Setting goals will improve your career, relationships, health, and life in general…

Unless you make these crucial mistakes.

Here is a list of 22 things you should keep in mind whenever you are setting new goals (or working on your current ones). If you don’t have time to read the whole article, feel free to skip to the summary at the end.

If you find these tips useful, or if you can think of other goal setting mistakes, perhaps mistakes you have made yourself, please let me know by leaving a comment and the end of the post — I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Alright, here we go…

Goal setting mistakes

1. Not having a deadline

A famous quote attributed to Napoleon Hill states that a goal is a dream with a deadline. It can be interpreted in many ways, but the general meaning is that in order to turn a wish or desire into an actual goal, you have to have a deadline and set a date by which you want to achieve your goal. 

It’s great if you have big goals and dreams, but unless you are able to visualize yourself achieving them within a certain timeframe, chances are it will be much harder to succeed. So whatever your goal is, set a realistic deadline and monitor your progress as often as possible. It will help you take action and turn your dreams into reality.

2. Being impatient

The modern world has basically trained us to be impatient. We want things to work, and work fast. If a website takes a few extra seconds to load, we close the page. We get angry if our taxi is one minute late. We go to the gym twice and get frustrated because we don’t see any results yet.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of attitude that prevents success. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if you are not willing to put in the time, then it’s pointless to set goals anyway. Most people have the potential to achieve their goals, but simply give up too soon — be the exception! Unless your goals are too small or too easy, they will require time, and you must be patient.

3. Not writing down and reading your goals

If you’re passionate about your projects and work toward them with great enthusiasm, you may think you don’t need any reminders. But the truth is that even when we take action toward our goals, it’s easy for our mind to wander and lose focus, and the risk is that we may put in a lot of work that’s actually not very useful or effective.

The third goal setting mistake you need to be aware of is not writing down your goals and, most importantly, not reading them every day. Even if you have high levels of motivation and discipline, you must condition your mind until it perceives your goal as a priority, and the easiest and best way to do that is to read your goals as often as possible (and ideally make it part of your morning or bedtime routine).

4. Not knowing your why

Here’s another big one. If you do have goals, why do you want to achieve them? Why do you wake up every morning and work on your goals for one, two, five, ten hours? Surprisingly, most people wouldn’t be able to answer these questions (or it would be vague answers anyway).

If you’re not crystal clear on why you want to achieve your dreams, I promise your motivation is going to decrease very soon. So when you set your goals, make sure you identify and write down your why as well, and be specific; describe what achieving your goals will allow you to see, feel, and experience in life, in detail.

5. Thinking you know everything

When it comes to thinking of a strategy or roadmap for your goals, it makes sense to spend some time to evaluate what you know and what you don’t know. Most people don’t do this and assume they already have all the tools, skills, and resources to accomplish their goal as fast as possible, but in most cases that’s not the truth.

Obviously, it’s easier not to research and not to learn anything new. But if you’re serious about setting goals and actually achieving them, I encourage you to look at people who have already succeeded and pay close attention to their strategy, because chances are there’s something you don’t know yet, and that something could help you achieve your goal twice as fast.

Be willing to learn

6. Setting the wrong goals

Regardless of what success looks like to you, setting goals is one of the easiest ways to make your life more interesting as well as developing discipline. However, because your goals will require a lot of your time, energy, and focus, you want to make sure you set goals that, once achieved, will actually improve your life.

So don’t make the mistakes of setting the wrong goals. Before you write down your plans, ask yourself: if I put in the time and I am successful, will my health/financial situation/relationships improve? Will I be happier, or have more freedom, or enjoy life a lot more? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, perhaps you should re-evaluate your plan.

7. Setting goals for the wrong reason

Another mistake you want to avoid at all costs is setting goals for the wrong reason. An example of this is people who want to reach a certain income so they can prove to others they are capable of doing that. But in doing so, they forget about their true why and focus all their energy on something they cannot control — other people’s thoughts.

One way to know you’re setting a goal for the wrong reason is to identify whether there are negative emotions associated with it; these could be hate, feelings of inferiority, revenge, or even fear. Conversely, when you are motivated by positive emotions such as the desire to grow as a person and help others — that’s when you become unstoppable.

8. Setting goals based on someone else’s life

Let’s say you meet a friend of a friend and they tell you about a particular goal they are working on, and suddenly you are inspired to do the same. In this situation, it would be sensible to first ask yourself whether that person’s goal can be compatible with your own lifestyle, skills, or resources.

