No one starts setting a goal thinking, I really hope I don't achieve this.
This is to say that we all want to reach our goals, especially if we've already set our mind to it, right?
But before you dive deep into goal-setting, take a moment to first analyze your thoughts, internal dialogue, or limiting beliefs in order to find out if you've set yourself up to fail before you've even begun.
Read on to see if any of these seven goal-setting myths might be holding you back.
Myth #1: I just need to make my goals SMART.
When people talk about goals, one of the first thoughts that come to mind is the popular SMART goal-setting strategy.
“Oh, you just need to make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound… and you’re all set!”
But as a productivity coach and blogger, this kind of belief is what I see trips up most people.
Once you start generalizing everyone’s goals, processes, and lifestyles and once you force a one-size-fits-all kind of solution, you’re bound to encounter some issues.
The SMART strategy can be effective, yes, but it’s an incomplete solution. It’s merely a framework which has its own limitations:
It’s not universal, meaning not all kinds of goals can be accomplished through this method, particularly the long-term ones. It causes tunnel vision and it can be constricting and demotivating after a certain point.
Since each person's goals are unique and complex, the framework or method used to accomplish them should, in turn, be comprehensive but flexible enough to meet the individual's needs.
Myth #2: Goal-setting is useless.
This one’s a bit of a stretch but the reasoning behind this myth is that the future is unpredictable and so goal-setting, which is a future-oriented process, must be useless.
I understand the thinking behind it but this is where mental forecasting comes in.
Since no path towards reaching a goal is clear and unobstructed, a proper goal-setting process attempts to plan for unforeseen circumstances. This helps us anticipate and prepare for possible scenarios wherein we could fail, give up, or be stressed about.
(By the way, this is another critical limitation of the SMART goal-setting strategy which doesn’t involve creating mental models.)
Although no one can predict what will happen tomorrow, next year, or five years from now, an effective goal-setting process helps keep you on track in the direction necessary to reach your desired destination.
Myth #3: I tried goal-setting before and it doesn’t work.
I find this third myth quite interesting. It’s like someone saying, “I tried relationships before and it doesn’t work” when the problem isn’t relationships per se. It's actually the timing, circumstance, the other person, your compatibility, or some other factor. Moreover, a method that didn't produce results for a particular person doesn't mean it automatically won't work for someone else.
Just because you weren’t able to set the right goals, implement an effective action plan, or you weren’t able to reach your previous goals, these don’t mean that setting goals doesn’t work or isn’t for you.
Writing goals off without a second thought is as if you’re submitting to the belief that your past dictates your future. Again, goal-setting is a future-oriented process so although you do need to consider your past and current situation, it’s best to learn from them and not repeat the same patterns.
Remember, if you have dreams, if you want to change, if you desire to grow, and if you wish to get to point B from point A, then you’re capable of taking these aspirations and transforming them into reality. What you can do instead is choose to adjust your mindset, reframe your goals, or change your approach.
Myth #4: I just need systems, not goals.
Some people might argue that you only need systems, not goals. I would reply that systems and goals are two sides of the same coin because one cannot be effective without the other.
Setting a goal is useless without taking action and this is where a system comes in handy. Likewise, a system cannot be deemed effective if there is no purpose, outcome, result, or goal in place to measure its process or progress.
Think of professions such as being a lawyer, doctor, businessman, athlete or artist. In order to become successful, you'll need both theory and practice because implementing practice only or theory only won't get you too far.
For example, if you have your own business and your goal is to reach a certain amount of revenue. This goal can only be attained through a cohesive system of marketing, operations, production, management, and so on. If you have the system in place but there's no unifying purpose, mission, or goal, then how can you possibly tell if the system if effective or not?
Another example is in terms of personal development. There are a lot of employees who are excellent at their jobs, those who are top performers and get promoted often. But you can still hear some of them feel unfulfilled, incomplete, or even lost. The reason might be that their personal goals aren't in line with the daily system of activities they've put in place (wake up, head to work, do well at their job, come home, and go to bed).
Again, goals help you determine a destination while effective systems help you reach that destination.
Myth #5: If I don’t reach my goal, I’m a failure.
Some people believe that if a goal is a result or outcome that you want, then not accomplishing this goal automatically equates to his or her failure. Again, a mindset shift may be in order here because the reason/s a goal wasn't accomplished could be traced to a number of factors.
Most of the time, it's the method used to accomplished the goal. In terms of business goals, it could be issues related to marketing, production, or management while in terms of personal development goals, it could be submitting to your limiting beliefs or bad habits.
In addition, some "failures" are actually only setbacks which means you can still reevaluate your process and push back the deadline you've attached to your goal. Remember, goal-setting is a complex and ongoing process so instead of focusing on shortcomings or inadequacies, direct your attention towards how far you've come, how to redefine your definition of failure, and how you can improve in order to keep going.
Myth #6: I don’t need to write down my goals.
As I've mentioned, goal-setting is a future-oriented process and it's a complex, dynamic, and challenging endeavor. If you keep your goals only in your mind, there's a significantly less chance that it'll be clear, well-defined, or actionable.
Putting your goals to paper enables you to clarify and strengthen your intentions. You're also more likely to regularly reflect on them, purposefully use them as motivation, and consistently evaluate them for ongoing improvement.
My personal favorite is that having a visible reminder of what you're working towards will help you focus and avoid distractions. This means you'll be more productive because you'll more effectively manage your time, energy, and attention by knowing which activities lead you towards your goals or steer you away from them.
Myth #7: I don’t need goals.
To be clear, goals are different from mere wishes or dreams. Many people wish for a million dollars, being their own boss, or the freedom to pursue their passions. To wish is much easier, less complicated and more convenient than to properly set goals, continuously take action, and persistently pursue them (in spite of obstacles which will inevitably come your way).
In essence, a goal is something you currently don't have or haven't achieved yet. To have a goal means you're in point A but you want to get to point B. To say that you don't need goals means you desire no change, no movement, and no growth for yourself or for the people you care about (family goals, relationship goals, community goals, etc.).
You may only think you don't need goals but as humans, we're inherently driven by our needs and instincts such as survival, safety, and self-actualization. And since these are in no way constant or readily available, pursuing them is what we naturally do on a consistent basis whether you're aware of it or not.
The beauty of a comprehensive goal-setting system is that you can strategically meet those needs and turn those dreams into reality.
Setting and accomplishing goals is a complex, ongoing, and useful process that helps us fulfill our needs and turn our dreams into reality. But in order to successfully pursue this path, we can't allow myths and limiting beliefs to hold us back such as "I only need SMART goals," "goal-setting is useless," or "I don't need goals."
Share in the comments below: Which of these seven goal-setting myths has/have been holding you back? What is your biggest takeaway from this post?
Reopening in December 2017
Since the first step to being productive and free is setting relevant and important goals, I created an online program called the Goal Mastery Workshop.
Inside, you'll learn how to not only set goals but also master them so you can live by design, not by default.
Click here to join the waiting list and be the first to know when it becomes available.