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.

Interview: Finding and Using Your Career Sweet Spot

Below is an edited and condensed version of an interview, Finding Your Green Career “Sweet Spot”, that first appeared on the Eco Canada website. Eco Canada interviewed leadership and career coach Melissa Creede about the “Sweet Spot”.

Eco Canada: You recently facilitated a workshop for environmental professionals called Career, Leadership, Lifestyle: Finding Your Sweet Spot. What is the “Sweet Spot”, and how do you know you’ve found it?

Melissa Creede: I define the Sweet Spot as the intersection between your strengths, interests, aspirations, purpose and values. It’s the overlap between your career goals, your lifestyle desires, and the areas in which you want to lead or make a difference in the world.

The Sweet Spot originates from your strengths, so it makes everything effortless and straightforward. You feel energized and extremely fulfilled. You are much more successful, effective, influential, and confident because you spend most of your time in the areas that you love and that you’re good at. You even end up having more time available, because you’re not being pulled in several different directions.

That sounds great. Can you be a bit more specific? For instance, what is your Sweet Spot?

My Sweet Spot brings together several elements. I’m most excited when I’m directly engaging with the people side of the environment industry: one-on-one coaching, focus groups, training, stakeholder engagement, and facilitation.

My Sweet Spot uses my strengths: I am able to visualize a bigger vision of what’s possible in a scenario and I have the persistence to lead people to that. I used to do this in the context of projects; now I do that with people and organizations. I see, before they do, the best and grandest vision of what’s possible for them – something grander maybe than they have dared to see. I also have a natural tendency to balance big picture vision with tangible actions– I continually shift between the future and present, the “what” and the “how”, what’s possible and next steps.

In my Sweet Spot, my leadership goals and my career goals are almost superimposed, and my Sweet Spot also honours my personal and lifestyle priorities.

Best of all, I now spend about 90% of my time in my Sweet Spot (versus 40-50% a few years ago).

The great news is, spending most of your time in your Sweet Spot is possible for everyone. You can make a few necessary and effective shifts, and don’t even have to leave your existing job!

Would you like to spend more time in your Sweet Spot? Contact Melissa Creede at for a 20-minute consultation, and learn how coaching can help you.

Melissa Creede, P.Eng, CPCC, is an accomplished and results-focused coach who enables individuals and organizations to activate their full potential as leaders. Leveraging her two decades of corporate and consulting experience, she founded Sapis Insight to focus on leadership coaching, career coaching, and facilitation. Melissa has a clear and direct style, and she combines a sense of playfulness with a determination to bring forth your truth, purpose, and motivation. She unwaveringly commits to your best vision of what’s possible, and helps you take practical actions to achieve it.

In 2004, Eco Canada named Melissa to Eco-Canada’s Honour Roll as one of ten recognized leaders in the environmental industry.

Following a Dream Across the Globe: Melissa Creede Coaching Case Study

Allison, MBA, Hult International Business School, Shanghai, China

Allison knew where she wanted to be in ten years, but her goals were hazy and she was having trouble connecting them to her day-to-day decisions. After meeting Melissa at a conference, Allison tried coaching, and found her first session so valuable that she stuck with it. With Melissa’s help, Allison — a Canadian — let herself dream big about her ten year goal of working internationally. She narrowed down her options and made the bold decision to complete an international MBA. Now, two years later, Allison has completed her program. It exceeded her expectations for professional development, international exposure, and future opportunities. She reflects on how coaching helped direct her path along the way.

Getting Clear on What I Wanted

Before I started coaching, I knew I had potential, abilities and drive, but I wasn’t fully applying my strengths and skills toward making myself happier. Although I had an idea of where I wanted to be in ten years, it didn’t seem directly connected to what I was doing in everyday life. For three or four years, I had been investigating different ways I could take my life to the next level—like moving to a different city, or going back to school. But none of these options seemed a clear winner.

When I began coaching with Melissa, I started to get super clear on what I wanted. She helped me focus, she asked me thought-provoking questions, and she pushed me just the right amount.

