Do You Make These 9 Mistakes When You Set Goals?

“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”

Having goals is important because they map out a direction in your life, they challenge you to grow and over time they can help you achieve things that you at one point may have seen as just impossible. Setting personal goals is important because if you don’t then you’ll probably spend a lot of time working to fulfill the goals of others.

Here are a few problems I’ve run into and mistakes that I’ve made while setting goals.

1. Not writing your goals down.

If you don’t write you goals down you will have a hard time to keep them in mind. It will be unnecessarily difficult keep your focus on what you want instead of all the random things that show up in your day to day life.

If you write them down then it will be easier to remember. It will also often be easier to describe and develop the goals and to find more goals if you use writing rather than just your mind. Writing you goals down can bring clarity to what you actually want.

2. Not having a system for remembering them.

Writing your goals down is a good start. But to keep them in mind beyond the first few days after set them you need a system. Otherwise it’s likely that you’ll veer off course and forget about your goals for days or weeks. And then you’ll have start over.

One way to remember your goals each day is to use external reminders. You can, for instance, write your goals on a piece of paper and put it where you can’t avoid seeing it. Examples of such places are your bathroom mirror, fridge or computer.

3. Not reviewing and rewriting your goals often enough.

This one is more about your journey towards a goal than setting the goal. But it’s closely related to the previous mistake so I’ve decided to include it.

Short written reminders are great for remembering your goals. But from time to time you’ll also need to review your goals and see where you stand. And then you may need to adjust your goals depending on what has happened and what you have learned so far. Reviewing your goals regularly can also give you a helpful dose of motivation when you feel that you are having hard time staying on track.

How often should you review and rewrite you list of goals? Well, I guess there are a lot of different answers for that question.

But the more you do it the sharper and more refined your focus and goals are likely to be. An experienced self-improvement speaker like Brian Tracy often suggests that you go so far as to review and rewrite your goals every morning.

If there is nothing to adjust, write it down anyway. Writing it down will make a bigger impression on your mind than just thinking about it. And each time you do that the importance of your goal will be reinforced in your mind. To actually remember to do this, use an external reminder like for instance a calendar.

4. Setting goals you don’t really feel for/are interested in.

What are your goals? This is crucial. As much as possible, you have to set the goals for yourself.

Should and ought to-goals isn’t good enough. Or goals that other’s have set for you. Or other people’s goals.

Think about your goals. Think about who has set them. Then think about what you really want in life. Then set your own goals.

It has to be your goals and you have to have a real interest in them to increase your chances to achieve them. Plus, when it’s your own goals instead of ones imposed upon you the journey towards them becomes a whole lot more enjoyable. And so, everyday life – the bulk of your life – becomes more enjoyable.

5. Not setting clear goals.

Make the goals specific, measurable and think about them in present tense.

Don’t go for more visitors for your website or just for running more. Go for a thousand visitors a day or running for 20 minutes three times a week. The more detailed picture you have of where you want to go, the more likely you are to actually get there.

If you don’t make your goals measurable then how will you know when you have achieved them? You will never be done with the goal of “making more money”. But you’ll know when you have achieved a goal of “earning 5000 dollars a month”.

The goals you think about and write down have to be in present tense too. Not: I will run for 20 minutes three times a week. You have to write: I run for 20 minutes three times a week.

Why? Well, your subconscious mind needs clear direction of what is to be achieved. If you put your goal in an “I will…” form you mind will always strive to bring the goal of running into your life sometime in the future. It will always be out of reach. To actually bring the goal into your life, into the present moment, you have to write it down in present tense.

6. Not setting deadlines.

Setting deadlines for yourself can be useful to actually finish something. If you don’t you’ll probably spend a lot of time procrastinating and getting things almost done.

When setting deadlines it’s helpful to give yourself some wiggle room. If you’re doing a project at work or in school set a deadline with a bit of margin. If something goes wrong, which it often does, or something unexpected comes up you’ll still have time to get it done.

Plus, we often have problems estimating how much time a task or project needs. So don’t let your initial enthusiasm do all the thinking. Setting totally unrealistic deadlines won’t save you time. You’ll just be forced to go back after you’ve passed the deadline to fix all those mistakes you made while hurrying and being stressed out.

7. Not making a plan.

For some goals you just need to write a 1000 words a day or run for 20 minutes a day. But even then you probably need a small plan to find free time in your schedule. For other goals you need a more elaborate plan. In those cases I think that it’s good to do a bit of research and educate yourself before making the plan.

Just a bit of research can help you solve or avoid problems along the way. Do some googling. Ask someone who has been where you want to go where they ran into difficulties and what tips they can share. Educating yourself can help you save time, money and energy. And help you avoid anxiety and frustration.

When you are writing your plan make it practical and specific. And write down actions you can start taking today to get going on your journey towards that goal. It’s useful to always write down small, practical steps you can take so you know what to do next.

But don’t plan so much that you never get started. There is no perfect plan. Things will probably not go as planned. Unexpected things will happen and you will have to adjust your plan to keep yourself on course. Adjusting your plan once in while can also allow you to find a better, easier and more enjoyable path to where you’re going.

