Goals vs. Magical Thinking

Goals vs. Magical Thinking

In my consultations I often have to help folks think through what is a realistic goal and what is aspirational, or, as I call it, “magical thinking.” Their ideas for a goal are often fuzzy (“more,” “better”). People consistently overreach their aspirations (“10% growth”; “We will reach 100 people….”), which results in unreasonable and unattainable goals.


If they can define a goal the next question becomes, “What are you going to do to achieve that?” Again, magical thinking not allowed (like, “If we build it they will come”). Not every good idea is a workable idea. What ACTUAL things will you implement to bring about that outcome?


At that point, people enter a fog, because reaching a new goal requires new thinking and different actions, strategies, and competencies. Meaning, it requires change. That includes what are you going to STOP doing in order to be able to accomplish the new goal?


Goals vs. Magical Thinking

One schema to avoid magical thinking and set effective goals is to be S.M.A.R.T. about it. Here’s a mnemonic that can help you define your goals:


**S** – Specific (or Significant. Is it worth striving for? Is the goal clear and defined?)

**M** – Measurable (Can you assess to what extent your goal is achievable in terms of amount, degree, or quality?)

**A** – Attainable (Is your goal something you or your organization can actually achieve? Do you have the resources to pull it off?)

**R** – Relevant (In what ways does this goal matter? Is it worth achieving?)

**T** – Time-bound (Provide a timeline and ways to track progress).


Once you have established clear, attainable goals, the only thing left to do is to roll up your sleeves and get it done.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.


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