I recently heard an urban myth about a study done at Stanford University, where a class was surveyed about how they go about setting personal goals. Only 3% of a student class were found to have written their goals down, while the other 97% didn’t have a clear idea. 20 years later the 3% were earning more combined income than the rest of the class put together…
I don’t know if this study is true or not, but I do know that since then studies have proven the effectiveness of various goal-setting strategies compared to each other. If you’re not making the progress on your goals you wish you were, read on…
What I know for certain is, after seven years of rehabilitating offenders as a parole officer and coaching clients/staff as a businessperson, I have a pretty good handle on what works and what totally sucks when it comes to goal setting.
There is a number of ways you can go about setting goals, but what’s important is that you avoid the mistakes most people make when setting goals. So I thought I would share these mistakes, from experience, so you can avoid those mistakes yourself.
Here are 3 common mistakes to avoid when setting goals:
1. Setting outcome-based goals involving factors you cannot control
A really common error people make is to limit their goal setting to just writing down the final outcome. This is usually an outcome that they have no real control over. Such examples include:
- I will have a supermodel celebrity as a partner
- I will be a famous millionaire from running a business empire
- I will have a body like Brad Pitt in Fight Club
The problem with having these as your goals by themselves is they are actually demotivating. Why? Because firstly, every time you go to measure your progress, you will be miles off which will make you feel like “this isn’t worth it, I’m getting nowhere”.
Secondly, these are all outcomes that you do not have direct control over. You can’t guarantee that a supermodel celebrity will love you; or how much money the universe will give you; and you don’t know for sure what your body will look like after you’ve done some working out.
Now before you throw electronic stones at me, I do acknowledge that these outcomes have a place in your self-development plan. These are dreams; the ideals you wish you had. I actually recommend you have ideals like this, to give you a clear goalpost to aim for. However, the goals you set are to help you achieve these dreams, not the dreams themselves.
Goals should always be written in a way where you are in control of all aspects involved. Achieving a goal should depend on no-one except you. So if we take the example above of “I will look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club” and set that as the dream, then the goals might look like these:
- I will research the best workouts to achieve a lean physique, run them past a personal trainer for feedback, and try the three most promising ones out for 2 months each
- I will research the eating plan Brad Pitt used when filming fight club, and work with a nutritionist to determine the right version for me, then stick to it for 3 months. Then I will measure progress and adjust accordingly
- I will aim to get at least 7 hours sleep each night to aid my muscle repair and digestion
Notice how these are all actions you control, and even though other people are involved, room is left to find someone else if they let you down.
You might not end up looking like Brad Pitt, but by aiming for that as a dream and achieving realistic, controllable goals, you should come pretty close to looking your best at least.
2. Setting goals which are too big to handle
Similar to the first point, people often set dream-like goals that are too big and intimidating. This is demotivating and also makes it hard to know what action you’re supposed to be taking. Such examples could include:
- I will start my own company
- I will buy a house
- I will get married
If you’ve only just decided right now to become an entrepreneur, you’re going to be intimated by leaping straight into registering and starting up a company. You haven’t done any preparation yet! Goals like these big ones are good ideas but they are actually your guide for setting realistic and achievable smaller goals.
Here’s how you deal with these big ones:
- Write the big goal on the top of a piece of paper.
- Write a brief description of where you are currently at in relation to this goal at the bottom of the piece of paper (e.g. “I haven’t started yet, feeling nervous and excited”).
- Now in the space between these two, brainstorm every possible step you can think of between you currently, and you when the big goal is achieved. You might need to do research here, or better yet, interview someone who’s achieved it and ask them what the steps are.
- Put these steps into chronological or priority order from first to last.
- Write each of them as goals where you control all the aspects
- Start achieving them one by one.
Before you know it, BOOM! You’ve achieved the big one. Seems simple right? Yet hardly anyone does this (coincidentally, hardly anyone achieves big goals either…)
3. Not measuring progress and doing quality control
So many people keep “spinning their wheels” and not making progress on their goals. Most of the time this is because they haven’t taken the time to stop and clinically analyze how well they are progressing.
Or, they haven’t tracked their progress consistently and feel like they’re not making progress at all, because they don’t see changes. You will not see the progress you’re making unless you measure it: consistently, accurately and objectively.
Every week, take 15-20 minutes to stop and analyse your progress. Use objective measurement units, like weight, Facebook likes, speed, rank etc.
Do not use subjective measurement units like “I feel good” or other peoples’ opinions.
There’s plenty more to goal setting of course, particularly in the larger scheme of strategic success planning, but these are the most common pitfalls I see as a coach.
Remove these mistakes from your goal setting and you’ll be well on your way to racking up a nice big list of achievements.
Get a copy of my book Driven: Practical Guidance for a Successful Lifestyle to get a much more detailed guide on planning, goal setting and self-motivation. Get it here at: http://theinspirationallifestyle.com/
Check It Out
Goals become real when they are written down. Instead of allowing your desires and aspirations float around your brain like mad men, try taking a few minutes to write them down on paper. Right down exactly what you want to accomplish, and see how it looks on paper. I guarantee, once you get it out in front of you, it will be much clearer to what you need to do to accomplish that goal.