Setting Goals: The Pros and Cons I Oxford Open Learning

    Setting Goals

    Setting Goals: The Pros and Cons

    “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things”

    – Albert Einstein

    Setting goals is considered by many to be the secret of productivity. No doubt you have set some for yourself in the past. You may have decided to run a 5K race for a charity and spent weeks training up for the big day, or committed yourself to long days of study to pass an exam with flying colours.


    Setting Goals is useful because it encourages you to reflect first, to pause and muse over different possibilities. You feel a burst of energy as you crystallise your aspirations, vitalised by making a decision and committing yourself to a new direction. You probably remember the good-old SMART technique when formulating your goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.

    William Hutchison Murray, Scottish writer and mountaineer of the 20th century, noticed an interesting phenomena after he set his own goals:

    “A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. “

    Murray found that making commitments to goals can lead to favourable events which assist the realisation of goals. Goal setting, however, has its fair share of challenges. Setting a specific goal works when you aim for tangible results such as passing your driving licence test or getting a job by the end of the year. Goal setting gets tricky when you want to hone some of those all-important soft skills like confidence, motivation or resilience. After all, how can you objectively measure your level of resilience?

    To remedy this flow of conventional goal setting, ask yourself: “How would I know when my resilience is better?” or “What would be different if I improved my resilience?”


    Although goal setting helps you to establish your direction, you could find yourself desperately attached to the desired outcome. A colleague of mine called Hannah wanted to study education at university. She was adamant about her goal and would not consider any other alternatives. She would apply for a large number of academic courses and work long hours perfecting her applications. Yet no results would follow. Hannah found herself at a crossroads. Would she carry on regardless of her rejections or would she try a different approach?

    Eventually Hannah decided to take up voluntary teaching to broaden her skills and spent a delightful time working with young children and felt reassured about her chosen career direction. She has jumped into action (teaching) and taken some time out for reflection. When she made applications again, she was overjoyed. She received an offer from her preferred university.

    Flexibility in Setting Goals

    Perspective and flexibility are some of the most important ingredients of goal setting. Why not set a goal for yourself after you have read this article? Make sure you write it down because it helps committing to memory. It might lead to some surprising and favourable events as Murray suggested.

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    Henrietta Nagy is a seasoned portfolio worker with over 10 years’ experience in the UK education sector. Henrietta writes educational content, designs academic courses, delivers university lecturers, mentors entrepreneurs, and provides career development coaching. With 9 years of higher education studies internationally (including an MBA), she has worked with CEOs, academics, scholars, managers, women entrepreneurs, academic administrators, and other consultants.