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When Does a Goal Become an Obsession?

Since you were a child, goal-setting has been a way of life:

  • “If I get straight A’s on my report card, I’ll get an increase in my allowance.”
  • If I make the varsity baseball team as a sophomore, I might be selected team captain as a senior.”
  • If I gain valuable work experience through college internships, I’ll get a great job after graduation.”

As a child, you probably didn’t write down these goals, but you went through the mental exercise of identifying a goal and taking the appropriate actions to achieve it. You would study more, practice longer, and work harder.

With each goal you set, you learned a valuable lesson: If I work hard enough, I will achieve my goal.

Setting goals is important at any age. Many people have become successful because they set goals—and many of these people can’t function without setting goals. And that brings us to goal obsession.

Here’s a classic example of goal obsession. A high-level executive spends late nights and weekends in his office, not because he loves working, but because he’s obsessed with the ultimate goal of providing for his family.

He’s obsessed with saving money for the kids’ college, making sure his children have all the “material things” they need, and making sure his wife has all the things she needs.

But, the only thing he’s providing is financial support. What about support in terms of contributing mealtime conversation with his family, shooting hoops in the driveway with the kids, or enjoying a “date night” with his wife? The family is frustrated because they never see Dad.

In this example, the man’s intentions were good—he wanted to provide better support for his family. He thought he was being unselfish by putting his family’s needs first. However, the obsession of achieving this goal ended up hurting his family more than helping.

What habits does this high-level executive need to change?

1st - He needs to put things into perspective. Realizing that he can’t replace the time he’s missing with his family, he needs to determine:

  • How much more financial means is he really providing by working so much?
  • Could his family still survive if he didn’t work so much?
  • Would his family be willing to sacrifice some “material things” in order to have him around more?

2nd - He needs to find balance. If he doesn’t, he could risk losing his family which is why he’s working so hard in the first place. A couple options might be:

  • Cut back his hours gradually by working late a couple nights a week.
  • Bring some work home.

Goals are only valuable when they’re focused on the right things at the right time and when the right actions are taken to achieve them. Take a close look at your own goals and ask yourself:

  • Am I obsessed with achieving these goals?
  • Am I sacrificing anything valuable for these goals?

It’s beneficial to have goals, but check that they’re aligned with your values. If so, you’ll achieve them faster and with better results than you ever could’ve imagined!


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