Do you agree?
Setting goals is very similar to arranging formal dinner parties.
Or maybe you’ve never made the connection?
I hadn’t until last week when I was arranging my own dinner party.
You see, goals are great. Dinner parties too.
The truth is, both can be horribly stressful if done the wrong way.
Take being the host or hostess of a formal dinner party.
There’s a long list of tedious, if not down right stressful, tasks that need sorting to pull off a successful evening.
What has that got to do with goal setting?
Well, like your goals, you probably had a plan of how your dinner party would be.
Likely, an over-ambitious one. And likely one that led to a fair amount of fretting and stressing:
- You got all precious about it – you insisted you wanted a formal affair even though your idea of a good time was eating at Burger King.
- You got complicated – you struggle to cook an egg and yet you put home-made Boeuf Bourguignon on the menu -as a starter.
- You didn’t do your homework – you’d never even had people over for canapes, but thought a Victorian Themed Dinner Party would be fun.
- You did it someone else’s way – you listened to your mother/aunt/best friend and planned it the way they thought it ought to be.
- You felt you ‘should’ – you actually wanted a fun, informal gathering but told yourself you should have a formal dinner party because everyone else does and you’re an adult now, dammit.
- You left yourself out of the equation – you organized everything for your guests’ enjoyment and forgot your own, running yourself ragged.
- You didn’t know when to quit – you spent way too much time and money and should have canceled when the Baked Alaska burnt the sitting room down.
And you’ve probably made the same mistakes with your goal setting.
I know I have. I’ve made almost all the mistakes above at one time or another, with goal setting and dinner parties.
So, to save you the pain of making the same goal setting mistakes, I invited two dozen experts, ‘Gourmets of Goal Setting’ as it were, to a cyber dinner party.
I opened the discussion by asking each of them this question:
‘What’s the one thing on your goal or bucket list that you let go of because you finally realized that it was never your dream in the first place?
Or maybe it’s still on your goal list… even though you know it shouldn’t be?’
But the discussion soon came round to goals and goal setting in general.
So in exchange for me freely dispensing digital drinks, they freely dispensed fine slices of wisdom on the 7 goal setting mistakes you don’t even know you’re making….
Note: To get a formal introduction to each dinner guest, just click the arrow next to their name. And definitely pay them a visit – maybe you’ll get invited to one of their cyber dinner parties one day 🙂
Goal Setting Mistake no. 1
You got all precious about it
I always had a dream growing up to own my own sport and recreation camp – a camp where people can go to do various activities like archery, orienteering, tennis, games, whatever it may be.
I grew up going to sport and recreation camps and loved them.
It’s no longer my dream because the internet is the future of business. I’m now much more interested in the online world and creating an online business, supported by face to face training and workshops. Although I still love to throw in some funky games into my workshops 🙂
When I was a little girl my biggest dream was of the performing arts. The performing arts was like oxygen to me and in elementary, I would participate in as many plays, recitals and musical presentations as I was allowed to. Keep in mind I was in a religious school (a fact I exceptionally loved), thus making the arts a must and a significant part of the curriculum.
My only goal was to be able to be cast in at least one performance each semester (Christmas performances were my favorite). During Christmas, you could easily find me in a play and minutes later I would be on stage belting out a song with the choir and naturally my first thoughts were to continue stage performances.
However, that changed the moment I attended high school, for some reason the love for performing dwindled and I found happiness in reading and researching. It gave me a thrill that was so alien to me but loved. As I approached adolescent I began writing about my research. That is how the love for writing started.
I realized that I loved the performing arts because that is what I was exposed to as a child. Coming from a musically gifted family I learned the art from a young age. But what I loved more than that was writing. Unlike performing the love for writing came naturally and was never influenced by the people around me. I believe that is the reason why writing stuck.
Sometimes in life, the dream you once cling to is the one you have to let go of to make room for that which is naturally yours. Don’t be afraid to let go. Letting go is often the best thing to do. Besides you can still carve out time to keep that dream alive.
