You place the screw against the wall. It’s exactly where it needs to go. In your other hand is a screwdriver. You raise the tool up to the screw. Instead of screwing it in though, you hammer it. You whack the bottom of the screwdriver against its screw counterpart. The screw, confused, splinters the surrounding area. It should have been an easy job. Now, however, there’s a mess where a simple screw should have been.
Goal setting, like a screwdriver, is a powerful tool. When used correctly it leads to a more fulfilling life. It can just as easily be used incorrectly though. And in that misuse, you end up causing more damage than benefit.
As someone who sets a lot of goals for himself, I know firsthand the common myths that can trip you up. Further, as someone who achieves plenty of those goals, I know just how possible it is to right the ship. Avoid these common goal setting myths and avoid destroying what would otherwise be a bright, optimistic future.
Myth 1: You can’t change them once they’re set
You set a goal for yourself. You want to spend one hour in your garden each day. Yet, after a week or two, you realize an hour each day is exhausting. An hour a week is probably closer to your ideal. You feel torn though. If you change your goal now, you’ll be a quitter. But if you stick with the original aim, you’ll become ever more exhausted.
It’s a classic Catch-22.
The solution is simple. Give yourself permission to make adjustments as needed. There is this feeling that once you set a goal it becomes locked in. It doesn’t have to be that way though. You can start a goal whenever you want. Furthermore, you can stop it whenever you want. And you can certainly change it whenever you want. I make adjustments all the time.
Myth 2: They have to revolve around money or weight loss
At the beginning, the two goals you are likely to set are: lose X lbs and make X amount of money. That’s fine. You can certainly do that. But don’t feel like those are the only goals you can set for yourself. Instead, see goal setting as a means to an end. As a tool to create a more fulfilling life. Money and weight are surely a part of that. They aren’t the only parts though.
You have relationships, mental health, a home, and so much more.
For instance, I have a fitness goal but I also have a goal to go on a date with my wife once a month. I have a goal to go to the beach twice a month. And I have a goal related to getting more sleep. Money and weight are but two aspects that comprise you. Set goals outside that narrow scope.
Myth 3: You need to aim high
A common goal setting practice is to aim extremely high. If you achieve your goal, you accomplish something amazing. And if you don’t, you’ll at least land further ahead than had you gone with something smaller. I disagree with this logic. When you aim extremely high, you put an extreme amount of pressure on yourself. When you inevitably fall short, you aren’t pumped by how much progress you managed to make.
No. You’re irritated with the entire process. You give up on goal setting altogether.
Instead of aiming high, set goals within your control. Push yourself, but also recognize your tendencies. For instance, I have a goal to complete two books a month. Totally within my control to do. When I started the goal, I was averaging about 1.5 books each month. Because of that, I knew two was a reasonable challenge. I ended up completing over one book a week last year with this goal.* This leads me to the next myth…
*Moving forward, I could certainly adjust my goal to complete four books a month instead of two. However, it remains at two so I have room to take on longer novels without feeling like I need to rush through them.
Myth 4: Achieving them must be difficult
If you plan it out correctly, there’s no reason achieving your goal needs to be hard. It’s a myth that goals need to be brutal, uphill battles. Instead, look at my reading goal once more. Last year I completed, on average, four books a month. It was easy. My initial goal was to complete two books a month and I doubled it without breaking a sweat.
If you are intentional with your:
- Time each day;
- And goals you set;
- They don’t need to be painful. In fact, they can be easy.
Myth 5: You must accomplish them at all costs
Abandon your family. Cancel your vacation. Let your plants die. All that matters is you make your 100 cold calls each day. You see the insanity of that, right? If you must give up everything in order to achieve your goal, you’re setting the wrong goal. Recall that goal setting is a tool for a more fulfilling life. Each goal you set should add meaning, not subtract it.
Don’t neglect the other areas of your life. Instead, set goals in those areas. And if one goal seems to be taking up too much of your focus, adjust it. Make it more manageable. Remind yourself: fulfillment is the end. Don’t lose fulfillment in the pursuit of achievement.
Myth 6: If you miss them, you’re a failure
This myth is all too common. I still run into it on occasion and I write about goal setting for a living! When you miss a goal, you will default to calling yourself a failure. That is untrue though. What you have is a mismatch between your ideal and reality. Maybe you set a goal that was too ambitious (see myth number three). Maybe you thought you had more time for it than you actually did (see myth number one).
Either way, when you miss a goal, recognize that you aren’t a failure. Instead, tweak the goal to better align with your aim. See it as finding the right fit. For example, I once had a goal to consume a certain amount of carbs each day. At seven days a week, it felt way too restrictive and I only hit that number a few times.
I adjusted it to a handful of days instead. It became a better fit but I still wasn’t getting the weight loss I was after (see myth number two). I ended up concluding the goal. I didn’t get the result, but I was proud of the work I put in. That said, I didn’t call myself a failure or abandon goal setting. Rather, I saw it as a stepping stone for the goal I replaced it with.
Myth 7: Goal setting “isn’t for you”
The final goal setting myth is that it isn’t for you. Common reasons for that statement include:
- You don’t like to plan;
- You aren’t organized;
- You don’t know what you want;
- You don’t have time for anything else right now.
The reality is if you want a better life, you will benefit from goal setting. If you want a more meaningful, purpose-filled existence, you will benefit from goal setting. See it for the valuable tool it is. Take advantage of it.
Avoid these goal setting myths
Don’t let the myths in this article cause destruction and despair for your future self. They are easy to avoid. And upon their avoidance, you will be all the better for it. To reference them once more, the seven myths to avoid are:
- You can’t change them once they’re set
- They have to revolve around money or weight loss
- You need to aim high
- Achieving them must be difficult
- You must accomplish them at all costs
- If you miss them, you’re a failure
- Goal setting “isn’t for you”