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Deadly mistakes in goal-setting

10 Deadly Goal Setting Mistakes in Personal Development

Jack Cao
Jack Cao
The wrong intention from the start already ruins our process: setting goals to impress other people, refusing to go beyond our Comfort Zone… and then we make more mistakes during the tracking and implementation. These are 10 goal-setting mistakes that I have gathered through personal experience, as well as learned from the top performers.
Table of Contents

Getting to our goals is a long and bumpy road, full of wrong turns and dead-ends.

Being able to identify these mistakes will make you less likely to fall into the wrong path and get to your goals more efficiently.

The wrong intention from the start already ruins our process: setting goals to impress other people, refusing to go beyond our Comfort Zone… and then we make more mistakes during the tracking and implementation. These are 10 goal-setting mistakes that I have gathered through personal experience, as well as learned from the top performers.

  1. Chasing vague, general and unclear goals
  2. Setting your goals only to impress other people
  3. Getting stuck in your comfort of excellence
  4. Failing to look at the bigger picture
  5. Neglecting progress tracking
  6. Relying on motivation and excitement
  7. Saying “Yes” to every project
  8. Obsessing with the outcome
  9. Building from your Weaknesses
  10. Having no deadlines

Chasing vague, general and unclear goals

The most common and basic mistake of goal setting is not having a specific and clear goal.

If your goal is to be more wealthy, then I give you 1$, would that count as achieving your goal?

“A goal without an action plan is just a wish.” quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Without clarity, goals can’t be translated into an action plan.

You wouldn’t know how far the journey is, what the goal will actually cost you. So you can’t track the progress or estimate what you would need to achieve your goals.

Wanting to start a business is not enough of an effective goal. You would need to know what kind of market you are entering, who’s your customer, what is the ideal scale of your operation, what differentiates your product or services... 

Vague goals waste your time and lead to procrastination. As you don’t know exactly what you want to achieve, you won’t know the right action to take later on.

Fix this: the SMART goal model. Setting goals that are Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Relevant and Time-bound. Question yourself to see if you have met all of these criteria with your goals.

Credit image: Incremental Marketing

SEE ALSO: How many goals should I set at once?

Setting goals to impress other people

More than we would like to admit, we fear being left behind by other people.

Jealous of their position and that corner office overlooking the city, or obsessed over the difference between our cars and theirs, we set out to compete in a race for material possessions.

We put out self-esteem on the scale with other people’s success. We resign the power to feel complete and satisfied with ourselves with the hope for external validation.

Yet, fulfillment isn’t the prize awaiting in the finish line. But insecurity and dissatisfaction will be your company. We will always feel incomplete and insignificant comparing to the rest of the world. There will always someone’s who more successful, more wealthy and seemingly live a better life than you.

As one quote from my favorite 1999 films Fight Club: “We do the job we hate, to buy stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”
Explore more about Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation at Verywell Mind

Chasing external motivation is a sure way to miss the beauty in both the journey and the destination.

Fix this: focus on your intrinsic motivation, set goals that matter to you personally:

What would I do if I didn't have to worry about money again? 

What would I even pay money to do?

Intrinsic motivation is something you authentically want to do, whether it is building a business, reading and writing novels or conducting scientific experiments… And through exploring this authentic version of yourself, you are doing what you enjoy, finding bliss in both the journey and the destination.

SEE ALSO: Should I set goals? (and how not to mess it up)

Getting stuck in your comfort of excellence

Not having the courage to set the right goals is a deadly mistake.

We fear that we will fail. And the more we have to lose, the less likely we want to face that fear. So we usually stick to what we know how to do well.

But if you still have a sense of dissatisfaction in your work or interest to explore another field, perhaps you have to check yourselves: Am I doing the right work?

Fear of failure paralyzes us to even accept the true possibility of our potential. We settle for mediocrity and comfort without venturing into our callings.

By rejecting that call to adventure, perhaps starting a blog, opening a restaurant or pursuing a career in make-up artistry, we reject one of the highest motivations of each individual: living our passion. And by rejecting passion, regret waits for us in old age.

Fix this: Accept that you may suck big time when you make a dramatic transition into a field that you have no experience. Set new goals and explore what your passion is calling you to do.

Perhaps you need to change your career path, regardless of all the money and the perks that are waiting for you.

SEE ALSO: Why goal setting is so hard

Failing to look at the bigger picture

There may be times in our life where we must purposely live an imbalanced life to prioritize a particular goal.

Perhaps it’s time to put all of our focus in the business a month and our health, our relationship with our family will suffer. Then after the month, we make it up by spending more time at the gym, being more conscious of our diet and booking a quick holiday with the family.

A great part of personal development is this constant shift of focus. And remaining the overall balance of the bigger picture is the meta goal to ensure we’re living a good life.

Failing this goal leads to an unhappy family with a workaholic dad or a gym addict that has no real job. One area should only grow to its proportion and let the right balance be preserved.

Fix this: define what the big picture balance of your life is. How much are you willing to put into work, family, your personal passion…?

And through that proportion, we give that life aspect it's deserved attention. Perhaps the goals should be much more ambitious if you can see there are lots of potentials to be realized. Or you should scrape off the entire project since it provides little value for the bigger balance.

Neglecting progress tracking

"What gets measured, gets managed." Peter Druckler in Managing Oneself.

Without tracking, we wouldn’t be able to keep ourselves accountable over the long run. Distraction is constantly pulling us away. We easily slip into procrastination and make our excuse for not taking action.

