Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dealing with Incompatible Goals

Chances are if you’re stressed, at least part of your problem is due to incompatible goals. Work / life balance is a perennial issue in most of our lives. We can’t seem to manage all the important things we need to all the time. There seem to be many conflicting and incompatible goals. Identifying and reflecting upon these incompatible goals can often be a platform for improved life balance, hope and enjoyment.

In the craft of which I’m a practitioner, the science of cause and effect is core to understanding how to prevent accidents and incidents, both from re-occurring or from occurring in the first place.

This science of cause and effect is very complex, but at its most basic it’s understanding the relationship and interaction of events, the people affected, and the physical and organisational environment, all in the context of time. It operates on a layered “Swiss cheese” model where the holes in the cheese represent faulty safety barriers--barriers that would normally prevent incidents--and when these holes line up in the layers of cheese, an incident occurs.

Incompatible goals are but one of these “holes in the cheese” causing incidents, but they’re a significant hole.

We can see why when we consider people in the workplace often have to juggle production targets with safety requirements, budgetary constraints, and the quality of work required etc.

Incompatible goals are really about conflicting priorities--all things being important simultaneously, or ‘importance overload.’ Often there’s an overflow effect. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. And we can’t expect people to do multiple things both well and simultaneously. The design of the work system can be made too demanding. And one negative outcome is incidents, apart from loss of morale, stress etc.

And the same thing occurs within the context of our lives. Too many activities together--though they all might be important in isolation--create too much ‘noise.’ We can barely cope over the longer stretch of time. Our stress levels build and build and gradually overwhelm our capacity to manage.

In cases of chronic neglect, mental illness can easily result, among other more immediate negative physiological and psychological effects.

Another example of incompatible goals might be dual goals of having fun in life and getting fit. When we strive to eat strictly and exercise during the week and then we let go on the weekend we achieve neither goal. We don’t lose weight or get fit and we’re constantly harassing ourselves over the lack of self-discipline from Monday morning onwards--it’s a vicious cycle.

We’re best to identify where our priorities clash early on before the negative stuff sweeps devastatingly over us. Where we have incompatible goals we should act to alleviate the mismatch in our lives. Some things we’ll need to stop doing altogether; some we’ll need to do less of… and on the other hand, strangely, some things we might need to do more of.

And if we can’t manage our own lives (and many find themselves trapped beyond their control) we should yield it to God, who can help us where we previously found it impossible.

Gaining life balance is a whole-of-life activity. The more effort we put in the more we’ll get out of life.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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