Are You Making These 5 Goal-Setting Mistakes?

As a results-focused career, business, and leadership coach, I spend a lot of time sitting down with people to help them set goals. I’ve discovered that the type of goals we set makes a big difference to how achievable the goals are, and how much they actually bring you closer to a desired future. Here are five common ways that you can ruin your goal achievement chances before you even get started.

Five Common Goal-Setting Mistakes

1) The “Should” Goal.

You know the type! This goal is set because of something you believe you should do, but you don’t have a lot of energy, excitement, or motivation for it (at least, not any motivation that will last through the inevitable setbacks). Examples: “I should lose 15 pounds,” or “I should go to yoga more often.”

Goal-Setting Tip: Base your goals on what motivates you, not on your idea of what or who you “should” be.

2) The “Shouldn’t” Goal.

Even worse than the “should” goal is the “shouldn’t”! A goal that’s stated as something you shouldn’t do, or something you’re going to stop doing, is even more momentum-crushing than a “should” goal. Examples: “I’m going to stop biting my nails,” or “I shouldn’t stay up so late.”

Goal-Setting Tip: Define your goals in terms of what you do want, not what you don’t want.

3) The Insecure Goal.

Sometimes you might find yourself setting a goal because you feel insecure about who you are if you don’t achieve that goal. Examples: “I should learn French so that I’m more marketable,” (a goal set based on the fear of not being marketable enough), or “I should get an MBA so that I’m more qualified for a promotion,” (a goal set on the fear of not being promotion-worthy without an MBA).

While there’s nothing wrong with these goals in themselves, the insecure goal will trip you up because it’s driven by your fear and self-doubt instead of by your desire and motivation.

Goal-Setting Tip: Check to see if fear or insecurity is driving your goal. If you weren’t experiencing feelings of self-doubt, would you still set the same goal? What goal might you set instead?

4) The Vague Goal.

The vague goal makes your life difficult because it’s never clear what exactly you’re working towards or what success will look like. A goal such as, “I should be more fit,” doesn’t provide you with clear or actionable direction, nor will you be able to tell when you’ve reached your goal. Likewise, a goal such as “I should watch less TV,” doesn’t provide enough specificity for you to tell whether or not you’re achieving it.

Goal-Setting Tip: You’re more likely to achieve a goal if you specify exactly what actions you will take and when you will take them.

5) The Almost-There Goal.

A goal that’s written on the journey to the future is more like a wish than a goal. For example, a goal such as “I am working towards running a marathon,” is a wish for the future.  Written in this way, it subconsciously always keeps the real end goal just out of reach.  Even if you achieved this goal as stated (working towards the marathon), you still wouldn’t have run the actual marathon (the “real” goal)!

Goal-Setting Tip: Set goals that have you actually achieving your real end goal, rather than goals that just have you working towards a distant future.

Have you been making these five common goal-setting mistakes? 

Now’s the time to start setting specific, timely goals based on what you want and what you’re moving towards. I can help! For a one-on-one goal-setting session, or a goal-setting workshop with your team, contact me via this website.

Melissa Creede (P.Eng, CPCC) is an accomplished and results-focused coach who enables individuals and organizations to activate their full potential. In addition to one-on-one work with her coaching clients, she offers personal and professional development workshops, including an entire workshop devoted to how to set inspiring and engaging goals that propel you toward a more fulfilling work and life.