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Does Your Goal Setting Have 2020 Vision?

Source | | Brett Steenbarger

This is the time of year when I’ve been sitting down with portfolio managers and traders, looking back on 2019, and exploring goals for 2020. Invariably, these goals are relevant and detailed, but something is often missing. As these aspiring peak performers talk about their goals, I detect no sense of enthusiasm or excitement. The goals are “should-do’s”, not “must do’s”, and certainly not “I-can’t-wait-to-do’s”. Is it any wonder that our New Year’s resolutions so often go unfulfilled? What can we do to add an element of 2020 vision to our goals for the new year?

In a fascinating article for Harvard Business Review, Scott Barry Kaufman explains why inspiration matters for our mindset and our productivity. He cites the work of psychologists Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot, who found three essential elements of inspiration. First, inspiration is spontaneous and not the result of intentional planning. Second, inspiration has a transcendent element, reaching beyond our immediate ego needs and desires. Third, inspiration taps into an “approach motivation”, giving us energy to actually pursue our vision. Kaufman cites research that shows how inspiration facilitates creativity and also drives our performance toward goals. In other words, if goals are our GPS, guiding our direction for the year, inspiration is our engine, providing the fuel and power for actually getting there.

Right away we can see why traditional goal setting fails. It is a planned, reflective process, whereas inspiration arises spontaneously from felt sources of meaning, value, and purpose. Goal setting is often highly practical, replete with objectives, time lines, and process considerations. Inspiration, on the other hand, has that transcendent element: it’s about the vision. Ironically, the more we are concretely goal- and process-focused, the more we can lose sight of our vision. Attending to detail is helpful in getting things done, but it’s difficult to see horizons with our noses to the grindstone.

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