In my last post, I explained what effectiveness anti-patterns are and why they are useful. In this post I’ll give you an example of an anti-pattern that I’ve seen cause problems for a lot of people – including myself! If you are having trouble reaching your goals, perhaps you’ll recognize this anti-pattern in yourself and use the solution to become more effective.
Focus on the Solution Instead of the Goal
The anti-pattern occurs when you are more committed to the solution that you think will achieve your goal than to the goal itself. Once the solution has been found unworkable you assume the goal is unachievable, or you ignore the evidence and keep using the unworkable solution.
- You are working toward a clearly defined goal. For example you want to get promoted, buy a new car, move to a new town, get a date, or become financially independent.
- You’ve identified a solution that you think will allow you to achieve your goal. For example, you think that if you work really hard you’ll get a promotion.
- You are committed to the solution; you’ve put time and energy into it.
- After time, evidence suggests that your solution is not working.
- You are having trouble letting go of the ‘sunk-cost’, all the time and energy you’ve already committed to the unworkable solution
- You are focusing on the current strategy instead of the larger goal
- You are having trouble thinking flexibly
- Define criteria for success. When you identify your goal, build a list of criteria that defines it. Instead of just saying you want a promotion, define the criteria you want to meet in order to feel the goal has been accomplished. Be precise so you know exactly what you are working for. For instance do you want more pay, a new title, more responsibilities and challenge, more recognition? Ask yourself lots of ‘why’ questions. Why do you want a new title? Why do you want more recognition? You may learn that a promotion isn’t the only way to achieve what you are looking for. This realization will give you more flexibility in meeting your goal.
- Create multiple strategies. After you define your goal, brainstorm multiple strategies and solutions. These strategies can serve as backup to the preferred solution if it doesn’t work.
- Measure progress. Measure your progress against the criteria you’ve defined. This will allow you to determine the effectiveness of the strategy you are using. By keeping the defined goal-criteria in the forefront of your mind you’ll stay focused on the goal and will be more willing to switch strategies as necessary.
- Plan for failure. Hope for success, but plan for failure. Do your best to achieve your goal, but make sure you have a contingency plan in the case of failure. Don’t ever put yourself in the position that you must achieve your goal and have no fallback position.
- Take risks. Encourage yourself to think creatively and don’t be afraid to take risks. If you punish yourself too severely for failure you'll tend to slip into a pattern of rigid thinking due to your increased fear. Unfortunately, this often results in additional failures and reduced effectiveness. If you can embrace your creativity and achieve a reasonable level of risk-taking you'll be more flexible and less likely to become stuck in this anti-pattern.