Have you ever set a goal (likely including new years resolutions), and then feel embarrassed or guilty when that goal just keeps getting moved from one year to the other?
Or… set large ambitious goals to be motivated by them, only to feel paralyzed and stuck?
Or… set small goals that get overtaken by stress & anxiety where nothing seems possible?
Well, I can confidently say that you’re not alone, my friend. So many of us have fallen in that trap!
Here’s the thing… Goal setting can be an amazing way to help you achieve what you want, whether it be something small like getting laundry done, or something a little bigger like what you want your career to look like in five years. No matter what your goals are, figuring out why your goals are failing and how to set effective goals has to be your first step. In this blog, I’ll be going over the most common reasons why your goals may be failing and how to set goals that you’ll finally start crossing off. PLUS my habit & goal tracker can be download for free at the end of the blog!
Why You haven’t achieved your Goals
I would argue that doing some self-reflection to find out why your goals are failing or you’re not meeting them is MORE important (!!!) than the actual setting of your goals. Once you’re able to point out why your goals aren’t working, you’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments to move in the right direction. An important thing to keep in mind is that goal-setting, like all things in life, is a learned skill and takes practice! With all that being said, here are 4 common goal setting mistakes that I see often:
1) You Are Working Towards the Wrong Thing
How we frame our goals can be a game changer.
For example, setting a specific weight you want to reach is a common goal that people have. However, weight is an outcome that you can’t decide. You can’t tell your body where a pound will be added or removed from your cells. Your body takes care of those decisions. We know that doing restrictive behaviours with the focus on extreme weight loss, does not work… it causes so much harm! What you can *control* is your behaviour, not the outcome… so focus your goals on actual behaviours & actions instead.
Goals focused on specific weight changes can be greatly damaging to our self-esteem, lead to false hope, negative behaviours, and throw us in a negative feedback loop of restriction, bingeing and guilt/shame.
Following this example, rather than setting a goal weight to reach by a certain time, we can set positive and sustainable BEHAVIOUR changes that make us feel physically and emotionally better. By switching up our approach and what we focus on perspective, we can work towards goals that are challenging, yet realistic and achievable.
2) You Are Setting Too Many Goals
Just like with our other projects and daily tasks, we can only handle so many goals at a time. It takes 60 days to create a habit – so we need time to implement and sustain new behaviours.
Rather than overloading ourselves with all kinds of goals, pick 2-3 (max) specific goals that are important to you and focus on those — once you achieve those goals, you’ll be ready to take on more. I always say, think of the next best step!
If you want to become a meal planning guru, but you currently don’t cook at all… start with making 3 meals a week with leftovers, and increase from there, or even start with having breakfast at home 4 times a week.
By accomplishing your goals, you’ll kick into a positive feedback loop which means you’re more likely to keep doing them. If you make them too ambitious, you’ll give up before any habits can form… and that’s not your fault in not having enough “willpower”… it’s just the art of setting effective goals!
3) Your Goals Are Not Specific Enough, or TOO specific!
A key part of setting goals that are effective is making them specific! Rather than having a general idea or a vague description, really bang out the details of exactly what you want to achieve and how you plan on getting there. On the other hand, if you are too specific, you’ll lose track of the big picture. This is a double edged sword:
—-Not specific enough: If you say your goal is to eat healthier every day… that’s very vague and you wouldn’t know what it is that you’re doing that would count as “healthier”. So specify what that means to you.
—-Too specific: If your goal towards eating healthier means you have a long list of restricted foods… that restriction will take away from the “good” behaviours you’re changing like eating more vegetables or cooking more often. This also relates to how sustainable or realistic your goal is … which is something I can guide you in setting.
4) You Lose Motivation
Not meeting your goals can be extremely frustrating — trust me, we’ve all been there! It is crucial to recognize that we all have missteps when trying to reach our goals, and that it is totally okay. What’s more important than our missteps is how we respond to them.
By being forgiving of ourselves instead of giving up and scrapping the whole thing, we are better able to stick to the goals in the long-run and get back on track.
Think about goals around eating more fruits/vegetables or plant-based meals, for example. If you don’t eat enough of fruits or vegetables for one day a week… you’re still doing so for 6 other days! One day shouldn’t be the culprit in feeling hopeless, when you’ve had an 83% success rate
A great foundational structure to help with your goal setting is the “SMART” framework which stands for specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, timely.
Your goal should be detailed and as defined as possible. Rather than having something that is broad, think about the “who, what, where, when, and why” of your goal and describe them without ambiguity. This is challenging because if you’ve never done this, it might feel overwhelming. Try to be as specific as you can… and then assess & adjust based on how you’re performing on the goals you’ve set.
Your goal should be something concrete and based on something you are able to measure or gauge in one way or another. For example, rather than saying “eat healthier”, define in measurable terms what “eating healthier” means to you (example: eating two more servings of vegetables per day).
Your goal should be something realistic that you can actually achieve! Everyone’s versions of what they are able to achieve in a set timeframe is different — set your goal as something that is achievable for you. Start small and go from there – the breaking point is where you consistently “fail” your goal. For example, if you think of something that you never do right now… but start with a goal of 7 days a week, it won’t be as realistic or attainable – start small, adjust, and keep going from there.
Your goal should be something that is important and personal to you. What do you want to achieve in the long run and how does your goal support you in that journey? Your goal should make sense in the bigger picture and align with your values. If you choose a goal that someone else placed value on it, you won’t be as motivated to do it.
Your goal should include some sort of timeline/limit for when you want to achieve it by. This will help prevent procrastination and help motivate you to complete whatever it is you are set on. It’s best to set goals for 2-3 weeks at most – it gives you enough time to get the hang of something, but not too long that it loses its appeal or your interest.
Example SMART Goal #1: Exercise
I want to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 days a week by doing [specify form of physical activity I enjoy (dancing, jogging, going to the gym, swimming, etc.)]. I will do this by setting aside an hour after work [on these days] and having [someone you rely on] exercise with me to hold me accountable. I will do this for 2 weeks, track how I feel, and adjust as needed.
Example SMART Goal #2: Meal-Prep
I want to cook more of my meals at home by making large batches of dinner and having the leftovers for lunch. I’m going to do this by planning for 2-3 meals for the week before I go shopping, and buying more ingredients at the store on [shopping day]. I will do this for 2 weeks to start and see what I need to change when it comes to [time, shopping, ingredients, meal ideas].
To learn more and further discuss how you can most effectively set your goals in a healthy and effective way, feel free to book a free 15 minute call with me!
This blog was written with the help of UBC nutrition student, Gilbert.
https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/goal-setting-mistakes.htm “Eight Common Goal Setting Mistakes” [Retrieved May 2nd, 2020]