Alison & Andrew Matheson
My bucket list has always been personal and aspirational. It’s meant to be fun. It’s not something I share with others or add things to because I feel pressured. Because travel is my biggest passion, my bucket list mainly contains places I want to go and things I want to see and do when I get there.
I also have a short section for personal goals and things I’d like to try. I keep all of my goals around business and personal achievement separate. I re-evaluate these goals regularly and I don’t hesitate to add or drop things that no longer suit my lifestyle or business.
Goal Setting Mistake no. 2
You got complicated
A corporate career was my dream at one point, it just evolved into not-my-dream as I grew and developed in my life and self. So I don’t know that I have let go of anything that wasn’t my dream, it’s more about it not being my current-self’s dream.
Being comfortable with change and the idea that the dreams I have today don’t have to include all the things that past-me wanted has been an important part of growth and development and enabled me to reach for what is right for who I am now, rather than who I was in the past.
Way back, before I started my business, I was trained to be a therapist by some of the top therapists at a Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital. It was a very prestigious program and I was surrounded by great minds. I had an opportunity to push and make a name for myself in the world of mental health and psychiatry.
However, even though I worked as a therapist and loved it, I knew it wasn’t my destiny to be doing that work. I was honest with myself and moved into coaching because I knew I wanted to help people focus on their futures and the possibility – not the past and their pain. It was absolutely the right decision for me.
Owning an expensive car. I love cars, but I know 99% of them are a waste of money. I try to keep telling myself it’ll be enough if I’m one day able to drive cool ones here and there, but secretly I still hold on to the idea of owning a Ferrari, Lamborghini or the like.
I’m not perfect, but I keep trying to fight the idea when it comes up. Let’s hope I get to the point where we can even find out how this ends 😉
Goal Setting Mistake no. 3
You didn’t do your homework
I have a very agile approach to my goals. From the psychological point of view, there’s a big gap between what you think you want and what you actually want. Consequently, you don’t really know what you truly want until you try it. On a very practical level, that means that a little bit of experimenting with different small goals can be very beneficial before you fully commit to anything big.
If the small steps give the desired results (emotional satisfaction, return on effort etc.), you can persevere to follow the big dream, otherwise you can easily pivot to something better. You just must be careful not to become a loose cannon while experimenting with many different things. Once you find the right thing, you absolutely must fully commit.
Let me give you a few examples from my personal live:
(LET GO) I had a dream to learn how to code. Once I learned the basics and found out how tough it is to become a really good programmer, I realized that being a full‑time coder was never my real dream in the first place. I just thought it would be nice to know how to code, and I still do. But I don’t take it that seriously.
(PIVOT) I also had a dream I will stay vegan for my whole life. But when I started to exercise more (anaerobically), my body started to crave meat. I still keep a very healthy diet, but I rather listen to my body than have rigid dreams.
(PERSEVERE) I also had a goal to release an online course. When I started shooting the videos, I found out I have to improve my spoken English a lot. In this case, since it’s a tough project for me, I started convincing myself that it’s not my dream, but it really is. In a few months, I’m releasing my first online course no matter what. If there isn’t any success, then I’ll pivot to something else.
As you can see from the cases above, there are times when you have to be flexible, times when it makes sense to pivot, and times when you must persevere over obstacles so that you don’t kill your own dream. Having a good connection with your inner self is essential for knowing what course of action to take. That’s why I do self-reflection on a daily basis.
At the same time, you’re more flexible to seize all the opportunities your environment offers, if you keep your goals and dreams agile. That’s very important, because you can achieve so much more in life if your dreams and goals are aligned with market trends and the greatest opportunities in the environment.
This seems very common for a lot of bloggers/writers who end up churning out work that doesn’t truly represent them. When I look closely and honestly at that goal, I believe I want to write a book for all the right reasons, but probably want to write a bestseller for all the wrong reasons.
