2 min read

Going for Goals

Going for Goals

As we start the year it's natural to set goals for ourselves, our teams and our students. But this extract, from one of the podcasts by Prof. Jim Bright in the new Career Counselling, Coaching and Assessment hybrid online course, asks us to consider goals in context and says we should be wary of asking young people to set intangible long-term, so-called 'life goals'.

Here's a short extract from Jim from the Career Counselling, Coaching and Assessment course:

You Might be Thinking...

You're saying goals are a bad thing?


Goal-setting has been uncritically accepted in the commercial world and in the world of education - and of course, in sport.

Goals are not a good or a bad thing. The question is when is it appropriate to deploy goals. And its clear they are not appropriate in all situations.

Sport has arbitrary rules within a structured system. So in tennis, if the ball goes over the net and lands in a square defined on the playing surface, it's a legitimate service.

Most sport lasts for a defined time, 60 or 90 minutes. It's constrained.

Because of that constraint there is far less opportunity for things to go wrong, far less opportunity for complexity to throw up curveballs (to use a metaphor).

But as that horizon moves out, and as we start to look at making goals over a longer and longer period, the chances of complexity causing unpredictable changes and outcomes, and new patterns emerging, increases significantly.

And this is exactly what we see in the goal-setting literature; that goals are most effective when they are in relatively artificial environments like psychology laboratories (where most of the research on goal setting has been done) or in the field of sport. But when you go into more naturalistic settings and when we look at them over longer periods of time, goals become less effective.

Unfortunately, when we are looking at the field of career development, generally speaking goals are used in the context of 'Where will I be in 5 years' time?', 'What am I going to be when I grow up?', 'What am I going to do when I finish college?' or something similar.

Short term goals can be effective in marshalling our resources and focusing our attention to ensure we get something done. So in a career coaching environment, setting a goal by saying: 'I want you to have explored 3 different employers by the time when we meet this time next week', or 'I want you to have downloaded and completed the apprenticeship application form' or whatever it may be -- these sort of goals in the short and medium term can be very effective in motivating action.

It's when we are looking at those less tangible, longer term horizons where the problem really lies.

So it is not the case of goals necessarily being inherently bad. It is certainly the case of goals being over-applied, or uncritically applied. We need to be very careful before we go down the path of goal setting with our clients. And we need to be mindful at all times about not only what goals might bias, in terms of advantage such as focus, but also what we're loading in  along the way in terms of blinkered thinking, failure to spot opportunities, baking in inflexibility, and a range of other critiques already mentioned.

So, it is not that goals are necessarily bad, it's how they are applied which can impact their effectiveness.

The Career Counselling, Coaching and Assessment course is now open

Take your careers education practice to the next level. The course covers professional practice in careers and career counselling, the academic and research basis behind contemporary approaches, and emerging trends.

Choose either the three-day in-person intensive  (Sydney, 27 February - 1 March 2023) OR the NEW hybrid online self-paced format combining live online seminars with Prof. Jim Bright plus self-paced learning on BECOME's flexible online learning platform.

Intake for both formats is open now.

Get more information, download the course overview, or sign up.

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