with “getting Brexit done” and all energy and focus was on this. I am not making any political commentary, just communicating how target fixation may have been at play here.
When we fixate on something we fail to accurately scan the environment and we can often miss out on opportunities or risks because all we can see is the target. As the UK government fixated on getting Brexit done a far more important, and more wide-reaching threat was largely ignored for many weeks.
We see this in sales. Someone might get so fixated on a specific prospect that a larger customer who is willing to spend gets ignored as they try to close out this one deal. In all walks of life target fixation can be a risk
How can we prevent target fixation?
- Set goals that focus on the growth you will achieve in their attainment rather than the thing itself
- Have a range of goals – this is where tools like the balanced scorecard can help us to constantly shift our attention across a range of metrics
- Review your goals regularly and ask the question “are these the right goals” – just because you set an objective at the beginning of the year does not mean that objective is still the right thing to do 9 months later for example
- When reviewing objectives reflect on the progress made, personal growth and learning as much as the numbers. How close are you to “becoming” the person capable of achieving the goal?