For example, even if the other person’s goal sounds exciting, you may not have enough time to work on the same goal. Or, you may not have their talent or skills, and may need a lot of time to develop those before you can even start working on your goal. So when setting goals, be 100 percent honest with yourself and evaluate whether you are the kind of person (or have the kind of life) that aligns with them.

9. Being completely unrealistic

Typically, those who criticize you and tell you you should be “realistic”, aren’t the kind of people you want to surround yourself with. And being ambitious, and having big dreams, can only be a good thing. However, when it comes to goal setting you do want to make sure your goals aren’t completely unrealistic.

You want your goals to challenge you, of course, but you also want to have the belief that you are capable of achieving them if you give your all. And any goal, task, or challenge that feels insurmountable will usually produce the opposite effect.

10. Thinking you’ll never make mistakes

You’ve probably already seen pictures of “what people think success looks like”, and “what it really looks like”. Well, 99 percent of the time, that is a pretty accurate representation. If you have a big enough goal, you’ll inevitably face obstacles, setbacks, and things you simply can’t predict.

The key is to expect them, and be aware that some parts of the process will be difficult; be okay with the fact that, sometimes, you will fail, and you will make mistakes. So when you write down your goals, take this into account and don’t expect everything to be super smooth.

Perception vs reality

11. Setting goals that aren’t exciting

Think of a moment in your life when you felt like the luckiest person on the planet, and were full of joy and enthusiasm. If your current goals, or their outcome, won’t give you a similar feeling (provided you can visualize them with great intensity), you should probably forget about them.

Yes, the process through which you achieve goals can be boring or even frustrating. But if achieving your goals won’t lead to true joy, if you visualize success and it doesn’t feel like the greatest things you’ve ever done — then, what’s the point? The more your goals excite you, the more motivation and willpower you will have, and that’s going to give you a huge advantage.

12. Not breaking down goals into smaller steps

Alright. You have identified your why. You have written down your goals. You have taken into account all the possible obstacles and problems. You are ready to start, only… the more you look at your goal, the more you feel overwhelmed. How do you deal with that?

Many people simply convince themselves that their goal is too difficult, feel stuck, and quit. But the solution, in this case, is actually very simple. All you need to do is break down your main objective into smaller, achievable, easy peasy steps; and focus on the first one rather than the last. Then, once you gain momentum, it’ll be easier to keep going.

13. Not setting milestones

If you have, say, a five-year goal, are you really going to celebrate only after those five years of blood, sweat, and tears? And even if it’s a short term goal and you enjoy the process, the thought of rewarding yourself only after you have achieved the very last step can be quite frustrating.

This is one of the reasons why it’s vital to celebrate small wins. When you set goals and break them down into smaller steps, you also want to set milestones and make sure you will cheer each small victory. Our mind loves growth, progress, and achievement, and celebrating each step of your goal will definitely make a big difference.

14. Setting goals based on things outside your control

Whether we like it or not, life is unpredictable; and I’m not aware of any goal (including spiritual goals) whose process would depend entirely upon us, and over which we could have complete control.

However, you do want to set goals where your own actions and decisions will determine at least, say, 90 percent of the outcome. It’s okay to take sensible risks, but a situation in which success (or failure) depends mostly on other people, or some kind of bigger entity, or even luck, that’s a no-no. Be in charge and take ownership of your own destiny.

15. Spending too much time planning

Once you have set your goals, you want to take action as soon as possible, for two reasons: time is precious, and your motivation may decrease sooner than you think. If you tend to be a perfectionist, resist the temptation to plan and think about your goal over and over again because it’s usually counterproductive.

Taking action doesn’t need to be intimidating. If you are trying to lose weight, it could be visiting your local gyms and asking a few questions; if you are getting started with minimalism, it could be something as simple as throwing away one old item. Whatever you do, do it ASAP.

16. Setting too many goals

Depending on your schedule, this could be the worst mistake of all. If you’re in a position where you can devote most of your time and energy to your goals, then it probably won’t hurt to set a few extra goals. But realistically, those of us with a family and/or a full time job, or even a part-time job, simply can’t afford to do that.

Which is why the general recommendation is to set only one or two goals maximum. To put it simply, the less goals you have, the more likely it will be to succeed. So if you have an endless list of things you want to achieve in the next few years, do prioritize them, and focus on those who are most important first.