I wouldn’t say I have let the idea go completely, but I would say that over the last year or so I’ve noticed myself fantasizing a lot less and writing a lot more!
Goal Setting Mistake no. 4
You did it someone else’s way
When I was younger, no matter what I did, I never felt like it was enough. I had to be the best at my job, top of my career, have the most amazing vacations. My bucket list included more adventures. I thought I had to be the best at everything because that’s what I thought my parents expected of me.
Then, about six years ago, I started studying mindfulness and living more mindfully. This includes getting clear on my core values and living more in line with them, regardless of what my parents or anyone else thinks. The more I did this (and the less I cared what anyone thought of it), the happier I became.
The more I could be happy with me as I am in the moment and with my life as it is, the better life got. I no longer needed one adventure after another. I realized that the adventures only offered fleeting shots of “Wow! That was cool! What’s next?” Then I went back to feeling “not enough” and unhappy, trying to think of the next thing that could give me that Wow! jolt. The Wow! moments are fleeting and there is a ton of time in between each one.
I didn’t realize that I had given up on the concept of a bucket list until I attended a networking event where each attendee was asked to write their name and one item on their bucket list on their name tag as a conversation starter. It hit me – I don’t have a bucket list. I’m perfectly happy with my life the way it is.
If there’s something important I feel I need to do, I do it. Every now and then I think, “Today could be my last day. Have I done everything I could do to make my life complete?” Almost every time, I can answer “yes.” The most important things for me to do each day are to tell my husband and children that I love them and live in a way that ensures that they feel it.
I just turned 50 and have been thinking about what I want to focus on during my next 50. The first thing I thought of was the book, “Top Ten Regrets of the Dying.” People’s biggest regrets are focusing and spending too much time at work, spending your life the way you think others expect of you instead of doing what you’re passionate about, and spending enough time with the people you love.
I also thought of the people and communities described in the book, “The Blue Zone,” that attempts to figure out why people in these areas regularly live beyond 100. These people spend most of their happy lives focusing on the top regrets of the dying.
The more simply I live, the happier I become. The more I have focused on spending time with my family, doing what I enjoy and balancing work with the rest of my life, the happier I am. More importantly, the less I care or prioritize what I think other people expect of me and the more I live my own authentic life, the happier I am.
I’m from Asian descent and in our culture, we are always pressured to do things that we don’t actually want to.
One goal that I can say I secretly wish I could let go is my job goal/ambitions. I do want to excel in my job now but I feel somewhat that I would be happier just working on my own business which is my blog. I’m sure everyone feels this way, confused because I want to excel in what I’m currently good at, but I also want to drop it because it may just make me a much happier person.
But one thing I know for sure is this, I will try everything I can and make as many mistakes necessary while I still have time!
This is a tough one. When I think about my bucket list, then I see mainly things I really want to do at some point in my life – live on a beach for some time, dive with sharks, swim in the clearest waters of the world, jump out of a plane, speed dating, etc.
In the last couple of years I grew into the person who doesn’t worry so much about what other people think or say. So I let go of many things such as driving a badass sports car, sleeping with hundreds of top models, wearing luxurious clothes and bling and stuff.
Yet there’s actually one thing that comes to mind, one thing I really dread doing that’s still on my list: Reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It’s just massive. This brick-sized book is something I kind of want to read because many people recommend it, but every time I look at it I just go, “Nah, no way you do that to yourself.”
For now, the book stays on the list, but it also stays on the shelf. No pressure.
Goal Setting Mistake no. 5
You felt you should
”When I started studying law, it seemed like a really good idea. Lawyers have relatively safe jobs and their careers can be very lucrative. So I thought it was awesome.
Well, a few years later, I was miserable. Turns out, law just wasn’t the right thing for me. In hindsight, I realize that I chose this path not so much by listening to what I really wanted to do, but because of groupthink. Law is high-status, so I assumed it was what I wanted to do with my life. But actually, it was just what society said I “should” do.
