“Damn it, I spent a ton of time on that project. All gone down the drain,” you tell yourself after chasing the wrong target.
Setting goals the incorrect way is a common mistake people make. I have myself been a culprit of such behavior. So, I will tell you my story of approaching goals the flawed way.
Back in the day, I had no clearly defined goals. That doesn’t mean I was lazing on the couch doing nothing. I was self-motivated and hard-working, but I had no definite target in mind. I spent years working endlessly without knowing what I was doing.
Once I realized my folly, I started setting objectives for myself. You might think that my situation changed altogether.
But nope, it did not. I would start chasing a goal, sweat it all out, lose enthusiasm midway, and find a new aim to pursue.
Over the years, I experimented with various goal setting techniques and learned the hard way. Though I still struggle to achieve all my goals today, my process has turned a lot more streamlined.
I manage to inch closer to many of my targets now. I succeed at some and fail at some. But, that’s OK with me because overall I’m moving forward.
In this article, I will cover the most common goal setting errors and tips on how to set them right.
- The most common goal setting mistakes
- A few important pointers on goal setting:
The most common goal setting mistakes
1. Having no goals
Lack of goals does not necessarily imply that the person isn’t interested in achieving anything. Sure, laziness can be a reason for not having any goals but it isn’t usually the case. Many highly motivated and smart folks have no clear goals for themselves.
You can get so caught up in your usual mindless routine that you forget to ask yourself what your goals are. Such behavior is like sitting in an empty boat that is flowing wherever the current goes and hoping for green pastures.
How to fix the problem:
If you feel you have no goals at the moment, you don’t have to feel discouraged. No one starts with all things figured out.
All you need to do is, spend time figuring out a suitable goal to chase. Here is an article that presents 3 questions to guide you towards a direction.
If you’re yet to pick and choose your goals, here are few pointers:
- You do not have to hurry. Aim for the long haul and take your time.
- You do not have to aim for a massive target right now. If you’re intimidated by enormous goals, start small.
- You need not fixate on one specific goal right away. If you’re not sure what’s the perfect destination, narrow down on a few options, experiment, and assess if you’re on the right path.
2. Chasing standard goals
Society determines many of the goals you chase. People buy cars and houses they cannot afford because everyone around them has one. They spend money buying things they don’t want, with the money they don’t have, to impress the people they don’t like.
The problem is, you don’t genuinely care about such goals. You chase them thinking they’re your own. In reality, society imposed them on you. People spend decades paying EMIs for the superior house they didn’t need and a fancy car that remains in the garage most of the time.
You spend an awful lot of time and energy on such meaningless goals, making your life a daily grind of regret and compromise.
Since human beings live as a group, we have a strong need to adhere to society’s trends. So, following societal norms isn’t a bad idea. If everyone turned into a rebel by doing whatever they liked, you would be surrounded by chaos.
Therefore, you cannot ignore all the benchmarks society has set. But our need for acceptance by society makes us believe that some of the goals defined by others are indeed our own. Such decisions force you to sideline your true passion and compromise on the things which matter to you.
How to fix the problem:
Before I term it as a problem, following the norm isn’t a wrong goal. But that’s only if you are doing so with an intention.
Do you have a purpose behind chasing the goals the society has imposed on you? If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track.
But, if you have chosen those goals in a flow, you might have bottled up your dreams, give up your desire, or forgotten what you really wanted altogether.
If you find yourself in a rat race of chasing the usual goals without a good reason, apply the brakes. Here are a few ways to evaluate yourself and make any changes if necessary.
- Honestly assess if you’re chasing the goal for yourself or because of peer pressure or norms
- Can you think of alternatives to spare some time off your schedule? Do not worry about implementing the idea right away in full swing.
- Is there a long term plan you can think of and transition over time?
3. Chasing vague goals
Having a goal that isn’t clear enough makes the destination and the path hazy.
When I started my first business, I had a goal. Do you know what it was? I wanted to make the business big. I was clueless what “big” meant to me. That led to unclear execution, poor planning, and needless effort on meaningless projects.
Two of the most common vague goals people fall victim to are:
- I want to become rich
- I want to become famous
By the way, chasing wealth or fame isn’t wrong in itself. Money plays an integral role directly or indirectly in many goals. So, if you’re chasing wealth, you should know what “being rich” means to you.
If you bring 3 random people into a room and ask them how much money they want to make, the answers can be as diverse as, “I want to turn into a millionaire,” “A billion dollars sounds awesome,” “I want to become the richest person in the world.”
How to fix the problem:
The first step to fixing vague goals is to make the definition specific and crystal clear.
- If you want to grow your wealth, put a figure on your ultimate target.
- If you want to become famous, put a tab on how widespread you want your name to be. Do you intend to be well known among your locality, city, country, or the whole world?
The second step to make a vague goal achievable is to put a realistic deadline to reach the target. Do not set a timeline so tight that it overwhelms you nor set dates so lenient that you take it easy. The sweet spot for a deadline is when it challenges you to push yourself but prevents you from giving up midway.
The final step involves breaking a bigger goal into smaller tasks that you can start working on right away. Not next month, not next week, not tomorrow, but today. The more you simplify your goals, the sooner you’ll make progress.