When Melissa listened to me, I could hear myself better: I heard my own answers coming from within me, and Melissa paraphrased my answers back to me in vivid detail.

As our coaching work progressed, I realized that I wasn’t content just dreaming about doing something new in my life. What I really wanted was a job that made me excited to commit for the long haul! And I discovered that my big picture dream was to stay in my current line of business, but to expand it across the globe.

Melissa helped me see that my goal wasn’t impossible – I just needed to take clear and focused steps to work toward it. As we worked together, I found that the more narrowly I defined my goals, the easier it was for me to make decisions about my next steps. I identified that the best next option for me was to go back to school for an MBA, and I started to put the plan in motion.

Discovering What Was Holding Me Back

Making this big decision wasn’t quite as easy as I’ve made it sound in the paragraphs above, though.  Although I’ve always been someone who tries to live life to its fullest, along the way to this dream, I ran into the habits I’d been using to sometimes hold myself back. Thankfully, Melissa was there to help me see these habits more clearly and move past them.

For example, I used to look at my spirit of adventure and think, “Everyone wants to backpack through Turkey. Everyone wants to go to school overseas and have an international career. These desires aren’t anything special.”

Melissa told me, “Don’t write yourself off so easily.” She helped me realize I was selling myself short – a pattern that was holding me back.  She also helped me realize that I wasn’t even noticing some of my biggest strengths like being bold and not accepting the status quo.

As we worked together, Melissa helped me notice other recurring patterns that weren’t serving me well. Anytime she saw one pop up, she’d point it out and say, “That’s your inner saboteur talking.”  Melissa held me accountable for listening to the inner self-talk — for not living my life to its fullest. Now I can recognize my inner critics and say, “This isn’t helping me.”

Melissa taught me how to catch myself, to be aware of my gut feelings, and to take advantage of that split-second opening to decide how I’ll react. I’ve learned that I can keep my thoughts open to options and opportunity instead of getting bogged down.

Choosing A Life I Love

I chose to complete my MBA in Shanghai, which was directly linked to something Melissa had helped me discover: she helped me see that adventure and challenge are very important to me — are really the essence of my being — and that I could make choices to vibrantly live those values.

Once I had determined my own goals and switched my focus to attaining them, I wasn’t distracted by other people’s choices or opinions. In fact, when a resistant friend questioned my decision to study capitalism in China, I heard myself saying, “You’re not supposed to think this is your normal; it’s mine!”

Going through the decision-making process and getting into my program wasn’t easy, but Melissa’s attention to detail helped me stay on track. She helped me tie the steps together and make the process manageable. Sometimes, if I hadn’t completed my homework in time for a coaching call, I did feel uncomfortable. But I wanted accountability, and she kept me on track.

As a result, I moved my life halfway around the world and completed my MBA in Shanghai, and I loved it! My MBA class had eighty-one members. I was surrounded by people who, like me, chose to take a risk and have an adventure. Through these new lifetime friends, I have contacts in thirty-nine countries! My dream of going global in the wine business is suddenly much more attainable – the world has gotten smaller, and my opportunities have become bigger.

The Gifts of Coaching with Melissa

When I think back on my coaching with Melissa, I realize it was a gift to uncover that I was different from the people around me. I no longer feel embarrassed that I was bored with a life that other people loved.

Through coaching, I began to feel more confident than ever before. I strengthened my positive inner voice that continues to shine through the clouds in times of uncertainty. I learned how to connect with my inner wisdom and run with it.

Getting to Shanghai was big. I don’t pat myself on the back too much, but the truth is, I do feel proud of myself for what I was able to accomplish. The excitement of moving toward my goals is what gets me up in the morning.

I’m enjoying my life so much more now that I feel this way! I’m very grateful that, through coaching, I made a friend for life, a friend for improving my life: my coach Melissa.

Would you like to get clear on your strengths, goals, and values, identify and overcome your inner self-talk, and learn how to take clear and actionable steps to move toward what you want? Contact Melissa Creede at for a 20-minute consultation, and learn how coaching can help you.

