There you are. Excited. Motivated. Jazzed. You’ve planned out some goals for yourself and are ready to get after it. In fact, why wait till morning to get started?
You’re ready to go right now. Right this very second while your inspiration is at its peak!
Now’s the perfect time to start getting in “better shape.” There’s no time like the present, after all.
And sure, it’s already late afternoon on a Tuesday but you can probably squeeze in an hour long strength workout now and then go for a two hour run after, right? Ya you can! Because you have your goals and you are going to crush it.
Fast forward a week from now and you’re back at your desk.
It’s Tuesday afternoon once again and your fitness goals are but a distant memory from a simpler time, a better time, a time where life didn’t get in your way and derail your marathon-running, six-pack-wielding dreams.
Oh well, you think, goal setting just isn’t for me.
Does this story sound like you? Probably, right? And I promise, I’m not calling you out. I’m not trying to put you down or make you feel bad.
I mention that example above because we’ve all been that person.
Myself 100% included.
We all fall prey to goal setting shortcomings at one time or another. But it’s not because goal setting “isn’t right for you” or that “you just aren’t cut out to achieve something greater in life.”
Normally it just comes down to the logistics. To the actual formatting, structure, and planning of your goals. Your work ethic and overall ability play only a small role in achieving what you’re after.
My early twenties
This is an embarrassing story…
I really don’t want to share it. In fact, thinking about sharing the story with you is making me cringe as I write this.
So maybe I can drag it out… and procrastinate writing it… but… ugh… I know it would be helpful to share it with you… so I should probably share it… fine… here it is.
I’m cringing right now. I hope you’re happy.
Ok… here’s the story.
When I was in my early twenties (22), I worked for a tech startup. We were a small team, building an app that would help college-age students better connect and make plans with their friends.
We had some funding, the app looked promising, and my future seemed bright.
At the time, I was reading the book – Think and Grow Rich – and was in an ambitious frame of mind. I was also listening to a lot of the common goal setting advice going around. Advice that explained that when setting a goal, you should set one that is so huge, so massive, so daunting, that even if you come up short you’ll land miles ahead of where you’d be if you had set a smaller goal.
So think big I did.
In my notebook, feeling inspired, I wrote down the following goals (mind you, I’m 22 and fresh out of college):
- By 23 – Have a salary of $55k
- By 24 – Have a salary of between $100k-$150k
- And by 25… Have a net worth of… over $100 million
Pretty ambitious, right? And a pretty big jump in wealth, huh? Well, I figured that all I needed to do was write it down and visualize it constantly and it would materialize before me.
So that’s what I did.
I thought about that goal, internalized it, and planned for it. I imagined what I would do with the money, who I would share it with and in what quantity.
It was all worked out in my head. Now it just needed to happen. I had my goal, I had my motivation, and now I just needed to wait for it to unfold before me.
And that’s exactly what happened! Everything worked out exactly as I had planned! I did it! Goal accomplished!
Common goal setting pitfalls
I didn’t reach that $100 million goal. Not even close. And in coming up extremely short on it, I learned a valuable lesson – you need to set goals that you can control.
I’ll go into this more below, but suffice it to say, the goals you set need to be for things that you generally have a sense of control over.
Otherwise, it’s just a wish.
And yes, sometimes wishes do come true, but if you want a system for regularly attaining what you desire in life, you need something a little more consistent than a shooting star.
With that in mind, below are some common goal setting pitfalls that I’ve consistently fallen into and gotten derailed by throughout my goal setting journey. And, more importantly, they are challenges that I see countless others struggling with today.
So take a look at each goal setting pitfall below and use them to inform your goals moving forward.
As I just mentioned, you need to set goals that you can control. Otherwise, you open yourself up for disappointment and potential failure.
For example, let’s say you’re training for your second half marathon.
You can set a goal to: finish the race in first place, but you have no control over the other runners. They may:
- Have trained harder than you
- Be naturally faster than you
- Or have better equipment than you (ex. shoes)
But let’s say you decide to stick with that goal. So on race day you start running and eventually end the half marathon in second place. A great accomplishment. But instead of being pleased with yourself and all your hard work, you’re mad that you came up short on your goal.
In your eyes, you failed.
But it’s not because you came in second, it’s because you set the wrong objective for yourself.
Instead of setting that initial goal of coming in first, a goal that is entirely not up to you, you should instead set a goal that is within your locus of control.
With that in mind, let’s try it again. The race is approaching and you decide to set a goal for yourself that is within your control. You’re going to go with either:
- Finish the race and set a new personal speed record for yourself
- Not stop to walk the entire race
- Or simply, just finish the race in general (half marathons are hard)
You decide to go with option two – not stop to walk the entire race.