With tracking, it’s easier for us to see the bigger picture. We can see that we are making tangible progress day by day: looking at the weight that we are losing, the time we are spending on meditation, the hours of sleep every night. Keeping these streaks itself is a great motivation boost.

goal setting streaks
My Personal Streak of Learning and Reflecting using Habitify

Fix this: Practice tracking with several options:

-          Start a bullet journal to track your habits, your spending, your productivity

-          Get a habit tracking app to automate your routine and keep yourself accountable

-          Dedicate 10 minutes each night to reflect on the day’s work

Relying on motivation and excitement

In the pursuit of challenging goals, discipline always trumps motivation. The process won’t always be fun and exciting. A rookie mistake would be relying on motivation.

We may be inspired and pumped up with our New Year's Resolutions, thinking that this is the time we finally had enough. We will change. Burning with a new-found determination, we charged toward our goals.

And then we were tired. And then the work was too overwhelming. And then 2 months passed with no significant progress. And then we slowly tell ourselves that we will never change, that we are just the way we are, and we are best to accept this crude truth.

Our society has somehow created the fairy tale of a magic-pill solution: “Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life” kind of logo. And we believe that if we are following our passion, we will always be burning up with determination and excitement.

Truth is: we need discipline and consistency. Even if we get our dream job, or get into a dream relationship, there will still be tough days, weeks or even months.

Every job has its boring days. Credit: nadia_bormotova

The resistance to commit will always be there.

Fix this: accept drudgery and build up momentum. Expect repetitive and boring work as 90% of the work which won’t be exciting to share with your friend.

Slowly build up your momentum: start small and make adjustments constantly. Learn to appreciate and enjoy those repetitive activities, because you will face them eventually.

Saying “Yes” to every project

Sometimes, the obstacle can be very logistical: our lack of time and energy.

We don’t have enough time to pursue our passion, to start our side hustle, to hit the gym, to start meditating…

Do you have that issue?

In the One Thing by Gary Keller, they offered an alternative approach:

Instead of doing more with side effects, we should do less with more effects

The problem of most modern information workers is we often take on way too many projects for us to be effective. So when most people burn their energy keeping a busy schedule, they have less energy and attention to become truly effective at a particular thing.

One Thing proposes that we should focus on only one key work to be truly effective.

Fix this: Gary advises us to get crystal clear on our One thing with this question

What is the one thing that I should do that makes other tasks easier or unnecessary?

And your goal should be doing your One thing as effectively and as much as possible.

Obsessing with the outcome

While we can control the process and the standard of our work, the end result is never guaranteed. Because expectation and reality will never be exactly the same, there will always be uncertainty and unpredictable factors awaiting ahead.

And with that, failure is always a possibility ahead.

Obsessing over the outcome can lead to self-abuse. As we judge ourselves for not being smart enough, good enough to reach the target, we sabotage the process instead of learning and improving from it.

The fix: focus on what we can actually control and accept the fact that success is never guaranteed. Find happiness in the small daily grind that leads to the ultimate destination instead of always fixating on the end goal itself.

Building on your weakness

People are born with a different set of strengths and weaknesses.

The mistake we often make is performing on the areas which we are not naturally interested in or good at. The reason for this is our lack of self-understanding with an impressionable mindset.

We see others achieving their goals and we want to emulate the same success for ourselves. But, you may not EVER get used to waking up at 4:30 like Jocko Willock or only sleeping for 2 hours a day like Leonardo da Vinci.

Blindly implementing another person’s routine causes trouble because what boosts their productivity may harm yours. And if you choose to perform with a severely underdeveloped skill set instead of your natural strength, you are just making it harder for yourself. 

Fix this: Find what you are good at and what you are not good at. Re-evaluate whether your current goal is allowing you to play to your strength or forcing you to perform at your weak states.

It takes self-awareness to differentiate between what goal is suitable for you to pursue diligently and what you shouldn’t invest much of your time and effort in the first place.

Having no deadlines for your goals

One of the greatest thieves of our potential is procrastination.

“What can be done today shouldn’t be left for tomorrow.”

Quoting from the great Benjamin Franklin. Such a simple yet effective way to communicate about beating procrastination.

Without the end insight, you can forever postpone and push your goals aside.

All of that ambition can be stuck in brainstorming and planning, with barely any action.

As our time is limited, each passing day is an opportunity to move us closer to our goal. If we fail to understand that our time is limited, we won’t be much appreciative of each opportunity.

And then we procrastinate.

Fix this: Have a fixed deadline for each of your goals. And more importantly, constantly remind yourself of the certainty of death. It may sound bleak and pessimistic at first, but contemplating over the briefness of life can instill in us great gratitude and a deep sense of motivation to get stuff done.


Mistakes from the mindset behind goal setting:

  • Setting goals just to impress other people
  • Getting stuck in the comfort of what we know how to do well
  • Failing to connect the dots and see the bigger picture

Mistakes in our method of achieving those goals:

  • Relying too much on motivation and constant excitement
  • Performing on our weaknesses instead of our strengths
  • Chasing vague and generic goals

Mistakes in our process of executing towards those goals:

  • Neglecting progress tracking
  • Saying yes to too much projects
  • Having no deadlines for our goal

If you are truly serious about achieving your goals, a strong habit system is an essential tool. Start your habit development with Habitify to improve your productivity and fulfillment in life.