Mistakes That Could Derail Your Personal And Life Goals

Goals are life's (sometimes evil) necessities; if we didn't have any, we'd be stuck in a stagnant place personally and professionally for the foreseeable future. We need goals to grow in our relationships, careers, and emotional health. As explained by Psychology Today, setting goals motivates us to perform better in what we set out to achieve and keeps us from quitting. It gives us a sense of purpose and can help us pick up positive new behaviors.


While many wait until the new year to start their list of resolutions, it's a great habit to start making goals any time you want to reach for something. Whether it's deciding to train for a 5k race or completing that memoir before the end of the year, having a clear-cut goal will take you on the right path to finishing what you set out to do. But in order to be successful, you can't just have these intentions bouncing around in your brain, which is just one of the many mistakes you can make in trying to reach your goals. Avoid these pitfalls if you want to stay on track.

Not writing down your goals

How many times have you thought to yourself — maybe even every time you've walked by it — that you wanted to organize your shoe closet, but you never seem to get around to it? That's because fleeting thoughts don't take root in our brains, and it's often easy to shove seemingly unimportant things under the figurative rug. Writing things down helps our brain store information better and makes our goals more tangible and attainable, and it works better when physically writing things down as opposed to typing on your phone, according to research published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. It also gives us accountability to achieve our goals and tells our brain that they're important tasks to follow through with.


Writing your goals down will give you a clear-cut guide on what you want to achieve in the short and long term. You can list them according to which are more pressing or which goals you have more time to complete. It's also satisfying to check off the items you've completed and will give you a sense of accomplishment, motivating you to keep going.

Your goals are too vague

If your goals are too nebulous, you won't be able to pinpoint precisely what you want to achieve. It might also take you forever to reach that goal — if you ever do. Make sure your goals are specific so that you don't lose your focus. If you're not sure what your goals are, think about what you want for the future. Then, narrow down those goals into specific, attainable steps that'll lead you down the path to your success.


Make sure your goals are actionable and not just a concept in your mind. Instead of hoping that you'll be a boss one day, set a goal to get a promotion by the end of the year. If you want to lose weight, instead of telling yourself you want to shed 20 pounds overall, aim for four pounds in one month until you reach your desired weight. Turn "I want a new skill" into registering for a class or reading a book on the topic by a certain date. Having a specific target is much more achievable when you know exactly what you want and how you can get there.

Having unrealistic goals

When we were little, grown-ups told us to reach for the stars, which gave us the power to believe we could do anything we set our minds to. That thought wasn't entirely wasted — Harvard Business Review believes that lofty goals are actually a great motivation for people to achieve more than they think they're capable of. For example, if you aim for straight As during a semester, you'll be more likely to get higher grades than if you strive to get Bs in every class.


But while it's great to dream big, making goals that aren't realistic is a recipe to set ourselves up for failure. Once we fail, it can put a dent in our self-confidence and prevent us from making new goals or achieving the other ones on our list. If your goal is very ambitious, break it down into smaller steps. Your one big goal can be a list of smaller ones that you can check off every time you reach them. Doing so will give you the motivation to keep going until you get to your endgame.

Not giving yourself a deadline

You have a goal in mind, you've written it down, and you're excited to start attaining it. But one important step you may have forgotten is to give yourself a deadline. Not having a timeline for your goal will give you a lack of incentive to finish it, meaning it may take you longer than you intended. Having a clear-cut date for your goal will help motivate you and give you the sense of urgency you need to make it through the final push.


A deadline can also help prioritize your other goals. You may want to finish one before a certain date and give it precedence over other goals that may take longer. Of course, it's important to keep your deadlines reasonable and attainable. Consider your schedule and emotional capacity when setting your end dates. Don't push yourself too hard, or your goals can easily become a source of stress. Remember — they're meant to motivate you, not burn you out.

