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Common pitfalls of goalsetting

9 Common Pitfalls of Goal Setting

Most high-achieving women have no shortage of ambitious goals, but often, despite our best intentions and a true desire to succeed, our goals take a backseat as our jobs, families, friends, and other personal obligations compete for our time and attention.

Today we’re sharing 9 common pitfalls of goal setting (and how to remedy them) so that you can finally achieve the results that you want in your career and life!


1. You don’t have a clear, meaningful “why.”

A good goal should make you stretch but still remain within the realm of possibility. As with anything that takes time, you’re going to face challenges along the way or have days where you don’t feel like taking action. On those days, your “why” is what will motivate you to push through and persevere.

Oftentimes we get caught up in chasing goals that we think we should want based on our age, career, culture, social status or to please others, but in order to stay motivated over the long-term, it’s important that your goal has significant personal meaning to you.

What will attaining this goal give you? Will it move you closer to your long-term goals? Is it in line with your values?

Taking a moment to really dig deep, being brutally honest with yourself and asking why you want something can help you recognize whether your goal is worth pursuing.


2. You haven’t defined success in a measurable way.

Your goal should be specific and measurable so that you have a way to track your progress and know when you’ve actually accomplished it.

For example, let’s say you’ve set a goal to “improve your finances” this year.

What does that really mean?

Increasing your income with a side hustle?

Paying off a certain amount of debt?

Creating and sticking to a budget?

Allocating more money to invest?

If you “improve your finances” by increasing your net worth by $1 over the course of the entire year, is that success?

Likely not. Give yourself something concrete to work towards.

In this case, improving your finances could be defined as creating $20,000 in additional income through freelance consulting contracts and paying off your credit card debt.

Once you’ve defined your metric for success, track it daily. Research shows that the more frequently we monitor our progress towards an intended outcome, the more likely we become to actually achieve our goal.


3. You don’t have a realistic action plan

Sometimes the distance between where you are now and what you want to achieve is so great that you may feel completely overwhelmed by how to even begin.

Furthermore, when you’re only focused on the final result far off in the future, you lack the healthy urgency needed to take action here and now.

The best way to avoid stagnating or even worse – not starting at all, is to break your goal down into measurable milestones so that you have a series of smaller, more manageable goals and deadlines to hit in the process of reaching your larger goal.

One of our favorite ways to create an action plan is using Gary Keller’s “goal-setting to the now” method, which helps you reverse engineer a plan by starting with your large “someday” goal and ending with the actions you need to take in the present to get there.

Goal-Setting to the Now

Someday Goal – What’s the ONE thing that I want to do someday?


5-Year Goal – Based on my someday goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do in the next 5 years?


One-Year Goal – Based on my 5-year goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do this year?


Monthly Goal – Based on my one-year goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do this month?


Weekly Goal – Based on my monthly goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do this week?


Daily Goal – Based on my weekly goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do today?


Right now – Based on my daily goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do right now?

Breaking down your goals in this way helps you to laser in on only the most important, high-impact actions you need to take and clarifies how your seemingly small actions in the here and now contribute to accomplishing your larger goal.

If you’re feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by your goal, it may be proper planning that’s tripping you up. Using this reverse engineering method ensures you have a plan to guide you along the way!


4. Nothing is keeping you accountable

Achieving your goal will force you to push yourself and evolve. As with any growth, this will be challenging and uncomfortable.

Your brain would prefer that you stay nice and comfortable and will help you think of every plausible excuse to stay in your comfort zone, especially when the actions you need to take to accomplish your goal disrupt your ingrained habits.

When you rely solely on willpower, odds are you’re going to eventually cave in to the temptation to stick to the status quo.

The best way to avoid this? Have people and resources in place to keep you accountable.

Some ways to keep yourself focused on your goal include:

– Use a journal or app where you record your progress towards your defined success metric each day.

– Join a support group or group-coaching program (online or in real life) with others who share a similar goal.

– Invest in a one-on-one coach, trainer or mentor. Often knowing that there is someone you’ll have to answer to about your progress is enough to provide the motivational boost to push through when you’d rather throw in the towel.

– Get friends and family involved. Nobody enjoys failing publicly. Use this to your advantage by being vocal about what you intend to do. Consider finding someone in your social circle who is also working towards a goal and keep each other accountable and motivated.


