5 Fatal Mistakes When Setting Goals And How to Avoid Them

Categories Productivity

Every successful project started out as a plan. A few goals, written on a piece of paper that eventually become a reality. In theory, the process of setting goals sounds pretty simple. However, many of us have probably had a couple of failed goals that ended up in the trash bin.

With all the articles and strategies that exist nowadays, it seems like everyone is an expert in goal-setting. But people are often reluctant to talk about WHY their goals have failed.

So, let’s have a look at some common mistakes that the experts tell us to avoid

This way we can increase our chances to get it right the first time.

Mistake 1: Your goals lack potency


I tell people ‘You’re not lazy, you just have impotent goals.’ What we want to do here is get some goals that will drive you. Some goals that got some power behind them. And the way to do that is realize right now that you’re about to create a real future that can make a major difference for you.

– Tony Robbins

What businessman, author, and philanthropist Tony Robbins is talking about here is putting your goals in perspective.

Sometimes, goals remain unfulfilled because we fail to see the big picture and find a good reason to turn that image into reality.

Visualizing success is just as important as working to achieve it. But to feel motivated enough to put in some hard work, firstly you need to have a good reason.

Solution: Make sure you have a good reason to work on your goal.

Mistake 2: You don’t write down your goals

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So… what’s the big deal with writing down our goals? What happens if we don’t do it?

The most probable scenario is that our goal will float around our head for a couple of days and then disappear in the mist of daily hassles. It will remain nothing more than a fleeting idea.

In an interview about the mistakes people make when setting goals, Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, refers to a study on the subject where 267 participants showed that – by simply writing your goals down – you increase your chances of achieving the goal by a whopping 42 percent.

As he elegantly puts it:

“There’s a power in writing down a goal that begins to give up life and begins to move you toward that goal.”

For more tips on how to turn your goals into reality through writing, see Ann Klauser’s Write It Down, Make It Happen: Knowing What You Want And Getting It. This A-to-Z guide will teach you how to set you plan in motion and go from goal to result in no time.

Solution: Write a plan on how you’re going to achieve your goals.

Mistake 3: You set goals for only one area of your life



In one of his legendary books called Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, Michael Hyatt he states that:

Most of us see the inherent wisdom of planning. We may plan for next year’s vacation, our children’s college education, or our own retirement. But for some strange reason, it never occurs to us to plan our lives.

In a sense, he’s right. Most of our goals are divided between work and leisure time. We seem to be lacking that ‘existential’ goal which has the potential to rewrite our future. A ‘master’ goal that will unite all other goals under one banner.

Or, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, “one goal to rule them all” so to speak.

Solution: Think of a goal that, if achieved, will impact all areas of your life.

Mistake 4: You don’t learn from your failed goals


Success is not just about setting the right kind of goals, but also about how we cope with failure.

When working on his revolutionary invention (the lightbulb), Thomas Edison experimented with thousands of different materials. In fact, it took almost 10.000 failed attempts to discover the right material.

But what’s amazing is that he chose to see each and every one of his failures as a step toward success.

Failure might be the end one road, but there are plenty of other paths that can take you to greatness.

How many times have you failed and what have you learned from those experiences?

Solution: Make a list of all your failed goals and ‘distil’ at least one lesson from each of them.

Mistake 5: You get stuck in unfulfilled goals


The fact that we’re constantly trapped in this fast-paced life means that sometimes we jump from one goal to another (regardless if it’s a win or loss) without ever taking a breather.

At some point, goal-setting becomes an arduous process, and we can’t seem to figure out why our mind feels so ‘cluttered’.

Here’s what two social psychologists concluded in a study about the relationship between unfulfilled goals and executive functions:

Even after one stops actively pursuing a goal, many mental processes remain focused on the goal (e.g., the Zeigarnik effect), potentially occupying limited attentional and working memory resources.

To put it bluntly, your mental resources might still be caught up in a past goal, making progress on current goals slow and ‘bumpy’.

Solution: Take a short vacation or break to “reboot your system”.

To sum up:

  • “Pump up” your goals.
  • Write them down.
  • Create a ‘master’ goal.
  • Use your failed goals to set better ones in the future.
  • Take a “pause for the cause” before setting new goals.

5 thoughts on “5 Fatal Mistakes When Setting Goals And How to Avoid Them

  1. Thanks Alexander & Push, interesting article!

    What I wonder now, is how do I know my limits in regards with goal-setting? I’ve learned from my past that chasing too high goals might result in a burnout or demotivate at least, while setting easy or no goals at all are not working at all.

    Is there a way to discover your full potential and set goals step by step or is it just a matter of learning from (many) failures?

    Regards, Michael

    1. Hey,

      Glad to see you’re showing interest in your personal growth.

      To answer your question, I believe it is a matter of learning from our mistakes and also reinterpreting failure. Take a look at world-class entrepreneurs. They’ve all failed more times than we can imagine. And it’s not just about the number of failed attempts but also the immensity of each failure. For example, Steve Jobs lost an entire company, Oprah was fired from her television job for being “too emotional,” Thomas Edison was labeled “too stupid to learn anything” by his teachers, and the list goes on. I’m not saying you should deliberately try and fail. That would be crazy! All I’m saying is that you should interpret failure as yet another valuable lesson. Just like Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10.000 ways that won’t work”. See how he shifted the whole perspective to give it a “positive” twist!?

      As for personal limits in regards with goal-setting, I believe burnout (stress) and lack of motivation are the body’s way of signaling the existence of a limit. However, we have two choices: 1) we back out of the task/project; 2) we invest more energy and push A LITTLE BIT harder. Imagine you’re a couch potato who one day decides to start working out. You won’t be able to do 100 push-ups from day one, but if you start with 10 and gradually increase with 1-2 push-ups per day, you will eventually reach (and even exceed) the 100-push-ups limit. Always refrain from interpreting goal-setting and success in an “all-or-nothing” manner. Every bit counts!

      Hope my answers were useful.

      P.S. We’re planning to post some articles about motivation soon. Stay tuned! 🙂

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