I guess the moral of the story is that you should follow Steve Jobs’ advice. Take a look in the mirror every day and ask yourself if what you’re doing is what you WANT to be doing. If it’s not, start thinking of ways to change your situation. And that applies to all goals, however small they might seem.”
If there’s one thing I’d wish to secretly let go, it would be the idea of working for the system, following the rules, instead of building my dream.
Most family members and friends want me to get a job where I’ll work 9 hours a day for a little pay because that’s how most people do things here in Africa. To follow the rules and keep your own opinion to yourself.
In their view, you can only do right when you do that, but the truth is, I love working from home. Organizing my ideas and teaching them to the world right there in front of my desk. The problem is, working from home is not something common and it does take a long time before things like that are understood and developed around here in Africa.
So not long ago, I did something ‘crazy’, I found a place of my own, set up a little office, and worked every day towards building my dream. I stopped following the rules and to some; it’s almost like taking a big risk.
But I’ve always told myself; if you’re prepared and know what it takes, it’s not a risk, you just have to figure out a way to get there AND there’s always a way to get there.
The goal was to quit my job before end of the year. That goal has been trashed. I love what I do and I make a decent income.
There’s this fancy goal of quitting a 9-5 and starting a business. Well, I’m in a job I love. I work on my business three hours a day and on the weekends.
The business bring in a good income but I’m not really ready to quit my job because it’s the “new trend for new entrepreneurs .” Someday I’ll quit and work on my businesses full time but because I want to, not because I feel pressurized into it.
As I reflected on this great question, the one that comes to mind was my goal of earning a Ph.D. and becoming a recognized expert in my field. At the time, the field of expertise didn’t quite matter as my interests were, and still are, quite varied.
My goal was less about curiosity or love for a given subject matter and more about my perceptions of the prestige and social status gained by being referred to as Dr. so-and-so. I used to imagine that having the title would win me instant admiration among colleagues, friends, and strangers.
I’m not opposed to earning a Ph.D. someday. I’ve just given up my reasons for wanting it. I know now that I am worthy of admiration just the way I am. And I’m not talking about the admiration of others—I’m talking about my own admiration and love for myself. Turns out too that I’m way more likely to win the admiration of others by being authentic rather than flashing fancy titles at them. 😉
David The Optimist
Fortunately, I don’t have such goals.
Just because people are doing stuff, doesn’t mean I have to do them too. I’ve always been self-conscious about my actions and I’ve always done just what I wanted to do.
For example, when I was 20 years old, a friend of mine (same age) got a job as a receptionist. He told me there was another spot available, for the same type of job. In that moment I remember I asked myself if that’s what I really want to do. It seems that my writing passion was greater than earning some money. I was still living with my parents and I was unemployed.
But guess what? Six months after refusing that job, I got my first freelance gig as a content writer.
So, going back to your question, the simple answer is no. I don’t set goals just because others are setting them or because I feel pushed by the society. That’s not part of my perspectives regarding personal development.
Goal Setting Mistake no. 6
You left yourself out of the equation
For me, it’s the general idea of being productive and machine-like. Being in the personal development field, I feel a lot of pressure from society to be some super productive workbot, because that’s what successful people do and recommend. But every time I think about it, I hate it.
I don’t want the pressure. I don’t need the pressure!
I wrote a worldwide bestselling book that’s been translated into 17 languages by aiming for 50 words of writing per day. Many days were unproductive. I was lazy at times and still am, but whenever I’ve lowered my expectations, I’ve made more progress than ever before.
I don’t have to be a perfect workbot to create valuable things, and that’s the one thing I need to embrace. I know there are people who do get up at 4 AM and conquer the world before noon, but so what? That works for them, not for me.
I need to let go of that unstated pressure to appear successful and polished and just continue to do what works for me. That’s the only thing that’s brought me real success anyway!
