Certain goal setting advice — despite being based on wrong assumptions — is widely accepted as true. And sticking with these goal setting myths is why goals fail us.
I’ve done some digging into goal setting research and discovered 3 of the most widespread myths. Here’re my findings. Along with several little known ingredients for success.
Myth #1: Every goal you set is a new beginning for you
The unspoken assumption is that your new goal exists in a vacuum. Pick a goal. Write it down. Do the work. Nothing can stop your success.
That’s a complete rainbow-unicorn myth.
You face one huge obstacle with every goal you choose. YOU!
Your past experiences and beliefs get in your way. Old baggage. Your past creeps into the present and blocks your future.
If you set new goals with the old baggage in place, then you’re set up to fail.
Biggest block to achieving your goals
Belief is the secret to achieving a goal. Believing you have the ability to do what’s required.
The more deeply you believe, when problems knock you down, it’s easier to keep going and succeed.
But our beliefs aren’t easy to see or put a finger on. They’re complicated.
Belief is a union of thought and emotion, and all day long we’re thinking and feeling, so a person’s belief system is intricate and in constant motion.Rev. Dr. Jesse Jennings, Never Limit your True Self
Science of Mind Magazine, January 2019
Our mysterious belief systems set us up for success. Or failure.
Goal-setting research scientists report that people with high levels of self-efficacy are more likely achieve their goals.
Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in his or her innate ability to achieve goals. Belief in innate abilities means … [having] determination and perseverance to overcome obstacles.Wikipedia
Your strength comes from your beliefs to clearly see challenges and make wise decisions. To keep going. And not be overwhelmed.
Not believing in our abilities is the biggest block to our success. And why goals fail. Only to appear on our list year after year. After year.
Strengthen your belief – achieve your goal
Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself. Quite literally, you become your habits.
He distinguishes goals from systems:
- Goals are the results.
- Systems and processes create results.
- And habits keep you on track with your systems – day after day.
By using systems, we build a new identity for ourselves. The new identity embodies beliefs we need to reach our goal.
Using Clear’s methods, you set a goal and also plan your actions. Your actions should be what a successful person would do.
Habitually following your system builds your new belief – that you can achieve your goal.
New identities require new evidence. …It’s a simple two-step process:Atomic Habits
1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
Acknowledging small wins is important to building new beliefs. James Clear and goal setting researchers agree.
Celebrating small wins reduces feeling like an imposter.
Imposter feelings come up when you’re between your old and new beliefs – a fragile time. During that fragile time, goals alone can’t keep you going. This is why goals fail.
4 Steps for strengthening your belief
An example using Clear’s method:
- Goal: To write a book, even though I’ve never written one before.
- Find a Process: How does a successful person write a book? What’s their process?
- Adopt a Process: Follow a system. Build new habits. E.g., Write 500 words daily.
- Acknowledge Success: Celebrate my small wins. E.g., Wrote 10 days in a row – get a double latte to celebrate.
Myth # 2 Goal setting is easy
Deciding your future is no big deal — the unstated assumption behind myth #2.
If goal setting is so easy, then why do my husband, friends & clients complain so much. Mostly about not accomplishing last year’s goals? They blame themselves for not working hard enough.
On the contrary. They did the work. But probably set the wrong type of goals.
The wrong type of goal can never take you where you want to go. If the idea of different types of goals confuses you, even goal setting researchers agree:
The goal of setting the right goals is itself a challenging affair.Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, Ordonez, Schweitzer, Galinsky, Bazerman
Researchers identify 3 different goal categories. I’ll look at only 2 categories – performance and learning goals – both measurable.
[Behavioral goals, the 3rd category, are straight forward. You can’t measure the outcomes. But they’re important to our growth: like behaving ethically or developing your staff.]
Performance goals measure completing simple tasks. Straightforward tasks (e.g., how many words typed per minute; number of calls a customer service rep handles in an hour).
Learning goals are good when you want to improve a skill or learn something new. You’ll learn strategies, processes or procedures to help you get better with particular task.
Which goal to set for yourself?
Researchers admit it’s not easy knowing when to pick a learning goal.
… “learning goals” should be used in complex situations rather than “performance goals.”Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, Ordonez, Schweitzer, Galinsky, Bazerman
In practice, however, managers may have trouble determining when a task is complex enough to warrant a learning, rather than a performance goal.
We don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s why it’s hard to pick the right goal between these two categories. This confusion is why goals fail us.