Melissa Creede, P.Eng, CPCC, is an accomplished and results-focused coach who enables individuals and organizations to activate their full potential as leaders. Leveraging her two decades of corporate and consulting experience, she founded Sapis Insight to focus on leadership coaching, career coaching, and facilitation. Melissa has a clear and direct style, and she combines a sense of playfulness with a determination to bring forth your truth, purpose, and motivation. She unwaveringly commits to your best vision of what’s possible, and helps you take practical actions to achieve it.

“Be Who You Want to Be.” How Does that Really Work?

You’ve probably heard that “Stepping into WHO you want to be opens the doors for your career to advance.” But most people don’t understand what that means.

Most people assume that it means: dress for the position you want; assume responsibilities of the position for which you strive; follow your boss’ example for work ethic; and get enough experience so the next step ‘seems logical.’ While those approaches have some validity, there’s much more to it than that.

For example, one of my clients — Andrea Grant — knew what she wanted. She wanted a more results-oriented, flexible position as a consultant, even though she’d never been one before. While working in a highly structured job, she went out and interviewed with a number of consulting companies in her area. The more companies she visited, the more excited she became. Every interview, combined with our visioning work, helped her paint a more vivid picture of the life she wanted and would have as a consultant.

Andrea was so energized that she just couldn’t wait anymore.  She decided to quit her job and go out on her own–to start her own consultancy. As she made plans to leave her job, one of those consulting companies she’d interviewed called and offered her exactly the job she wanted, even though she’d never been a consultant before.

It happened because she was acting like a consultant. The consulting company could see her acting like a consultant and so could imagine her in the role. Up until then, she had seemed like someone who only wanted to be a consultant—perhaps someday, when the time was right, or when she had more experience.

The truth is, when you move towards your dreams and act as if you already are what you want to become, other people can see your true strengths more easily. They can see who you really are and support your quest to express your strengths in your career.

So, rather than trying to figure out what to do, start to imagine who to be. And then, be it. You’ll get everything you ever wanted!

What do you have to Give Up to Move Up? Nothing

We often hesitate to invest in getting to the next level because we fear we’ll lose something important along the way.

Meanwhile, we’re less productive. We’re distracted from achieving fulfillment because we’re busy avoiding what we don’t want, or trying to attain things we hope will fulfill us, even though we don’t know for sure. We wind up getting slotted into other things.

The truth is, the closer we get to jobs, lifestyle, and opportunities that resonate with our values and fulfill our potential, the better we perform. We get quicker, more efficient at getting the job done. It seems less like work and more like play, so we receive and put in more energy.

We are naturally drawn to do the work that will enhance our strongest skills and reveal our greatest potential. You don’t have to “give up to move up.” Just structure your life or job a little differently to align with your values.

When you move into that good space, you’ll not only feel more fulfilled, you’ll be amazed at your sudden burst of productivity.

When “Green” isn’t Enough: Aligning with *all* your Values

Many of my clients have meaningful jobs, but they don’t feel fulfilled. When they started off with a “green” career, they assumed they’d always feel good about it because it connected with one of their significant values.

There’s more to fulfillment than just working for a green organization or on green issues. You might be making a difference to the environment, but you may be out of alignment with some other values like freedom, flexibility, or security.

For example, someone working on green projects for the government might feel she’s making a difference to air quality. But if she also feels burned out, she could be out of alignment with her values of flexibility and freedom—values her government job may not fulfill.

Get clear on what you value in your lifestyle as well as your career. What kind of lifestyle do you want? Do you want to work part time, so you can pick up your kids after school? When you know the lifestyle you want, then you can quickly identify career opportunities that support it.
If you’re putting lifestyle issues in the would-be-nice category, it’s time to recognize that living your values is critical to your happiness.

Once you know your values and what you really want, you have a powerful tool that will let you honour your values in all your decisions. When evaluating an opportunity doesn’t take you closer to your ideal, you’ll feel more connected if you acknowledge and honour that truth, and find another option that will take you closer to your goal.

