10 Tragic Goal Setting Mistakes

Firstly, I just wanted to tell you I’ve almost finished my latest ebook and it should be going to the designer as soon as I get it edited*

It’s a basic introduction to meditation written in my usual style.

If you want a copy,  sign up for my newsletter in the box on the left and it will be delivered fresh to your inbox.

Speaking of which, if you aren’t signed up you are missing the chance to get my in-depth look at goal setting for free too because that’s sent to every one of my subscribers.

In the meantime and after a week in which I’ve twice talked to clients who were struggling with their goals, I thought I’d share with you some of the major reasons people don’t hit their goals so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

1. Not Understanding The Big Picture

Let’s presume you have a goal of becoming an attorney. Why do you want to be an attorney? It’s easy to say for the money because lawyers do earn a lot of money, but why do you want the money?

Yeh you’ve guessed it, we’re drilling down to ensure your goal is value based rather than material based.

A job that you’re doing for money alone will suck the life out of you very quickly.

Keep asking the question what does this goal give me? And if you can’t come up with values that are crucial to you, then it’s the wrong goal.

If you don’t know what your values are and why they are absolutely crucial to your happiness click here.

2. Setting Other People’s Goals

I’ve spoken about this a number of times yet still I see clients who are working toward goals that are not their own.

Lovely though it is to set off on a career path that you think will make your parents proud, it’s also very, very dumb. Unless that is, you want as badly as you think your parents do too.

When thinking about your goals, remove other people from the equation at the beginning so you can isolate what you want.

Of course family members and friends will have to be taken into consideration, but they shouldn’t be influencing you to do something you don’t really want to do.

3. Not Writing Them Down.

Forget the bogus self development story about the Yale study on goal setting that suggested the 2% of students who had written goals out performed the 98% that didn’t, because it never happened.

However, that doesn’t in any way mean there isn’t value to writing your goals down, because there is.

Firstly, to write a goal down you have to crystallize it. A goal/dream floating around your head is usually fuzzy and vague, but writing it down forces you to clarify it.

Also, writing uses a different part of your brain than to just pondering and this has the effect of the goal being more ‘real’ to you.

And finally you have something to refer back to and measure your progress with.

4. Having No End Date

Goals have to have a timeline otherwise they almost always slip.

You’re probably a busy person and as such you will spend a lot of your time to reacting to situations and fire-fighting rather than being proactive.

If you have a goal to finish some project that’s important to you and you don’t insert an end date, then trust me it will slip as you react to other things that hit your inbox.

You are way better extending a goal deadline than never having one in the first place.

5. Not Getting Leverage

There was a TED talk relatively recently that gained a lot of traction and comments from people who loved it. The reason it crated so much interest is because it suggested you should not tell other people about your goals.

The speaker (and I’m deliberately not naming him for reasons that will become clear) suggested that once you tell people your goal you can then switch off to them and you’re less likely to achieve them.

That unconsciously you mind thinks “OK, that’s done and dusted, what’s next?

That can happen, but the odds are it won’t, because it’s only a small amount of people that are wired up like that.

In my opinion the speaker was trying to deliberately be controversial by breaking conventional (and scientifically proven) wisdom.

If you know for sure that telling other people about your goals will discourage you or give you a sense that you have accomplished them, then I agree, don’t do it.

However, most people like to be consistent and demonstrate commitment and therefore telling as many people as possible can be very helpful in keeping you on track.

Not to mention that somebody may be able to help achieve your goal if they know about it.

My book on meditation was a ballache and quite honestly if I’d not promised my newsletter readers I’d write it I would have quit when I realized how overwhelming the topic was.

If you want to understand the psychology on this check out the awesome Influence by Robert Cialdini (al).

6. Not Understanding Your Environment

Even though I said you shouldn’t be setting other peoples goals, you also shouldn’t be going to the opposite extreme and not considering those people around you who are important to you.

A goal of cycling round the world would be quite a cool goal, right?

Sure it would, but not so much if you have a partner, three kids under the age of 5 and a mortgage.


Yeh you’d think so, but that is an actual goal a client discussed with me.

I don’t want to put people off big goals at this stage because there can often be work arounds, but do consider all factors.

7. Making Goals That Are Too Vague

This is something I see almost weekly from clients and I don’t even do that much goal setting!

There’s a reason the S part of SMARTER method of goal setting means specific, and that’s because non-specific goals never get hit.

And the reason they never get his is because how can you tell you’ve hit it if you were never sure what it was?

Earning more money, getting more blog subscribers and being fitter are not goals, they are wishes.

8. Not Setting Sub-Goals

If you’re in the Big Hairy Audacious Goal territory like myself and John are with our 1,000,000 book How To Be Rich and Happy giveaway, then you want to be setting sub-goals.

Massive goals can be demoralizing if you aren’t flying toward them at the speed of light and that can cause you to quit early.

Set incremental goals so you can track your progress, motivate yourself more easily and enjoy the process. Speaking of which….

9. Setting All Or Nothing Goals

If you’re not enjoying the process of moving toward your goals, they’re the wrong goals. Or at the very least you are leaving yourself open for huge disappointment.

Imagine how the athlete who spends 8 years training for the Olympics and then gets injured the week before feels.

Now imagine how much worse those feelings would be if she’d hated all the training she’d had to do because it was all about the gold medal.

And this isn’t just related to sports either.

Borrowing the example from before. If you want to become an attorney, you’d better like law school and working insanely long hours for years on end otherwise you’re in for a crap load of misery.

You have no idea how long you’ll live for and every day is precious, so set goals that will be for the large part, fun.

10. Making Goals Too Realistic & Being Too Attached to the Result

I know the first ‘R’ in the Smarter method stands for realistic, but I’m not sure how useful that is.

The greatest achievements of all time were all considered unrealistic at some stage or other so don’t be too realistic.

I often see clients reining in their goals for fear of being disappointed if they don’t hit them. It’s ok not to hit some of your goals as long as you have fun trying and you did your best.

However, if you have attached your self worth and future happiness to hitting a goal then you’re playing Russian roulette, except there is only one empty chamber and not 5.

So what do you reckon?

Have I missed any common mistakes out?

I’m especially interested in hearing if you failed on a goal for a reason that in hindsight was obvious.