If you pick a performance goal instead of a learning goal, you’ll be frustrated later on. You can meet the performance goal’s specific metrics. But not succeed reaching your bigger goal.
Here’s how to refocus your goal
My friend Shannan set a performance goal that went haywire. Shannan’s a freelance copywriter, looking for potential clients. Her big goal is to grow her business.
With her previous career in sales, she believed she knew how to look for clients as a freelancer.
Last year her weekly goal (a performance goal) was to send 5 cold letters to prospects. For each letter, she followed up with at least 3 phone calls. The objective was to speak to the person she mailed.
Despite hitting her goal most weeks, she wasn’t connecting with the right kind of potential clients. Half-a-year into this process and she had no new clients. She was frustrated.
She joined a coaching program helping freelance copywriters grow their businesses.
After joining, she added a learning goal to her list. While keeping her performance goals.
She began spending 2 hours a week either watching live sessions, videos or reading articles on new processes and strategies. And then trying them out.
With a learning goal, Shannan started getting better results in 3 months
- First, she’s getting more inquiries – 3 times more than before joining the coaching program.
- Second, prospects are only asking about the writing services she offers. (No more random bid requests for writing a Facebook post for 25 bucks.)
- Third, her mindset and perspective have changed. She tells me she’s more confident talking to prospects. And more often, she chooses important tasks over checking email (just in case).
What would Shannan’s business look like today, if last year she realized a learning goal would supercharge her business?
Makes you think about the cost of picking the wrong goal.
Ask this question to find out which type of goal to choose
With your ultimate business goals in mind, what type of goal (performance or learning) will get you there?
A clue: if you see a need for a lot of change, then learning goals may be the way to go.
And you may see that you probably need both kinds of goals.
Myth #3: You can achieve any goal you want
Myth #3 assumes your motivation isn’t important to success. The promise is getting any goal — no matter why you’ve written it down.
But goal setting research shows you can’t achieve a goal without commitment. And motivation (or lack of it) equals the depth of your commitment.
Weak commitment is why goals fail.
To understand how deeply you feel about any goal, ask:
Why is this particular goal important to me?
If the goal is important, you’ll answer with words you use describing your higher vision, values or ideals.
…if you don’t value the changes you’re trying to make or have a deep reason for why you want to accomplish more, you won’t have the motivation in the moment to make short-term sacrifices to reach your long-term goals.The Productivity Project
Commitment is not a hack. Commitment is not optional for success.
Goal setting researchers see the same results:
Commitment increases performance.The Goal Setting and Goal Orientation Labyrinth: Effective Ways for Increasing Employee Performance, Gary Latham, Gerard Seijts, John Slocum
Therefore you must know when a goal is NOT important to you.
If you aren’t committed to a goal, then don’t put it on your list. Success relies as much on what you don’t do — as it relies on what you do.
And if you do go after a goal you’re not fully committed to, you might end up on shaky ground.
Because the opposite – a goal not attached to your values – can entice you to a dark place.
When initial goal pursuit is framed as commitment, people show commitment-consistent behaviour; framing it as progress towards the goal appears to facilitate licensing behaviourA Neural Link Between Generosity and Happiness, Nature Communications
Licensing behavior means taking short cuts. Believing cutting corners is ok. Because achieving the goal is more important than how you do it.
Simply, the ends justify the means.
With a single-minded focus on a goal, any path to success can look like the right choice.
Set a goal. An outcome you want.
But next, go deeper. Ask the hard-to-answer question. “Why?”
When goal setting ask these questions
Why do I want this goal? How important is it to me? Are my reasons why connected to my deeply held values or intentions for good?
Am I willing to change myself (either in ways I know right now or don’t know yet) to reach this goal?
Does the idea of achieving it thrill me – even if it scares me?
Don’t stop after setting goals — do this too
This article should clear up confusion about goal setting myths.
You can do more besides writing a goal list. Try adding these 3 ingredients when setting your goals:
- Create a process for strengthening your belief in your ability to achieve your goal.
- Ask, will you need to learn something new?
- And always ask, “Why?” Then you will know if you can commit to this goal with a clear conscious. Or not.
You might wonder, why do we need goals?
Because we’re human. And while we want more or to be more, we hate to change. Our goals nudge us to change. And what’s life without change?.
Get more ways to set goals that align with your values and ethics. Check out The Practical Guide to Using Your Highest Intentions in Marketing. Download a free PDF.
You’ll find help in the guide aligning your marketing goals with your ideals & intentions for good.