Bettering Our World: Leading Change from your Values


I’ll be speaking Saturday morning at the CUGES event at Carleton. Details below.  My presentation about Leading Change from your values is at 9:30 a.m. (see below). I’d love to see you there!

One day. Zero dollars. Infinite ideas for a finite planet.


The 2011 Carleton University Green Energy Symposium will bring students and industry experts together to share ideas about the development of sustainable energy in a rapidly changing world.


Join us and experience interactive presentations from four noteworthy experts in energy technology, environmental policy, business strategy and career development. Mingle with these professionals over a complimentary lunch and share your thoughts on sustainable development.


Challenge yourself by attending our afternoon session – a panel discussion focused on Poverty and the Environment. A suite of socially-aware experts in sustainability will discuss population growth, resource depletion & sustainable development on a global scale. Watch ideas fly across the table and make your voice heard in our audience participation session.


The Green Energy Symposium is brought to you by Carleton’s Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineering Society, and generously sponsored by the Faculty of Engineering and Design, CB Richard Ellis, Lundy Construction, Stantec, and Bridgehead Coffee.


Where? Minto Centre Foyer, Carleton University campus, Ottawa

When? Saturday, November 5, 2011 / Registration at 9 am – Day ends at 3 pm

How much? Free to attend, with complimentary lunch and refreshments included

My presentation at 9:30 a.m.:

Melissa Creede – a sought-after career and leadership coach – explores the connection between leadership, your career, and your values. Melissa shares her story, and encourages your own personal self-reflection through interactive exercises. Melissa awakens your ability to influence change towards a more sustainable, fair, and values-based world.

How can Your Life and Career Rate Ten out of Ten?

How would you rate your life and career? Five out of ten? Eight out of ten?

Many of my clients have satisfying careers, so their rating typically starts over seven. When they look at why they rate it so highly, they always feel grateful for their achievements.

But what would it take to make your life rate ten out of ten? If you’re like most, it will take you a while to warm up to this question; for example:
• “Right now I’m just pushing paper. I’d like to have a positive impact on the world.”
• “I’d like an extra week of vacation and a raise.”

At this stage, you may not be thinking big enough. Is an extra week of vacation really going to lift you to ten out of ten? Maybe to eight and a half. But do you dare to play longer, dream bigger? Don’t let realistic considerations get in your way. If you could have anything, what do you see yourself doing that would make you really happy? What would it feel like?
• “I wouldn’t rush when I come home from work. I would feel settled enough to just sit with my spouse.”
• “I’d feel relaxed when I get up, and have time to do exercise.”

The next step is to understand why the vision appeals, what’s in it that makes it a ten. These are your true values. This is what you truly want.

Use your imagination to really experience what your ten-out-of-ten life and career would feel like on a day-to-day basis. Now you have a star to steer by—a powerful guideline for choosing your goals and how to get to your destination.

Browsing the Career Cookbook

When thinking about the next step in their career, people tend to look first at their past. They look for patterns of achievement and try to project where they logically lead. “What does my resume say?” “What am I qualified for?” “What can a person with my experience go after successfully?”

The answers to these questions may lead to a job that works in many or even most ways. However, they don’t automatically lead to the most fulfilling career.

The key is to discover your values. Once you understand who you are and what you want, the path to getting what you want and building a fulfilling life becomes clear very quickly.

But that sounds challenging, doesn’t it? “Discovering who you are and what you want” may not sound straightforward, but it’s as easy and fun as browsing a cookbook.

In spite of all the great recopies available on the internet, I still love to browse a colourful cookbook. The trick is, I look at the pictures first, not the ingredients. I look until I find a picture that makes my mouth water. Then I know what I want. Then it’s a simple matter to look at the ingredients and figure out how to make the dish.

When you’re not quite satisfied with your career or lifestyle, when you’re looking for more juice and motivation, browsing the career cookbook for what makes your mouth water can be the easiest way to discover your fastest path to a fulfilling career and a happy life. Once you can almost taste the dish in the picture, you’ll be sitting at the table before you know it!