DOING what you want is preventing you from ACHIEVING what you want

Why am I pointing out the obvious? Because it isn’t: this isn’t about watching TV or playing solitaire when you’ve got a report to write.

This is about a property developer whose objective is to make a profit and who overspends on beautiful bathroom fittings. This is about a minor celebrity who wants to look classy and who swears at the paparazzi. This is about a person who comes to a conflict resolution meeting and can’t resist making sarcastic comments. Or a person who wants to make a good impression and drinks a bit too much on a first date.

Why behave this way? Because we’re human, because we sometimes act on impulse and give in to emotions, because doing or saying what we want feels good – until we regret it.

We know we undermine our own objectives but we do it anyway. Or rather, we would know if we stopped to think before we did those things. That takes discipline and self-control. Before doing or saying something we would need to stop and ask ourselves: “How does that fit with my objectives?” In an extreme case we would follow an algorithm where our every action would first be checked against our current set of objectives, and we would only do or say things that “fit”. That would make us rather calculating, quite a bit like machines. After all, machines are built to serve a specific purpose – but what about us? And what happens if the objectives haven’t been clearly defined?

Someone asked for my advice about something she wasn’t very comfortable with: she was going to talk to a journalist about a rather personal matter. My first question was about her objective. “I want to tell the truth” – she said. “And what do you expect to achieve?” – I insisted. Her expectation was that the journalist would present her side of the story – because how could he not, once he heard her out and understood that she was right? The reality, of course, is quite different: telling the truth is not the same as making sure that what’s published reflects her point of view.

In a recent article I suggested that women executives should justify themselves less, and present excuses less. Some of the feedback I got was to the tune of “I want to behave the way I feel like and I want to say what I want”. My point wasn’t that women should stop being themselves; I pointed out that achieving a specific objective, such as being seen as more assertive and being taken more seriously can benefit from adjusting one’s behaviour accordingly. Doing and saying everything you want may work in some situations but not in others; not doing or saying what you want may get you a better result.

Someone told me that she turned down a qualified and very keen job applicant because she read some inappropriately rude and scathing comments about his former boss and colleagues on his Facebook page. It probably felt good when he was writing those things.

Visits by British Royals are an honour for those receiving the visit and a major highlight in their calendar, commemorated and fondly remembered for years afterwards. So Prince Philip’s retirement from official duties this year must be welcome news for organisers: while his comments were often memorable (see http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/prince-philip-quotes-gaffes-public-133848), it is rather unlikely that those on the receiving end felt honoured or cherished the memory.

Basically, everyone knows that achieving what you want often means doing (saying, writing, etc.) less of what you want and more of what needs to be done. But for some reason it’s easier said than done. So here are a few suggestions for making sure that doing what you want doesn’t get in the way of achieving what you want:

1.      Get your priorities right. Have a good idea of what is and isn’t important. Know your objectives and understand what it will take to achieve them. Just as importantly, consider what can prevent you from reaching your goals.

2.      Take a calculated approach when working towards your objectives. Have a strategy, a plan, a budget, a check-list, a SWAT analysis. Thinking it through and remembering the desired outcome is a good way to avoid acting on the spur of the moment.

3.      Be yourself: enjoy the things you like, have fun, do and say what you want. But don’t forget to consider how your behaviour may impact your image and your relationships (don’t be surprised when it does), and make sure you don’t undermine what really matters to you.

4.      Don’t always say the first thing that comes to mind.

5.      If you’re feeling stressed, nervous or emotional, stop and take a couple of deep breaths before saying or doing anything. If you’re writing an email or tweet, leave it aside and finish writing once you’ve calmed down.

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