When it comes to setting goals, sometimes the impulse itself can seem like enough. In other words, no matter how you go about it, having goals is what counts, right? Clarity around your goals is often half the battle, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll reach the finish line. In fact, there are quite a few mistakes you can make along the way (which can lead to frustration and, ultimately, giving up). As such, it can be helpful to know the common pitfalls so the process is as stress-free as possible. Achieving goals is never easy, of course, but there’s no point in making it any harder on yourself.
As life coach and co-founder Transformational Solutions Rachel Kove explains, "'How you approach challenge and discomfort is what makes or breaks you." If you've found yourself with a big list of goals and no clue how to achieve them, or feeling nervous about hitting roadblocks you may have faced in the past, the following list of mistakes (provided by life coaches who often focus on helping clients achieve their goals) is good to keep in mind. It won’t guarantee you’ll do everything you want to do in the year ahead, but it’ll certainly help.
Doubting Your Follow-Through
As Seth Hall, who’s also a co-founder of Transformational Solutions in Los Angeles, explains, the most common mistake people make when setting goals is not believing they can achieve them in the first place.
“Lack of belief in your abilities and in your ability to follow through with your plans will kill your goals before you ever start,” Hall says. “Achieving your goals takes patience, perseverance, and flexibility. Many times temporary defeat is the universe trying to show you there is a better way of doing things. Pay attention to the lesson, and don’t ever give up."
Only Setting Goals In January
"One of the biggest mistakes when it comes to setting goals is that most people use the annual goal setting method, i.e. New Year’s resolutions," Nelson Tressler, founder of goal-setting app IGotSmarter, explains. "Annual goal setting methods are an inherently flawed approach, causing the failure of more than 90% of New Year’s resolutions worldwide by the end of January."
Instead of only setting goals at the start of a new year, consider assessing your goals month by month, allowing them to adjust to life changes and other circumstances. "When it comes to goal setting, a year is a long time," Tressler explains. "We’ve all just lived through 2020 and are all too aware that a lot can change in a year."
Lacking A Sense Of Urgency
Tressler also names a lack of urgency as a common stumbling block in goal-setting. "We become complacent throughout the year, with a false sense of security that we will always have enough time to achieve our goals—wasting most of the year and then desperately trying to make up for lost time as the end of the year draws near," Tressler says. When you keep your goals front of mind throughout the year, it’s easy to view them with a sense of urgency instead of letting them fall through the cracks.
As Tressler has explained, we all know far too well just how much can change in a year thanks to COVID-19. Goals change, shift, and evolve. If you find yourself half-way through the year and wanting to change your goal, that’s totally fine. But waiting until January 1 to start making progress on that goal? That’s a big mistake, Tressler explains.
Setting Big-Picture Goals All at Once
To combat a lack of urgency, direction, focus, and accountability in your goals, Tressler suggests always breaking goals down into bite-sized pieces. "I find that breaking long-term goals into a goal that can be accomplished in four-weeks is a great start,” Tressler suggests. "An example of this is: Maybe you want to have $5000 in savings by the end of the year. I would start off by setting a four-week goal to save $500."
It’s always good to dream big, but sometimes setting goals that are far too far out of your reach can just be a one-way ticket to failure, explains success coach Mona Lisa Ondevilla. "... if you don't energetically believe you can make it happen, you won't,” Ondevilla shares of goals that are too big.”Energy is everything when it comes to manifesting your goals. Set a goal that stretches you, but also feels attainable. Think about goal setting like throwing apples into a basket—if it's too far away, you won't really try because you know it's a long shot. If it's too close, it's not exciting. Find a goal that inspires and excites you, and feels within reach."
Having Unrealistic Expectations
When you set a new goal, it’s tempting to imagine a life where you reach that goal in just a few weeks. But as certified Life Enhancement and Mindset Coach Alexa Darrow explains, it’s just not that simple.
"My clients often come to me with specific goals in mind—from ‘I'd love to meditate every day!’ to ‘I want to buy a house at the end of the year!'—which can require some significant lifestyle changes.,” Drrow shares. “What I find trips people up the most is the expectation around how quickly those changes can be achieved. Success tends to be found in goal-setting when people start smaller. So if someone says they want to meditate everyday, we instead work together to set a more manageable goal they know they'll be able to achieve (try meditating for five minutes for just one day this week, then try a second day, then try a whole week). Once they've achieved success with several smaller goals, it suddenly becomes easier to get to the bigger picture goals."
Not Leaving Room For Compromise
Even though it’s ideal to remain as focused and dedicated to your goal as possible, it might not be healthy for everyone to have strict and harsh guidelines that don’t allow for any learning curve whatsoever. "Another roadblock to success in goal-setting is that most pair their goals with uncompromising regulations. This is a recipe for defeat and not to mention a set up for feeling even more deeply frustrated than you did before you set your eyes on a target,” Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist, Spiritual counselor, and certified life coach, Allison Chawla explains.
"Research supports that it takes approximately 10 weeks, or two and a half months to break a habit. It also shows that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for an individual to form a new habit, and 66 days for that habit to become an automatic behavior. With all of that being said, and recorded… why in the world are we so hard on ourselves when it comes to achieving something that is new?! We need to allow for fallbacks, slips, breaks, detachments and even flat-out mistakes once in a while as we journey towards a new goal. A little self forgiveness goes a long long way and keeps us on the right track even better than immediate punishment and self-destruction."
Choosing Goals Just Because They're Popular
When you hear that everyone is trying a new nutritional plan, workout routine, or meditation practice, it can be easy to make those goals your own, too. But just because a goal is trendy or popular doesn’t mean it will be worth it for you to work towards, explains Chawla. "Pick a goal that is mindful and matches your needs, and one you can modify if necessary. One that will feel fulfilling and deliver the results that you are seeking for yourself," Chawla says. "... not everyone needs to cut out gluten. Not all of us have knees that are equipped for miles of running daily. And, many of us have children that just know how to sense the moment you are about to do something for yourself… allow yourself the space to laugh and adapt."
When’s the last time you thought about your goals in terms of your big picture and life-long goals? This is what Kyle Elliott, a life and career coach, encourages people to ask themselves before setting goals. "One of the biggest mistakes people make when setting goals is creating ones that are out of alignment with their long-term vision,” Elliott says. “Avoid setting goals that are not aligned with your life goals. Before setting your goals, ensure you know your why."
Not Having An Accountability System
If you have goals, then you should have a way to keep yourself accountable to reaching them. That means building an accountability plan as soon as you decide on a goal, says Elliott. "Your accountability system may include a supervisor or colleague, mentor or coach, or partner," Elliott says. "External support is critical when you are feeling stuck and need someone to help you look at the situation differently."