Jump ahead and it’s now race day once again and you start running. Skip to the end and congrats! you didn’t walk at all the entire race! You feel accomplished because you achieved the very hard goal that you were after.
Oh, and you just so happened to have come in first. An added bonus.
To summarize this point, set goals that you can control so that you give yourself the chance to achieve them. You can’t work towards things outside of your control.
Focus on one
Another very common pitfall that I see people encounter is setting numerous, conflicting goals. Conflicting in what way though? Conflicting for your time.
This happens often. Maybe you start a new job, or move into a new home, or start a business. You’re so excited that you set numerous goals all for that one area of your life.
But, you only have so much time in a day.
So what happens is that, feeling like you can’t accomplish any of them, you give up on all of them.
You feel defeated and throw in the towel.
Life is chaos
For example, let’s say you start a new content writer job and are excited. So excited that you decide to set some goals to make sure you get off to a good start.
You set (controllable) goals for your first month and decide that you will:
- Write and publish ten new blog posts
- Create five infographics
- And contact 50 influencers for a podcast interview
Do you see the problem here?
You have three time consuming goals all vying for your attention. You only have so much time in a day, but you want to do everything.
So what happens?
Well, you end up writing two posts and reach out to eight influencers your first week. Week two you create an infographic and write up half a post. Week three, you’re stressed out and exhausted because you still have so much to do and can’t seem to focus.
And week four you give up and decide to accept that life is chaos and that nothing will ever get done.
Don’t quit just yet though. This is simply just a case of lack-of-focus. That’s all.
Your one goal
You have several goals all competing for your time and attention. You can’t tend to all of them at once. So you end up splitting your time, make limited progress, and eventually give up before the month concludes.
But that can be easily avoided!
When setting goals, only set one goal for each area of your life at a time.
So when you wake up and start reading, have your one reading goal. When you get to work, have your one work-related goal. And when you get home, have your one workout goal ready.
Anything more than one goal per each area of your life will result in reduced focus and effectiveness.
When you find yourself scattered and frustrated, then, remember what your one goal is and determine what positive step you can take to make it happen.
Make it sustainable
Another common goal setting pitfall is burnout. Like a comet streaking across the night sky, it shines bright for about 30 seconds before disappearing into the darkness.
Goal burnout is the same thing.
Here’s an example.
Say you set a goal to lift weights twice a day – once in the morning and once at night – and promptly get to it. Week one goes smoothly. In fact, you even squeeze in a third workout during lunchtime. Oh and you workout during the weekend too, telling yourself that breaks are for the mediocre.
Week two goes OK, but your spark is noticeably diminished.
By week three, you spend your morning workout eating pancakes and your evening workout at a bar.
What happened? You created something unsustainable.
More than I planned
When setting goals for yourself, you should:
- Give yourself breaks
- Keep your energy levels steady
- And “leave some on the court”
In other words, you need to create something sustainable so that you don’t burn out after two weeks. You want to:
- Give yourself time for rest (ie. don’t workout every single day)
- Keep your energy levels balanced (ie. one workout a day instead of two)
- And leave a little energy in the tank for the next day so that you don’t burn up all your motivation (ie. stop when you need to be done, not when you feel exhausted)
Here’s an example from my own life. This year I set an ambitious reading goal. And, while it’s going well, I am often tempted to read more than I had planned for that day.
For instance, if I intend to read 20 pages in a sitting, I will often feel compelled to keep going. To read 30 or 40 pages before throwing my bookmark in. After all, the more I read, the faster I’ll get through a book, the more books I’ll finish.
Ending on a cliffhanger
But, experience has taught me that by reading those extra pages, I will burn through all my energy and excitement and when tomorrow comes I won’t be as motivated to read. You repeat that enough days in a row and you’ll end up fatigued and generally “over it.”
Knowing that, I force myself to stop when I need to.
I may sometimes still go over, but only by a page or two. I know that if I want to continue with my reading goal, I need to leave some energy in the tank.
That I’m better off ending on a cliffhanger that I can’t wait to resume tomorrow, than to burn through my reading reserves.
So when it comes to your own goals, don’t over-exert yourself. Push yourself, sure, but within reason. If you tear your ACL on your first workout because you went “too hard,” the only direction it will help you move towards is the couch.
Dodge pitfalls from now on
There are many more goal setting pitfalls than just the ones I noted above, but that’s a longer conversation for another time. For now, start with these three.
Consider your own goals and determine if you are setting yourself up for failure or success. Ask yourself, are you setting goals that are:
- Within your control?
- The one focus for each area of your life?
If they are, great! You’re well on your way to achieving something amazing. If they aren’t, consider what adjustments you can make to better set yourself up for success.
Each individual goal setting journey is unique, but we all experience common pitfalls. Keep these three in mind and make the progress that you’re after!