Why Goals are Dangerous and How to Make them Work

“If you want to achieve your goals, DON’T focus on them.” (Reggie Rivers former Denver Bronco’s running back.)

Goals can kill you.


Summit-fever refuses to take NO for an answer.

Nearly 300 people have died climbing Mt. Everest. The first fatality of 2019 was Chris Daly who fell to his death on April 20.

Some climbers die because of an overwhelming desire to reach the peak – summit fever.

Summit-fever is over-commitment to goals.

Turn-around time:

When climbing Mt. Everest, you need to reach the summit by 2:00 p.m. Imagine how hard it is to turn back when the summit is in sight and turn-around time has come and gone.

On May 10, 1996 eight people died on Mt. Everest. The tragedy happened for several reasons. But if the climbers had observed a safe turn-around time, they might have survived.

5 limitations of goals-only thinking:

#1. Winners and losers have the same goals. Several climbers successfully reached the summit and returned safely on May 10, 1996.

#2. Goals restrict happiness. Goal-fever puts off happiness until goals are reached.

(The above items are adapted from, “Atomic Habits,” by James Clear.)

#3. Goal-driven leaders minimize difficulties and exaggerate opportunities. False optimism results in best-scenario-thinking.

#4. Setting a goal is easy. Choosing the next best step is the challenge.

#5. Goals are outside your control. But behaviors are within your control.

2 ways to make goals work:

First, what can you do TODAY that moves you closer to achieving your goal? (Redefine goals if you can’t specifically answer the previous question.)

Second, determine why your goal matters. Goals are secondary matters. Why do you want to make your first million, build a team, or strengthen relationships?

Tip: Eliminate behaviors that block progress, distract focus, and waste energy. Write a ‘to-don’t’ list when you set a goal.

What’s dangerous about goal-setting?

How might leaders use goals effectively?

Bonus material:

Beyond Typical S.M.A.R.T Goals (Jim Parker, former CEO of Southwest Airlines)

An hour-by-hour accounting of the 1996 tragedy on Everest from (PBS)

The movie, Everest dramatizes the tragedy.

Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting (HBS)

Lessons from Everest (California Management Review)