The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make When Setting and Working Towards Goals

The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make When Setting and Working Towards Goals was originally published on Ivy Exec.

The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make When Setting and Working Towards Goals

We’re often told how important it is to set goals. If you don’t know what your goals are, someone might have told you; then you can’t have any sense of where you’re headed.

In a sense, this is true. But are all goals created equal? Are there ever instances when goal-setting is less than ideal? 

The answer is yes, according to Harvard Business School’s Max Bazerman, who authored the paper “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goals Setting” with several colleagues. Some of the negative outcomes of goal-setting include a hyper-focus on achieving goals while neglecting other priorities and less intrinsic motivation.

How do our helpful goals become more like compulsive to-do lists? Here is a list of a few enemies to effective goal-setting. 


⛔ Your goals assume you know exactly what you want to get to from the start.

One of the ways that goals fail is if we don’t see them as flexible when we make them. If we have this mentality, we may believe our goals are fixed when they should actually be ever-changing objectives. If our goals are too absolute, then we might be striving towards goals that are no longer well-defined — or even necessary. 

Goal-setting, as we usually understand it, “assumes that we know what the outcome will be from the start and that we are capable of controlling every factor or person that might influence it. Focusing on a pre-set target blocks our awareness of other perspectives, agendas, limitations, and possibilities,” said Robyn Eversole, a professor at the Centre for Social Impact at the Swinburne University of Technology.

Instead, set periodic check-ins on your road to your goal so you can ensure that the way you’ve framed your objective still works for you. 


⛔ Your goals are not specific or time-bound.

That said, many people fixate on their big dreams but don’t have any idea about the specifics of what they want. Specifically, your goals may be too broad and undefined. Maybe you want to become a CEO but have no idea the type of company or even the field in which you want to lead. 

“Most goals—even written ones—suffer from being too vague. ‘I want to write a book’ or ‘I want a better marriage’ are too general. Which book do you want to write? How do you want to improve your marriage?” said Michael Hyatt, founder of Full Focus.

So, if you’re going to make your goal useful to you, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve, where you want to achieve it, and – the often overlooked – why this is a meaningful objective for you. 

In the same vein, many goal-oriented individuals conceive of their goals but don’t incorporate timelines into their objectives. For instance, if you have the goal of becoming a thought leader in your industry, when would you like to achieve these objectives? It’s often easier if you break your bigger goals into smaller, achievable ones with more obvious time boundaries. 

If your long-term goal is becoming a thought leader, for example, create sub-goals like “post a new blog on my LinkedIn page every two months.” These more specific markers can help make your major goals more achievable – and you’ll be able to track your progress toward your “big dream” more precisely. 


⛔ Your goals end up putting too much work onto others.

One of the most surprising unintended consequences of goal-setting is that you’ll fixate too much on your goals, instead leaving your colleagues to pick up the slack in areas that aren’t in your primary objectives. 

While most management experts don’t recommend setting too many goals – seven to 10 at a time is usually the recommendation – you also can’t focus so singularly on these goals that you don’t complete your other work responsibilities. In fact, this is where goals can become unethical. 

“Similarly, good people can focus so much on reaching the stretch goal that they fail to realize how this has dumped other work on their co-workers, led the company to accept mortgages that are too risky, etc. This behavior prompted by stretch goals is leading to unethical behavior, without the knowledge of the protagonists of the unethical action…,” argues Bazerman. 


⛔ Your goals don’t allow for collaboration.

What’s more, excessive goal-setting might encourage you to focus on the achievement of your goals while ignoring other considerations that might arise. Robyn talks about how her most effective projects were generated without goals in mind at the beginning but rather arose out of collaboration with others. 

“The target was not set by me: the end goal evolved in tune with the situation around me, a dialogue with many voices. My task was not to pre-define the outcome. My task was not to pre-define the outcome. It was to link together people, resources, ideas, and perspectives and harmonize them to make a useful outcome happen,” she said. 


How to Use Effective Goal-Setting in Your Life

Goal setting is an effective tool, but only if we think about our objectives as changeable rather than fixed. Connecting with colleagues, setting sub-goals, and regularly modifying our long-term intentions is the best way to make sure your goals are helping you, not hurting. At the same time, make sure you’re setting goals that benefit others rather than forcing them to take on more work. 

If you’re ready to start setting more meaningful goals, read Ivy Exec’s guide, “Goal Setting 101: SMART Goals vs. CLEAR Goals.

By Ivy Exec
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