In conclusion, I need to let go of the fantasy that I’m going to get up at 4 AM, work out, and write 41 books before noon every day. That said, it’s possible I’ll eventually evolve into that sort of person, but even if it happens, it won’t be through conventional means.
Considering that I had a birthday last week and have counted five decades (and counting), I do have more than one goal/dream, and more than one that I’ve let go of. Life’s experiences are excellent teachers and show us what matters in the long run. Since you asked for the “one”, here it is.
I’ve let go of the need to be perfect. Perfection is truly a myth and it certainly does not matter. I’ve learned that it is more important to celebrate the little moments of imperfections that are numerous, rather than go after getting things just right.
Case in point–and a rather dummy example–is my penchant for deep cleaning. I used to stress over it. Rather than just quickly dust, sweep and mop, and get it over with in a couple of hours, I’d dismantle stuff, move things around and find that by the end of the day, my place is more of a mess than I started with.
Oh yes, the next day I’d continue and finally, everything would look great. But is that necessary? No. Invariably, I would have paid the price by missing out on family TV time, laughing together or walking together that day. Now I know what should have been my priority: family time, not obsessive cleaning.
I know letting go across various aspects of life can open the doors to happiness and help me be more mindful. Same with work. I now know that by trying to be perfect, we complicate even simple things. Not saying it is not important to do things properly, but it is more important to prioritize what deserves our attention.
But yeah, some things are definitely still on my goal list. After all, old habits die hard. I am just learning to be more conscious about where I invest my time.
Another major thing I must mention here is this: I’ve let go of the reluctance to say no. Initially it was difficult and embarrassing–for me–but I’ve overcome that and my life is far happier now for not overwhelming myself with requests from others. I also know they will get their stuff done anyway, regardless of whether I agree or not.
I left my corporate cubicle for an office on a tropical paradise. In July 2004 I started teaching yoga on Koh Samui, Thailand. I tried to convince myself that this was my ultimate dream job.
There was a big problem. Each week people cycled through the retreat center, and each week I cycled through a range of emotions. I loved meeting a new set of people each week, then was gutted to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the week.
I longed for a permanent circle of friends and support.
After three years I admitted that I wanted a stable home and moved to New Orleans, my birthplace. Within a few months I had a yoga studio, within a couple years, a husband, and now after ten years, I have two perfect children.
Giving up the goal of exotic living was the first step on my path to happiness.
I gave up on expecting a man to come along and save me. I used to think this was very romantic but now that I am older and wiser, I have realised that I need to save myself and be self reliant. Of course, a lovely man wanting to help is a great bonus but I would never have been truly happy relying solely on a man for my sense of safety and peace of mind.
So now I take the time to remind myself of all my strengths and celebrate my independence. The more independent you are and the more you rely on yourself financially, the easier it is to be true to yourself and not be manipulated into doing what someone else wants or ending up as a ‘possession’ belonging to someone else.
That can be soul destroying. The ideal is a loving supportive partner as well as your own money and sense of freedom, of which I now have both!
Goal Setting Mistake no. 7
You didn’t know when to quit
I guess the entire idea of having to write a bucket list is absolutely unnecessary. People feel pressured into having to do certain things at least once in their lifetime that they seek to rush through one experience after the other.
So instead of actually taking the time to enjoy life, they are busy seeking one exciting experience after another.
I have to admit that I don’t have a bucket list. I’m working really hard at living in the moment and I find that doing that makes each moment its own bucket item.
Unfortunately, Dragos had to leave before the main course. But he left us with this great link to his wonderful post on how to know when to let go of your goal…or to push on through: Pushing Through Versus Letting Go.
There you have it. How to avoid common (and not so common) goal setting mistakes.
Because your goals should serve you, not stress you.
They should bring you joy, not pain.
And like a really great dinner party, when they’re all done and dusted they should leave you with a great taste in your mouth.
And the desire for more.
Happy goal setting!
Image: ‘The Bride’s First Dinner Party’, artwork by Ray Prohaska, 1952