Setting Goals? 3 Mistakes To Avoid (and Do Instead)

Setting goals can be exciting for some people. Others dread the activity, preferring to take things as they come without planning. I believe goal setting is a powerful experience that helps us move more intentionally toward fulfilling our hopes and dreams. This is particularly true when we are strategic about completing the process.

We can make the same mistakes repeatedly when setting goals and then wonder why we are spinning our tires in the same spot. What good are goals if they produce no forward momentum? I agree, no good at all. Inspiring goals compel us to move forward. When we think about them, we are energized and eager to implement actionable steps to achieve them. If our goals aren’t doing that for us, we may need to tweak our process.

Therefore, I’ve identified three mistakes I commonly observe when supporting others to develop goals that move them forward and what you can do instead to set meaningful and inspiring goals.

  1. Starting from should. It’s wise to abandon “should” from your vocabulary regarding setting goals. Statements like I should lose weight or I should go back to school are pressure statements. It can be overwhelming to think in this way, particularly if it’s concerning something we really do not want to do. If the goal is a worthy goal (in our opinion), then a more inspiring statement without “should” would propel us forward. For example, I want to lose weight, or I want to go back to school. No pressure. Our language indicates that the goal is our preference.
  2. Thinking achievement just happens. Achieving does happen, but it takes intentional preparation, planning, and implementation. You’ve heard others say, “I’m going to lose weight this year.” I’ve heard myself say it many times in past years, and it didn’t happen. Why? Because it was a result I wanted without setting specific behavior-based goals to achieve the result. Nothing happens because we wish it would. Instead, determine the behaviors that when done repeatedly will lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Setting goals that are too big. It’s wonderful to have big dreams. I think we should. However, when you set your goals and plan action steps to fulfill the dream or vision, think of smaller goals and actions that will help you achieve them. Setting goals that are too cumbersome can cause overwhelm and paralysis. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard clients say, “I don’t know where to start.” Break down goals that are enormous into smaller goals with the outcome in mind. For example, if you wanted to take a few months off work to hike across the country, how would you make that vision a reality? You might set goals around finances and health. Regarding your health, perhaps you want to lose 30 lbs before the hiking expedition. That’s an outcome. The goal may be walking a certain distance on specified days of the week. Your action steps may include buying new tennis shoes, moving some meetings on your schedule to free up time, and asking your spouse to walk with you.

Bonus tip: The more specific you can get with your goals (what, when, how), the more likely you will follow through with them. Use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) to help you set intentional behavior-based goals. And write them down. Research shows that writing down your goals makes them more concrete and tangible. You will have a clear reference point for later use.

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