17. Having (or not having) a plan B

This is totally up to you, so go with your gut. There’s plenty of reasons to have a plan B just in case things don’t go your way, and there’s also reasons not to do that. There’s a lot of successful people out there telling you to burn bridges and have an all-or-nothing mindset, because that worked for them, but obviously you need to evaluate your own situation. Plus, it just depends on the goal you are trying to achieve.

In terms of motivation, having a plan B (or C) could be great because it could give you the impression that even if things go wrong, you won’t have to worry, and that could give you a confidence boost. On the other hand, you could also say that it’s difficult to go all in on something unless it’s your only option. Trust your intuition and see what’s best for you.

18. Setting goals to make other people happy

Are you trying to change your life or even yourself to make someone else happy? That’s probably a mistake. I don’t care if it’s your parents, your partner, or a close friend or someone you trust. When you set goals, you have to identify your own needs and desires and ignore all external influences.

This doesn’t mean being selfish. And if your goals are likely to affect the life of those you love and care about, you should definitely be aware of that and reflect on that. However, focus on your own happiness first because that’s going to tell you whether the goals you set will actually matter.

19. Not having visual reminders

Just like you are supposed to read your goals every day to condition your mind, it makes sense to have visual reminders around your home/office for the same exact purpose. Plus, our brain responds to images differently. Which do you think has the greater emotional impact — a sentence that describes your goal, or a picture of it?

Some people like to create vision boards, but any image or series of images will do. It could even be a wallpaper on your phone. Just make sure it motivates you, and make sure it reflects what you want to achieve and experience.

20. Setting goals that aren’t big enough

Another common mistake people make when setting goals is to look at their comfort zone, or their current skills and attitude, and set goals based on that. In other words, they set goals that are relatively easy to achieve, and that don’t require them to change or sacrifice anything.

For instance, they think that if they have to learn new things, or meet new people, change their daily routine, move somewhere new, change their attitude or personality, take risks, meet people’s criticism, etc. then their goal is too big. But to be fair, anything too easy or too safe probably won’t give you any significant results. Do use common sense, and don’t be completely unrealistic (as I’ve mentioned earlier), but shoot for the stars.

21. Being stubborn

Interestingly enough, if you read the story of many if not most successful startups, you’ll find out that their original plan was actually quite different from what they are doing at the moment. Some of the founders’ plans and ideas remained the same, but others were either tweaked or eliminated.

The lesson here is that when setting goals, and as you go through the process of achieving your goals, you should never be too rigid, or stubborn. Some of your initial plans may have to change and to be honest, as long as you can achieve a positive result, that doesn’t really matter. So learn to adapt, and use your creativity.

22. Having too many distractions

The last goal setting mistake you need to be aware of is setting goals but then having too many distractions around you. If you are serious about achieving your dreams, you need to be okay with the fact that you may have to sacrifice some things in order to do that, at least temporarily.

Once you have set your goals, be honest with yourself and ask yourself: are there too many distractions in my life? Keep in mind, these could be anything from clutter, to some of your hobbies, to hanging around naysayers, or even your own negative thoughts. So get rid of them first, then, once you have more clarity and freedom, pursue your goals.

Goal setting mistakes — Summary

  • Not having a deadline and monitoring your progress as you approach it
  • Being impatient and giving up too soon
  • Not writing down your goals, and not reading them every day
  • Not being 100 percent clear on your purpose or why
  • Thinking you know everything (and not being willing to learn and grow)
  • Setting goals that won’t actually improve your life
  • Setting goals for the wrong reason, for example fear or hate
  • Setting goals based on someone else’s life/skills/personality
  • Not using common sense; being completely unrealistic
  • Assuming you won’t make mistakes, or letting mistakes discourage you
  • Setting goals that don’t give you joy and/or enthusiasm
  • Not breaking down your goals into smaller, achievable steps
  • Focusing only on the end result and not celebrating your accomplishments
  • Setting goals based on things that are outside your control
  • Being a perfectionist and spending months planning everything
  • Setting too many goals without prioritizing them first
  • Having (or not having) a back-up plan, or plan B
  • Setting goals to make other people happy
  • Not having visual reminders, such as a vision board
  • Setting goals based on your current skills or comfort zone
  • Not being able to adapt and tweak your goals/strategy over time
  • Having too many distractions (including your own negative thoughts)

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