4. Chasing goals purely for the result
Aiming for a goal simply because the end result appears shiny does not lead to a happy ending.
I was recently speaking to entrepreneurs with a failed business as a part of research for my upcoming book. Many cofounders mentioned that the title of an entrepreneur along with the attractiveness of the money and fame caused them to take the plunge.
When they experienced the challenges and hard work first hand, one of the following happened:
- They realized they were not cut for it
- The outcome seemed too difficult, so they gave up
- They lost motivation to make the business successful
When you aim for a goal solely for the outcome, you fail to recognize the effort that needs to be put in. Once the flashiness of the goal fades off, you’ll have a hard time motivating yourself unless you enjoy the journey.
How to fix the problem:
Strip the final outcome and look at your goal from the journey perspective. Do you still want to go through the experience or does it seem boring to you now?
Let me explain with a real-life example:
Let’s say you want to build a successful business because you want to increase your income. Now, take money out of the equation. Do you feel you’d like the process of running a company anymore?
I had once built an online platform for people to showcase their talent. Being a techie, I loved the programming part of it. Once I got into the data population phase, I realized I had to contact people one by one and get them on board. That experience drained me out because I did not enjoy it. Within 2 months, I discontinued the product.
Currently, I am on a writing and blogging journey. Yes, I do have goals in mind, but I enjoy the process of writing articles nevertheless. Sure, there are particular aspects of blogging such as admin work which I dislike doing, but I relish the overall experience of writing.
If you’re embarking on a journey that you don’t like for achieving a goal, you’ll most certainly stop halfway. You’re better off going back to the drawing board to find a better target to pursue.
5. Setting unrealistic goals
Achievers have a habit of setting goals that need an inhuman effort or a miracle to pull off. Such goals are often driven by the urge to achieve results quickly.
In a hurry to enjoy the fruits of the outcome, you set goals that are too drastic. When you get started, you might pull off the effort, but unless that routine is sustainable, your mind and body will refuse to co-operate.
Let’s take a few examples of unrealistic goals:
- Aiming to become a marathon runner in 2 months when you have never jogged before
- Targeting to make a million dollars when you’ve been broke all your life
- Setting a goal of reading 4 books a month when you do not have a habit of reading at all
By the way, such goals are not impossible. You’ll always find an inspirational story of Mr. Awesome who achieved a similar goal. But such tales are outliers, driven by survivorship bias.
For every person who pulled off such a herculean task, there will be thousands of others who failed. You’ll never hear or know about them because nobody likes to write or read such stories.
By chasing unrealistic goals you’re setting yourself up for failure.
How to fix the problem:
You can dream big and keep your long term goals unrealistic and scary. But make sure your short term plan to get there is realistic. If it isn’t, you’ll repeatedly postpone your targets. Try to make a consistent habit of achieving the short term goals you aim for. Even if that means pursuing fewer targets, so be it.
You are better off setting 5 tasks for a week that you’ll meet than aiming for 10 tasks and missing 7 of them.
When your short term targets are unrealistic, difficult, or too many, missing them becomes a norm. You’ll develop a mindset that finishing only a portion of your goals is acceptable.
Once you make a habit of achieving your short term targets without fail, you’ll find it easier to finish more tasks with time. You’ll feel an itch when you miss a target you had set for yourself.
Make your body and mind build a culture of achieving whatever you’ve planned. Until you get there, keep the targets modest in difficulty and smaller in volume.
A few important pointers on goal setting:
Watch out for result based goals
When your goals are based on numbers and outcomes, keep a tab on your behavior. You might indulge in the wrong habits, make ridiculous attempts, and waste time trying to reach your target.
Your thirst for the outcome can force measures that create more damage than good.
The combination of urgency and unrealism is dangerous.
For example, the goal of earning a million dollars in a few months can urge you to make risky investments in the stock market without understanding logic. Or to make that worse, you might consider going down the path of illegal business. Such reckless moves can lead to disastrous and irreversible consequences.
While results are a powerful motivator, observe if they’re swaying you in the wrong direction.
Build a process
The best approach to achieve a massive long term goal is to focus on the process instead of the results. Take it slow and build a sustainable routine with good habits. While that does not guarantee success, you’ll increase your chances of getting where you want to.
I have not set any monetary goals that I intend to achieve by blogging or writing. I have set a routine that improves my skills. Here is what I follow 5 days a week:
- Write 1,500 words a day
- Learn writing skills by reading books or taking up online courses for 30 minutes a day
- Try implementing the new tips 20 minutes a day
Is that a blueprint to become a successful writer? Not at all. As a matter of fact, nothing is. I improvise periodically for any changes required. I am hoping that the results will follow.
I recommend you build a solid process that you can stick to instead of focusing on results alone. Trust the process and enjoy the journey.
The first step towards achieving your goal begins with setting the right one.
If you chase the wrong goal, you’ll waste years of your time or perhaps your entire life
If you chase an unrealistic goal, you’ll end up disappointed and demotivated
If you chase a goal you don’t care about, you’ll lose interest midway
If you chase a goal only for the result, you’ll chicken out at the first obstacle
If you chase vague goals, you’ll be going in circles because you’ll not know where you stand at any point of time
Spending time to set the right goals is the best thing you can do to achieve them. So get it right.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.