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3 Common Goal Setting Mistakes

3 Common Goal Setting Mistakes


    Setting and achieving goals is one of the best surefire ways to improve the quality of our lives. We commonly use goals to improve our health, relationships, financial situation, career or business success, and even happiness. Sometimes goals are set for us, as in a work situation, but most of the time we determine our own goals.

    SEE ALSO: How the Act of Daily Goal Setting Makes You Successful

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    Successfully achieving those goals is not only key to advancing our careers, but also to help us to grow as individuals. Unfortunately, when choosing our goals, we often unknowingly sabotage our success, by committing these three very common goal setting mistakes.

    Thinking Too Narrowly

    One of the biggest benefits of creating goals is that they force us to focus our time, attention, and energy on a specific objective, instead of scattering our focus and our resources among the broad range of possibilities vying for our attention. When we concentrate our efforts on a specific target, we’re more likely to accomplish our goals and less time.

    That said, setting a goal that is too specific, while achievable, can lead to a goal setting mistake, by missing the true intention of our goal in the first place. We fall into this common trap by thinking too narrowly, and missing the bigger picture of what we’re really hoping to achieve. Unfortunately, this often leads, to wasted effort and frustration.

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    Setting a goal to lose 20 pounds for example, might be very valuable to a person who is otherwise healthy, but just carries a little bit of extra weight. For others, losing 20 pounds, while appealing, is misdirected effort, when the real goal is to achieve better health. When you look at the bigger picture, losing weight might not be the most effective goal. Perhaps quitting smoking would be more valuable. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure or reversing heart disease might be better served by changes in diet or increased activity. Though losing weight might be a byproduct, it isn’t actually the true goal.

    Another example of a too specific goal might be to increase the number of sales calls or project numbers, when the real goal is to advance our career, and a more valuable goal might be to attain an advanced certification or further our education to make us more valuable to an employer. Still another to specific goal might be to find the perfect mate, when the real goal is to be happier. Even if we find the perfect mate, we won’t necessarily be happier, because we have missed the true underlying need.

    Quantity VS. Quality

    In our zealousness for accomplishment, we unwittingly sabotage our forward movement by setting quantity goals rather than quality goals. Quantity goals may simply mean that we have set too many goals at one time rather than focusing our attention on a single, or a select few quality goals. But perhaps more important, is the distinction between a quality goal and a quantity goal.

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    Quantity goals usually deal with numbers while quality goals generally deal with an improvement in our overall quality of life and work. Unfortunately, quantity goals are easier and faster to achieve so they tend to draw our interest, but often quality goals have more impact on making important changes that address our most crucial needs.

    When setting goals, focus on quality rather than quantity to avoid goal setting mistakes. Also, notice if you tend to automatically gravitate to “numbers” goals. Quantity, “numbers” goals are not inherently bad, and can be very useful as long as they are also quality goals that address the bigger picture.

    Unrealistic expectations

    We see this common mistake time and time again. If we set a goal of finding a new job or getting a promotion but only give ourselves one month to do so, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure. Writing your first book generally takes more than six weeks, six months is a more realistic goal. Also, be sure your goals are within your control.

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    Being offered a new job, might not be within your control, but revising your resume, hiring a career coach, or sending out resumes and checking job postings every week is within your control. Finding an agent or publisher in a specific timeframe probably isn’t within your control, but completing a book proposal, and contacting potential agents is within your control.

    keep these common pitfalls in mind When determining goals. Set goals that impact the bigger picture and address your true objectives. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking too narrowly and concentrate on quality over quantity. Make sure your goals are realistic, within your control and have a reasonable timeframe. While you’re at it, take a look at past goals that you weren’t able to achieve, see if you can revise them, and try again.

    (Photo credit: Golf Bunker via Shutterstock)

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    Royale Scuderi

    A creative strategist, consultant and writer who specializes in cultivating human potential for happiness, health and fulfillment.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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