8. Not reviewing previous failures.

Failures can be useful to learn something about yourself and the world. If you review your failures you can get a hang of where your weaknesses lie. Where you are likely to run into problems?

If you identify such weak points in yourself you can be prepared for when they may strike and lessen the blow. Or you can start looking for solutions to avoid at least some of the trouble spots along the way towards your goal.

An example: you realize that a few days after setting goals you often seem to forget about them. One solution could then be to learn to use external reminders to keep your mind on track.

9. Not keeping your focus in the right place.

Sometimes it can better to focus on the process rather than an outcome in the form of a distant, future goal. Instead of setting a goal that you will lose 10 pounds by December 31 and making intricate plans to get there you can set a goal to do 20 minutes of anaerobic exercise each day (walking, swimming, running etc.).

And then just do it. Don’t think, just go, go out and do your exercise.

Sometimes can be useful to set a very simple goal where you focus on the present rather than some distant goal. If you exercise every day there will be less room for your mind to find great excuses to slack off and procrastinate until December 21.

And if you have a goal where you can just go and do it, where there is little to think about you’re less likely to be drawn into the trap of over-thinking. As soon as you start to over-think things there’s a big chance that you will start to hold yourself back in different ways.

Just doing it and keeping your focus on the process and present can be helpful to get better and more consistent results and to reduce self-defeating tendencies.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • When I was reading this article I was seeing myself some time in the past. Goal setting was something alien to me. And then, I tried it. And everything changed. My productivity boosted, and what is more important, my motivation to pursue these goals boosted too.
    So, defining the goals and sticking up to them can be one of the most important things one ever does to change one’s life.

    Great article.

  • A. Marques: Yeah, setting goals can really change how you see your life and world. Finding goals that you like it can be a big kick in the behind. Thanks for the comment.

    Never the Same River Twice: Thank you for the comment. I agree, #4 is really important. As you say, if it isn’t your goal it’s hard to get too excited about it. And so you often give up before you have reached the goal.

  • Thank you for the wonderful, thought-provoking article. I am in the process of trying to figure out my goals, and I am finding it difficult… because I am stuck on #4. What DO I really want in life? I brainstormed in mind-map form, and it’s posted on my blog, but I haven’t yet resolved my thoughts down to specific goals that I can write down and aim myself towards.

    I will take this advice here and use it for some of the smaller goals I have. “I blog weekly.” “I play guitar at least twice a week.” “I call my mother at least once a month.” ;)

  • I love #5. Many goals are concrete in word form – I want a house in this area, but when you try to visualise it, you get all this inner resistance saying “what the hell, no way!”

  • Thank you for the clear insights. I like #1, #4 and #5. As soon as I wrote down my goals on a 4 x 5 card and read them in the morning, at noon and before I went to bed strange things started to happen and it kept me much more focused than I had been before. I have found that all of these points you have raised plus ‘discipline’ and ‘persistence’ guarantees that the ” failure Bandit” just eventually gives up and goes home with his or her tail between it’s legs. Keep on moving your position forward!

  • Great post! This is all the mistakes I did in the past when I set my goals.

    Achieving goals is very hard at that point of time because, forgotten, no clear goal to achieve, no time limits and easily stay in my comfort zone.

    Setting goals nowadays is just easy and fun. Great tips you have shared! I will make sure all these were done everyday in my life.

  • Great post . While reading your article was recalling back where my mistake is. Will print out and paste it at the office.

    Thank you.


  • Not setting deadlines is my weakest area when it comes to accomplishing goals. I seem to spread myself too thin with too many projects then everything takes longer than I wanted.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Great article.

    When I teach courses that involve goalsetting (and I make a point of adding at least a little bit about goal setting to every course I teach), I like to compare it to using a roadmap.

    The first step is to know where you are. This is often overlooked in goalsetting. Many of us get so caught up in where we want to go that we forget to pay attnetion to where we are now. But like a map, it is useless to know where you want to go if you dont know where you are.

    The next step is to decide where you want to go. This is the point, right?

    Then you plan your route, paying attnetion to possible alternatives.

    Then GET STARTED. The Nike philosophy…just do it. Get started, take the first step, make the first turn.

    Once you have started, stop for directions frequently. Compare where you are to where you are going, make appropriate adjustments and try to ask people who have been where you want to go!

  • Idetrorce

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  • Lovely post! I think no. 4 is especially important. In a recent post about how to make resolutions stick I emphasized that we need to find the ‘why’ of a resolution. This is similar to your point no. 4. After all, if we are not really interested in a particular goal (if the ‘why’ isn’t strong enough), we will not move in that direction.
    Have a great new year!

  • wynia

    I love this one:

    8. Not reviewing previous failures.

    I am working on a long term project (one that takes 5-6 years to complete), and had some early failure in years 1-3. Every time I get my motivation up to the task now (year 4.5), I work hard for a little while but eventually am reminded of my past failures. Though they really have no bearing on what I’m doing right now, they serve to taunt me to the point that I actually start believing I’m incapable, even though the project looks like it will be a success in the long term. Thank you for reminding me not to wallow in the past!

  • Number 9 Not keeping your focus in the right place, totally agree

  • Great site :)