Problem Management — failure
General Goals

Just like negative goals, overly general goals can also be difficult to achieve, whether by individuals or large groups of people. We can all agree that we'd like to be healthier, we'd like to have more money, and we'd like to manage our time more effectively. These are all good goals to have, but they are far too general to be useful.

The subconscious mind is wonderfully intelligent at finding ways to meet goals, but it it is also quite stupid when it comes to understanding abstract principles or concepts that are vague or ambiguous. If we can get our conscious minds (i.e. ourselves) to be a little less lazy and supply more specific goals, we'll achieve them far more often and much sooner.

Telling people to drive safely might create warm feelings, but it seldom has any real effect. Telling them wear your seatbelt is a much more specific request. They can choose to ignore it of course, but that would require a conscious decision, possibly followed by feelings of guilt or anger, and later perhaps requiring an excuse or apology. It's far easier for them simply to wear their seatbelts. Such requests can sometimes cause them to do the specified action without their even being aware of it.

Similarly, in an organizational setting, management might tell its staff that the company is having difficult times and ask them to work more efficiently. Staff might even go along with this and agree that they will work more efficiently. But for most people that feeling won't go any further. The thought will not affect action because the subconscious mind doesn't really understand what it means.

It would be more effective if say the request were to ask higher paid staff to leave more menial tasks for the lower paid staff to handle. Some people might understand this enough that they could apply it to their circumstances.

Even more effective would be specific directions, such as assigning someone to sharpen pencils, empty trash containers, and drop off mail, and then asking staff to not do such things themselves but leave it for this other person to do. Of course the potential dangers in this approach are that staff might see this as micromanaging, and that because management is too distant from the situation it might not understand how things really work and their interfering will actually make work less efficient.

Deciding to be nicer to one's spouse is a good idea, but in practice it has little effect; the idea is too general. If someone is sincere and really does want to change their attitude, a much more effective way would be to decide to go out to dinner on Tuesday, for no reason other than that they love them. This one action is hardly a major life change, but it is something specific enough that it will actually happen. And it can be the first step of many that will accomplish the original goal, a goal that the person could understand and desire but one that is too general for the subconscious mind to deal with.

Similarly, no matter how much one wants to clean a messy house, somehow it never seems to happen. But deciding to spend half an hour putting away any loose items in the den this coming Sunday at 3pm is a very specific goal. With a who, what, where, and when, it is far more likely to produce results. And that one success can motivate other, similarly specific tasks.

Yes, it's a great idea to have large general goals, and to use such goals in guiding one's decisions. But unless one makes the effort to consciously provide small specific subgoals, it's unlikely the overall goal will be achieved.