Failing to take accountability for your goals

Your goals are your own — no one has to know what they are other than you, which means that you'll have to be your main source of motivation. The downside to this is that it might be easy to get halfway to your goal and slack off a bit. While it's okay to give yourself some grace, you'll only be hurting yourself in the end if you toss your goals out the window. If you're feeling discouraged, be honest with yourself and think about why you may be lacking the incentive to finish your goal — sometimes, we just get stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage because we're afraid of failure or lack confidence in ourselves (via Positive Psychology).


You may need some help with an accountability partner or group. Tell a close friend what your goal is and have them check in on you every so often. Being accountable to another person can give you the drive to reach your goal. Find someone with the same or similar goals so that you can motivate each other. Having a partner can make achieving your goal fun, while you also give each other the accountability to keep going when it gets tough.

Having too many goals

Achieving just one goal is a feat in and of itself, but if your list is bogged down with way too many targets, you'll never put a dent in it. While it's impressive to have so much you want to achieve, having too many goals could prove to be counterproductive, though the specific number that qualifies as "too much" will vary from person to person. You could get stuck trying to decide which task to start first and get too overwhelmed to make the first step, or you could be trying to juggle too much and end up doing things half-heartedly.


If your list of goals is too long, take a good look at it and weed out the less important ones. Instead of quantity, think about quality. Choose a couple of short-term goals and one long-term one that you'll complete within a year. Once you have the short-term goals checked off, add two or three more. This way, you'll be able to focus on what you want to achieve without feeling overly scattered.

Wanting to achieve goals for the wrong reason

Most of us to earn more money, look great, and be well-liked. While these are all perfectly normal aspirations, they shouldn't be the only drivers for your goals. If your decisions are based on ego alone, they may lack meaning and only provide you with a short-term feeling of happiness. Instead, focus on the deeper aspects of your goals, which are actually called task-oriented goals. According to Counselling Connection, neither ego-oriented goals or task-oriented goals are inherently better than the other; they're simply different — competition is the root of the former — and we all experience both. Still, task-oriented goals appear deeper and more personal, and they may be able to help you achieve your overall goals faster. 


For instance, If you want to make more money, don't set your goal with the intention of wanting to buy expensive things; make your goal about providing your family with a better lifestyle or saving enough to put a down payment on a home. The drive to buy a home or support your family may be stronger than the drive to buy expensive things, thus helping you achieve it more quickly.

What's more, make sure your goals are for yourself. Sometimes, we're driven to achieve things that others want for us. For example, your parents may want you to go to medical school when, in reality, you have your heart set on Juilliard. If your goals don't align with your own wishes and values, you won't be motivated enough to reach them.


Having negative goals that drag you down

Goals are there to keep us inspired and propel us to reach greater heights. But if your goals have a negative tone, such as "I want to stop eating junk food" or "I have to stop being late to work," they might not give you the right incentive. When phrased negatively, goals shine a light on your shortcomings rather than giving you a positive and uplifting achievement, as explained by Gateway Counseling. Instead, try reframing to something like, "I want to eat two servings of fruits and vegetables a day" or "I'm going to set my alarm clock 15 minutes earlier this week."


Make your goals exciting so that you feel inspired to wake up every day and work toward reaching them. If your goals are boring and unmotivating — or even discouraging — you'll lose the will to make progress. Have a couple of goals that weigh heavily on you? Rewrite them into positive goals and see if it stirs excitement. If not, perhaps the goal isn't worth your time and energy.

Being too hard on yourself

Your goals aren't a concrete list of things you have to accomplish. They may change over time, or you might simply decide you're focusing on the wrong thing. You're an evolving being, and your set of goals can evolve as well. That doesn't mean you've failed — it simply means you're reworking your priorities, and one of them should be self-care. If you're this close to reaching your goal but it's taking a bit longer than your designated timeline, don't be hard on yourself. Congratulate yourself for making it this far.


Every time you achieve a goal, reward yourself with something. It doesn't have to be monetary or extravagant. A simple self-congratulatory hug or a favorite treat is enough to acknowledge that you've reached your goal. When we reward positive behaviors, our brains are more likely to want to perform them again, which means the more you reach your goals, the better you'll get at setting new ones and seeing them through.