“Your goals suck,” he flatly replied.
I was deflated. A legendary Olympic archery coach had basically told me everything I wanted to achieve was hot garbage.
“Why?” I protested, meekly pointing back to my handwritten goal chart. “I really do want to reach those scores and make the US team!”
The coach smirked.
It wasn’t that my ambitions were off, he explained. Instead, I needed to learn how to set better goals to have a real chance at achieving them.
I was relieved…and confused.
Dead on Arrival
My years at Gotivation have helped me develop an uncanny skill of accurately guessing a person’s success in reaching their health goals. In fact, it usually only takes one question to figure it out.
What is your goal?
The next sentences that come out of a client’s mouth say it all. Sadly, many first-time goals I hear have no chance of success. This means the client won’t be losing weight, or increasing their flexibility, or improving their relationship with food.
Their goals are dead on arrival.
“Who cares? They’re just words (you pretentious amateur),” you may be thinking.
Turns out we should care a lot.
Aside from the obvious bummer – you won’t get healthy – poorly planned goals cause collateral damage.
Bad goals can destroy your motivation (cause who doesn’t love constant failure).
They may lead you to take unnecessary risks (fat-burning pills, anyone?).
They can also take your focus off the big picture (abs are great, but so is time with your family…occasionally).
So how do you know if your goals are on a collision course with an iceberg? Start by ensuring you’re not making one of these five common mistakes.
Five Reasons Your Goals Suck
- You only set outcome goals
The absolute, numero uno, almost guaranteed-to-fail in the long-run goal you want to avoid is: “I want to lose 15 pounds” (substitute any pounds you prefer).
If this is your only goal then, as my 8-year-old would say, “Welp, she’s a goner.”
In psychology, this goal is known as a Concrete Goal. In non-nerd, you may have heard this referred to as an outcome goal. Outcome goals are just that; you are hoping for a certain outcome. Losing 15 pounds, finishing a 5k (alive), or being able to touch your toes are all outcome goals. Outcomes goals are great for short-term planning and temporary feelings of accomplishment. Unfortunately, they are terrible for commitment to long-term health and fitness.
So unless you love being on a constant roller coaster of losing 15 pounds and gaining it right back, do not start your health journey with an outcome goal.
- Your goals aren’t SMART
No, I’m not questioning your goal’s SAT scores. We’re referring to the ubiquitous acronym S.M.A.R.T. created by George Doran. If you’ve ever had a corporate job, you’re undoubtedly familiar with this.
As a refresher, SMART is a structure that helps you set better goals by ensuring you contemplate the key elements of success. It stands for:
Specific – Run a charity 5k
Measurable – Finish the race in under 30 minutes
Achievable – Are you injury-free? Have somewhere to practice?
Relevant – Will a race help your overall fitness goals?
Timely – Train and run the race in the next 90 days
Turns out, some people do the opposite. They set unrealistic, vague goals, with no timeline. For example, “I just wanna get back in shape” is about as opposite as SMART as you can get.
Does it work in every situation and guarantee success? Well, no (we have no clue how to accurately measure a ‘happiness’ goal). However, making sure your goal is SMART certainly improves your odds.
- You aren’t committed to your goal
Look, we all start goals with the best intentions. It’s not like we’re trying to blow it.
In reality though, after a few kid-induced sleepless nights, the temperature drops below 50 degrees, or work gets us all riled up, our best intentions don’t stand a chance. Our commitment fades, and we revert to the old habits.
The operative word is commitment.
Even a well-crafted goal will crumble if you are not ready to commit to it. So how does one know if they are truly committed?
There is a formula that can help called the Readiness Ruler:
Willing + Able = Ready
You have undoubtedly seen this formula if you are in the Gotivation program. What does it mean? If you’re not willing (the goal is unimportant to you), or you’re not able (you are unconfident in your abilities), then you’re not ready to commit.
- It’s not your goal
Did you like hand-me-down clothes when you were growing up?
Unless your older sister was Jennifer Aniston, this should be an easy question. But if you’re on the fence, picture me in worn, dated, oversized, poop-brown JNCO jeans that I inherited from my older brother.
Knowing that, why would you ever want a hand-me-down goal?
Your co-worker’s goal of feeling confident at the beach is only for her. Your cousin’s goal of ‘staying injury-free to play with my kids’ is only for him. They want to get healthy for their own reasons, in their own way.
Even if you want a similar outcome, their goals just won’t fit you right, and you won’t take accountability for them over the long run.
Set your own goals for your own reasons.
- You’re working on your goal in a bubble
As the old saying goes, “If you set a goal and no one hears it, did it really get set?” Ok, maybe they were actually talking about trees or something, but just go with it.
We’re not talking about unnervingly screaming your goals in the middle of Target like a toddler. We’re talking about ensuring the right people know about your goals so they can support you when times are rough and keep you accountable when excuses start to spring up.
This is no different in health, your job, or your relationships.
I remember earlier in my career, I was hoping for a big-shot corporate director role. Quite the ambitious goal for a fool like me. For months, I had told myself, “I’ve been taking on all the hardest projects and my team rocked it all year. I got this!”
However, when the position was awarded to someone else, I was stunned. I recall walking up to my boss and trying to play it cool, but I am sure my disappointment shone through. In a very awkward transition, I slipped it into our conversation.
“Soooo, um…how come that other guy got the open director role?” I stammered.
She looked at me, bewildered. “I didn’t realize you were that interested in being a director. You never even told me or asked for support.”
Learning the hard way sucks sometimes. But then again, the same can be said for goals you try to accomplish in a bubble.
Your Goals Don’t Have To Suck
Poorly crafted goals shouldn’t be the reason you struggle, and they absolutely don’t have to suck. They can be just the opposite, in fact.
It starts with steering clear of these common mistakes. Then, with a quick lesson from Motivated in a Month, a little planning, and some reflection, you can set goals that put you on the path to success.