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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Oct 28, 2022


This week we explore goal setting, and the importance of letting go and moving on.



Welcome to episode 161 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we are exploring letting go and moving on.

Striving for goals is generally a good thing. Self-control helps us to move towards our goals, delaying other potentially tempting distractions in the hope for a better return for our efforts. Hope-filled people are great at varying their plans towards goals when they hit obstacles. But what happens when the goal we are chasing after becomes unachievable for reasons outside our control? What’s the best way to respond to having our plans thwarted?

The Covid pandemic provided an opportunity to study this in detail. Many of us found our goals upended by the impact of Covid restrictions. We all know people who were unable to see family members for extended periods, whose holiday plans were thrown into chaos, or whose goals at work needed to be jettisoned altogether. Some people seemed to handle this more effectively, disengaging from their old goals and setting new goals. They seemed able to let go and move on. However, others seemed stuck and unable to move on from the dead end goal they had set. 

Researchers are clear to distinguish between goal disengagement and goal reengagement. Goal disengagement is letting go of a previous goal. Goal reengagement is the ability of a person to move on to a new goal. People can be good at goal disengagement but not good at reengagement and vice versa.

Researchers have found that goal reengagement is particularly important to satisfaction. For example, in people with life changing acquired brain injuries, researchers found that goal disengagement had little impact on quality of life and satisfaction, while goal reengagement had a markedly positive impact. In these cases, the ability to set and chase after new goals seemed far more important than investing energy into letting go of goals that had become unachievable. 

This research suggests that rather than focusing on the loss associated with thwarted goals, we are better investing our energy into setting new goals. This optimistic, future-focused and flexible approach is something we can build in ourselves and others. If there are goals that have become completely unrealistic, it’s important to note this and then help the team to establish new goals. Picking over the disappointments associated with the old goal is less helpful than establishing an inspiring future. Letting go matters, but moving on is even more important.