The big mistake most people make when setting goals

Life Hacks, Mindset

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The whole world is talking about goal setting at the start of a new year, but by late winter and early spring, most of us have all but given up on our newfound commitment and instead just hold on to some vague goals of “doing better”. Today let’s talk about the keys to setting goals in specific areas of life and the one thing that will make all the difference as you work towards those new goals.

First of all, there’s not a single area of your life where it’s not appropriate to make goals. You can have financial goals (like getting out of debt), career goals (wanna work remotely?), health goals (cutting out sugar) and relationship goals (how about more 1-on-1 time with your kids?). Goals are like magic sauce when it comes to improving how you show up for your own life. Specific goals help us define what we want to accomplish with our personal development and how we know when we’re headed in the right direction.

Life goals are the key to growth

Our personal goals also help us avoid just wandering through life without any direction or motivation. Complacency seems to be second nature to us humans, because setting and reaching goals requires work! This is where the motivational triad comes in. According to psychologists, human beings are naturally motivated to do 3 things: avoid pain, seek pleasure and expend minimal effort. This is why eating a storebought cookie will always seem more attractive to our primitive brains than making a healthy, home-cooked meal. A cookie helps us avoid pain (emotional eating, anyone?), evokes pleasure and doesn’t require any effort beyond opening a package.

So what does this mean for us as we set goals? It means that our goals should require something of us: they should help us learn to avoid false pleasures and delay gratification (like not eating the cookie), they will help us do hard things and be open to discomfort (like the potential for failure as we build a business) and they should require effort of us (like exercising instead of watching Netflix).

Developing these new skills (avoiding false pleasure, seeking discomfort and expending effort) might not sound like fun at first, but that’s the whole point! Personal growth is the reward for stretching ourselves to do hard things.

There are millions of articles, podcasts and books all about setting big goals in many areas of life but here I’ll just touch on 2 aspects of goal setting: the type of goal we want to set and the mindset work we’ll need to get there.

The two main types of goals

If you’ve done any studying about goals, you’ve probably already heard about SMART goals. This acronym describes what some experts claim are necessary features of any goal: they should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.

I’m all about following this guideline for goals related to my physical health, my mental health and many of our family goals. These features ensure that we’re not creating ridiculous, outlandish and unrealistic goals for ourselves and then getting disappointed when we don’t reach them. For example, could I train to run a marathon in 1 month without much running experience? Probably, but that sounds painful. Instead I work slowly but surely in most areas of my life, while allowing for slip ups and giving myself grace.

However, I am also a firm believer in big, hairy, audacious goals (this term comes from the book, Built to Last). That looks like setting goals that are not so realistic, that push me way outside of my comfort zone and that make me feel all sorts of fear. I generally reserve these types of “dreamer” goals for my own business, because they’re just so much fun! And because, why not? It’s common to experience lots of self-doubt when it comes to building a business, so if you can create a goal that has you shooting for the moon, chances are good you’ll land among the stars.

Don’t forget to create those big, unrealistic goals every once in a while (especially for business goals). You just might surprise yourself!

Goal-setting mindset

As a life coach who specializes in helping stay-at-home moms become entrepreneurs, you know I love talking about the mindset behind our goals. You can create the most beautiful, realistic and measurable goal, but if your attitude is garbage, then you’ll never get where you want to go. Our mind contains ALL the power we need to create the life of our dreams.

So what is the first step to reaching the goals you have for yourself? It’s understanding your worth.

Wait, what? I know what you’re thinking: how is understanding my worth going to help me improve my life? The fact is, too many of us set goals and try to acomplish things in order to feel better about who we are. We want to lose weight to better love our bodies, make more money so we feel worthwhile at a dinner party or decorate our home so that our friends will compliment us.

The reality is, accomplishing something won’t change your worth. You are (and always have been) worthy of time, attention, love and compassion. And if you haven’t received these things from loved ones in your past, it’s important to realize that’s because of their own issues, and not because you’re lacking anything.

Once we understand, I mean truly comprehend our worth, then we will simply create goals because they’re fun and exciting, not because we need them to feel better about ourselves. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Let me illustrate this with a common example: let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. If you’re doing this to feel better about yourself, then your mind will be full of self-loathing and disgust. Every time you look in the mirror, you’ll have disparaging thoughts about yourself and wonder why you’re so “fat”. You’ll be endlessly frustrated with your less-than-perfect eating habits and use any mistake to beat yourself up and feel horribly. And you’ll do all this thinking that it’s the best way to motivate yourself! Not much fun, right?

Now imagine instead, that you want to lose 20 pounds simply because you’re feeling a little uncomfortable in your body and you wonder if you could do it. You already know your mind and body are perfect the way they are; you don’t use a glance in the mirror to nitpick every aspect of your body, but instead are grateful for the healthy organs and limbs that you have. You start incorporating more healthy foods into your diet, but don’t make a big deal about it when you choose to eat some birthday cake. Overall, you’re happy with your life, and can’t wait to see what losing 20 pounds feels like and personal growth it will bring.

Can you see the difference? Pretty powerful, right?

For those of us who are parents, there’s an even more powerful analogy I like to use. When our children misbehave, we can be tempted to lecture, criticize and shame them into better behavior. But most experienced parents know that making a child feel worse will not inspire them to do better.

Unsurprisingly, we adults are the same way. Self-loathing, criticism and beating ourselves up will not help us accomplish an important goal; in fact, it usually does the opposite. Showing yourself compassion, love and understanding is a much more effective way to ensure we try again (bonus: it feels better too!).

The goal-setting process

OK, now that we’ve talked about the two main types of goals and the most effective goal-setting mindset, let’s create an action plan for our goal-setting process.

  1. Choose an area of life where you’d like to see improvement (romantic relationship, financial security, weight loss, spiritual goals, whatever)
  2. Create 1-2 clear goals for this area. I usually like to give myself about 1-3 months to reach most of my goals. If I give myself less than 30 days, it doesn’t allow for much improvement, but I usually run out of steam on long term goals that last more than 90 days.
  3. Break this goal up into smaller steps. For example, if I want to run a 10K race in 3 months, my short term steps might include signing up for a gym, finding a training plan and buying new running shoes.
  4. If necessary, create smaller goals that move you towards your larger goal. Back to the race example, I might decide on benchmark distances that I’d like to be able to do by 30 and 60 days, in order to hit my 10K goal on time.
  5. Celebrate! When you get to your goal deadline, it’s a good idea to celebrate, even if you don’t hit your goal. In fact, I recommend a celebration especially when you don’t hit it! Back to the race example, let’s say I only ran a portion of my race and had to walk some of it. The fact is, I still ran the race! I still trained much more than I would have without the goal and I definitely made progress and improved my fitness level.

The purpose of a goal is never perfection or even accomplishment, it’s simply growth.

We’ve been given one amazing, incredible life and we’re not required to do anything with it that we don’t want to do. But if you’re up for an adventure, I recommend diving into the challenge of goal-setting and self-improvement.

The good news is, we’re not doing this to torture ourselves or even to feel better abour ourselves; you’re worthy and valuable just the way you are. But working on goals in different areas of your life might just open up some possibilities you never could have imagined.

Are you ready??

P.S. If you’d like to work on some mind-blowing goals for yourself but don’t know where to start, I’d love to be your guide. You can sign up for a free mini-coaching session with me here.

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