Career & Finance

Setting Anti-Goals at Work Can Actually Increase Your Success

Source: Alaina Kaz
Source: Alaina Kaz

It’s no secret that setting goals is a vital part of success. After all, you can’t climb the ladder in your career if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. But when goal-setting starts to feel like an overwhelming, played-out task (as it sometimes can mid-way through the month or quarter), anti-goals come in to save the day.

In juxtaposition to the traditional way we think about goals, anti-goals focus on what we don’t want to happen rather than what we do. While they might sound counterproductive, they can actually be used as a great tool for implementing strategic steps toward our future. So, to help you get the most out of your work life and career, we set out to determine what exactly anti-goals are, how they can actually increase your success, and how they can supplement the traditional goals you already have in place.

What are anti-goals?

Rooted in reversal, anti-goals are exactly what they sound like. Unlike traditional goals that focus on what you want to happen, anti-goals focus firmly on what you don’t want to happen—an idea that stems from the method of inversion. According to this method, identifying what you don’t want allows you to see more clearly what could potentially get in your way and, in turn, puts you in a better position to prevent it.

For example, if your goal is to have a positive performance review at the end of the year, you already know that you need to churn out high-quality work. But what could get in the way of that and lead to a negative review? Constant errors, not being a team player, or turning in assignments late would all be things you would need to avoid. So, you would intend to pay more attention to detail, show up with a positive attitude, and maximize productivity to complete tasks promptly. Too often, we think about what we need to do to achieve a goal rather than how to avoid the pitfalls that get in our way.

By solely focusing on avoiding the worst-case scenario (in this instance, a negative performance review), you identify what you need to do to experience the opposite result (a positive performance review). Essentially, anti-goals work in tandem with your other goals to increase your levels of achievement.

How anti-goals can be beneficial to your success

They provide motivation

It might sound counterproductive, but picturing yourself in an undesirable situation can motivate you to avoid it. Case in point? If you want a raise, you’d start to consider why you might get turned down and think about what you can do to make sure you don’t end up in that position. You’d then maybe be more motivated to show up to work in new and better ways, like approaching more assignments enthusiastically and employing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills for all tasks. Both of which could put you in a better position to show your boss that you deserve a raise.

Similarly, if taking a week-long vacation is a goal of yours, not having money saved could be identified as your anti-goal. You’d then have more motivation to set and stick to a budget, make more meals at home, and put more money into savings. Picturing yourself in the worst-case scenario will motivate you to actually stick to what you need to do to achieve your goal.

They encourage you to use your time wisely

No matter how much you love your job, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle and find yourself slogging through the workday. Tasks that are supposed to take one hour end up taking two, emails go unanswered because you’re distracted by your phone, and the end of the day is spent scrambling, trying to get everything in on time. However, anti-goals encourage you to use your time wisely.

Similar to traditional goals, anti-goals help streamline work by improving organization and productivity. Let’s say that you have two assignments due by the end of the day—rolling them over to tomorrow’s to-do list is an anti-goal. So, you’ll focus on the task at hand (instead of allowing yourself to get distracted by TikTok) so you can get both done promptly without compromising quality. Knowing what you want to avoid makes it easier to organize your day and prioritize tasks in order of importance. In turn, this improves your time-management skills by helping you build healthy habits and stop procrastinating.

They help you achieve work-life balance

If you often find yourself answering emails after clocking out of work for the night, you’re not alone. While we’re all familiar with the negative effects of hustle culture, stepping out of the constant grind is easier said than done. This is likely the result of the notion that doing more and being more available will help us achieve our goals. Your boss will know you’re committed to your goals if you’re clocked in after hours, right? Wrong. We should all be able to achieve our goals without sacrificing our lives for them. What’s the point of achieving if we’re too exhausted from the hustle to actually enjoy it anyway?

No matter what your current goals are, burnout (the ultimate anti-goal, if you ask me) can seriously get in the way. Setting anti-goals allows you to consider what could potentially dull your achievements. Think: overworking, staying late, and not setting boundaries. By considering what could negatively impact our success, we’re more intentional with our time and energy. In turn, this helps us foster a healthy work-life balance, protect our mental health, and avoid the endless hustle trap.

How to identify and implement anti-goals

Figure out what you want to avoid

To determine what your anti-goals are, the first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to avoid. This can include things like stress, burnout, financial or job loss, and so forth. It’s important to be as specific and detailed as possible here, so start by thinking about undesirable outcomes or your most grueling day at work. It might be unpleasant, but doing this will give you a good base to work off of and a rough idea of what you want to avoid moving forward.

Combine your anti-goals with your goals

Once you’ve identified what you want to avoid, you can begin outlining your anti-goals by combining them with your other goals. For example, if you want to avoid burnout, you could couple that with your goal of nailing down productivity habits. Similarly, if you want to avoid financial hardship, you could couple that with your goal of making more meals at home during the week. How can you connect the two? What specific steps need to be put in place to 1) avoid your anti-goal and 2) achieve your actual goal?

Envision the consequences

Although musing on the negative consequences of your actions isn’t the most fun way to spend your time, it’s essential. During this step, imagine what could happen if you don’t avoid these negative outcomes; ponder what your life, career, finances, and relationships might look like as a result.

For instance, if your goal is to become a manager, you’ll hone in on making that happen; you’ll likely go to work early and stay late, squeeze in some work on the weekends, and spend less time with your partner. While this might help you achieve your goal, your relationship might suffer because you didn’t implement an anti-goal. Which, in this case, would’ve been not overworking. This is why envisioning the consequences of not balancing your goals with anti-goals is crucial; it’ll kick your brain into gear and motivate you to take action to prevent this from happening so you can achieve your success without it taking over your life.

Make it happen

Lastly, it’s time to put your anti-goals into action. You can do this by weaving them into your daily routine and decision-making process moving forward. So, if burnout is one of your anti-goals, you might implement a solid morning and nighttime routine that helps you recuperate and doesn’t involve work whatsoever. Or if working past retirement is your anti-goal, you could opt to contribute more to a retirement fund or inquire about and take advantage of your company’s benefits.

When it comes down to it, the success of your anti-goals hinges on your commitment and dedication to avoiding negative outcomes. So, although life may throw you curveballs and force you to adapt and change your anti-goals occasionally, commit to using anti-goals in tandem with your other goals to make all your wildest dreams come true and increase your success.