There is a lot of material out there on what you need to do to set a good goal. I’ve written some of it myself. In my book, Do a Day, and in my coaching practice, I like to educate people on the common traits of unsuccessful goals. Knowing the pitfalls to avoid can help you create goals you can crush on your way to achieving your dreams.
The four mistakes to avoid when setting goals are setting goals that are:
1. Too Big
Goals that are too big can be crushing, de-motivating and even impossible. The number one New Year’s resolution is also the most common “too big” goal, and that’s to lose weight. Specifically to lose a lot of weight, such as 25, 50 or even 100 pounds or more.I know this one first hand as someone who lost about 100 pounds myself.
A goal like that is so massive, and feels so far away that it leaves you both scared by its size and detached by its distance at the same time. It simultaneously pushes you away and feels irrelevant. Instead, we need goals we can be just a bit in awe of but can also touch.
2. Too Vague
The next common mistake people make in goal-setting is that they have vague goals. People often set goals like, “get fit,” “go to the gym” or “eat better.”
Those are all good things, but let me ask you, what does “get fit” mean and how will you know when you have “gotten fit”?
Or how often do you need to “go to the gym,” because if you go just once, you’ve gone to the gym, so is the goal complete? Eat better than what? How often? How much better? And how do you define “better”?
As you can see, these goals are vague, which means you cannot tell if you are making clear progress toward achieving them, or when you are done–or even if there is such a thing as being done at all.
3. Lack Substance
Even if your goals are not vague, they can lack substance. They may not seem frivolous at the time, but in retrospect we often recognize that they were not important enough things to focus on.
Often these are fleeting or petty things, such as losing enough weight to fit into that great dress to make your ex feel jealous when you see each other at your mutual friend’s wedding. It may not be vague, but it certainly is not substantial in the grand scheme of your life.
4. Are Unenjoyable
I do not mean the key component of the goal is something that you do not get enjoyment from. I mean it is something more negative than just being the absence of joy.
This pitfall is often common to health-related goals (e.g., eating some vegetable every day that you do not enjoy, doing some physical activity you do not like or even experience pain during–running takes top honors here), but can also be for non-health goals (e.g., reading some book you do not like but feel like you should read, etc.).
First, it is masochistic to create a goal around something you really do not enjoy.
Second, how do you expect yourself to stick with a goal that requires you to do something you cannot stand? Why would you try to brute-force-suck-it-up-grin-and-bear-it your way to completion? Why not choose to build your goal around something you enjoy or at least do not despise? Dislike running and feel lots of pain when you do it? OK, there are probably 20 other exercises you can name within the next two minutes that you could do instead, and I would bet one of them brings a touch of joy (for example, common exercises I recommend for people who do not like running are dancing, jumping on a trampoline, riding a bike, lifting weights, using an elliptical or swimming).
Some people feel a need to conquer something they do not like, or to prove to themselves that they have the mental fortitude to get through something unenjoyable. That is admirable, but usually not long-term sustainable.
That approach almost always leads to failure since it’s very hard to keep doing that which we do not enjoy. And when you do not enjoy an activity, inactivity becomes an obvious and enjoyable alternative that many people end up choosing.
Avoiding these four common traits of unsuccessful goals can help you achieve what you set out to conquer in life, and I’m betting you will enjoy the journey much more.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on August 16th, 2017.