5. Obstacles arise and your goal takes a backseat (or you give it up altogether)

When working towards a long-term goal, there are inevitably going to be obstacles that make sticking to your plan a challenge.

Demands on your time may increase, unplanned expenses might come up, health issues may arise, relationships may change, the list goes on…

When you’re unprepared and blindsided by these challenges in the moment, you’re more likely to fall off track and let your goals take a backseat.

That’s why anticipating and planning for potential barriers to your success ahead of time is crucial to keep yourself on track.

For example, if your goal is to lose weight and you’re going to be attending a party where tons of tempting hors d’oeuvres await, you can eat a healthy meal at home beforehand to reduce your appetite or volunteer to bring a healthy appetizer to share.

When setting your goal, list all of the potential challenges you think you may encounter and proactively brainstorm ways that you can overcome them or lessen their impact ahead of time. Then when a stressful situation or moment of temptation inevitably arrives, you already have an action plan, rather than having to make a decision in the moment.

A little forethought and preparation goes a long way!


6. You have an “all-or-nothing” mentality

In the process of pursuing your goal, there will inevitably be times that you slip up or fall off track.

When these little slip-ups happen, the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about them and decide, “If I’ve already messed up once, I might as well give up the whole thing.”

One tiny step off track isn’t going to permanently derail your efforts, and in most cases, it should be pretty easy to get back on course without much damage done.

When a slip-up happens, use it as an opportunity for learning and growth. Ask yourself:
– Why did this happen? What triggered this?
– How can I be better prepared in the future to keep this from happening again?

If you’re continuously struggling to stick to your plan and the “rules” you’ve created for yourself, ask:
– Am I holding myself to unhealthy or unrealistic standards and expectations?
– How can I start even smaller to make moving towards my goal more manageable?
– How can I celebrate the positive steps I have taken?

Success is not linear and slip-ups are a part of the process. The most important thing is to keep moving forward, no matter how slowly you have to go.


7. Your “success” is outside of your control

Get promoted to CRO. Lose 20 pounds. Gain 10,000 followers on Instagram.

Goals like this sound okay on the surface but they have one fatal flaw: They’re ultimately outside of your control.

You can crush all of your workouts, be faithful to your diet and do everything “right”, but because of health conditions, still not lose those 20 pounds.

You could work incredibly hard in the office, further your education, go above and beyond… and still get passed up for the job.

Though you can take action to increase your odds of achieving your desired outcome, your success in these situations is ultimately out of your hands.

On the other hand, when you set process-oriented goals, you give yourself the power to succeed by shifting your focus to the actions that you personally can take to work towards your desired outcome.

For example, you can’t directly control if you get promoted, but you can control getting in front of the right people and asking for honest feedback about your prospects. Likewise, you can make sure you are communicating your department’s successes regularly to the senior team.

Consider how you can reframe your goals to ensure that your success is dictated by your own actions and not by external individuals or circumstances.


8. You’re focusing on too many goals at once

When you split your focus and energy amongst many different goals, you can’t give your best effort to any of them, usually leading to mediocre (at best) results.

Instead, try to focus on one major goal at a time with the understanding that “not now” doesn’t mean “never.” In fact, prioritizing this way is the secret to accomplishing more goals in less time.


9. It’s not the right time or you don’t have the support you need

Be careful not to use this reason as an excuse to never start.

Sometimes goals will force you to work hard or get creative to obtain the resources you need to succeed and that’s no reason to give up.

However, sometimes your goal won’t be important enough to you to remain a priority if circumstances in your life change or demand more of your attention, and that’s okay.

Needs change, people change, goals change.

Determining if this is the case requires self-awareness and a clear sense of your priorities.

If you decide to let go of your goal – either temporarily or permanently – don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be honest with yourself and make sure that you’re ultimately making the right decision for you.


How can we support you?

At HNS, we are passionate about supporting women leaders in achieving their goals and evolving to their highest potential.

In our signature HNS Accelerate program, 95% of our participants report significant improvement on their development goals due to regularly monitoring progress, creating and executing a strategic plan for success as well as being held accountable by their peers and coaches.

Visit our offerings page to learn more about how HNS can support you or the high-potential women in your organization.

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