When Setting Goals Undermines Achievement

When Setting Goals Undermines Achievement

Ok, we're officially more than a third of the way through the new year. How are you doing with your goals? Have you given up on them? Modified them? Pretending like you never made them? Setting your sights on next year already? 


Well, sometimes setting goals can actually undermine our achievement. What?!? Yep. Sometimes setting a goal can work against us. Even if the goal is specific and “data driven.” Even if the goal has a target deadline and is measurable.


Like everything in life, setting goals straddles the line between growth and setback. What may work for one person doesn’t work for another.


Allow me to explain and share my own goal-setting blunders. Last year, I had a handful of goals, and here are two that I totally botched: Goal 1) read 52 books, and Goal 2) run, walk, or bike 2022 miles. It seemed motivating. Definitely measurable. Definitely had a deadline. So what went wrong? 


Well, right away I felt stressed about hitting my daily or weekly targets. If I felt tired, or wanted to do something different, I felt a twinge of guilt because I knew I lost an opportunity to “achieve.”


Then I started choosing the easy way to hit my goals. When I realized the new Stephen King tome would only “count” as one book, I started looking for quick reads and shorter books to simply hit the goal. I started to feel pressured and reading became a lot less enjoyable.   


The same happened with my workouts. When I realized I was behind in my miles, I began choosing easier runs or bike rides just to hit the number. My workouts weren’t satisfying because I wasn’t challenging my muscles. My running pace declined, even though technically I was putting in the time.


I also started developing an “all or nothing” attitude towards both reading and working out. This trap told me that if I couldn’t squeeze in a good 45-minute sweat or if a book had so many pages that I wouldn’t finish it in time, it just wasn’t worth the effort. So, so wrong, but I got twisted around for a bit. 


Clearly, my goals created problems and when I tallied my miles and my books read on December 31, I was dissatisfied. Goodreads seemed to mock me!


Then I reframed the story I told myself. 


Here’s how I reworked my goals:  I’ll read for at least 30 minutes per day. I’ll workout at least 5 days per week – which now includes workouts that do not count miles, such as weights and yoga. They’re still measurable; still have a deadline.   


So far, these new goals have worked out better. I’m already pushing myself harder in my workouts and improving my VO2 Max! I’m enjoying the books I choose, regardless of length. I will keep you posted. 


So, if you’re one of the millions of people who have set goals only to crash and abandon them, ask yourself if you just need to reframe and reset! - Mary

    Executive function coach Mary Turos writes the Brain Coach Blog. Based in Belair, MD, Mary is affectionately known as 'The Brain Coach" for her work helping people achieve harmony using strategies based in neuroscience.

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