How I Failed at Goal Setting and What I Learned Thanks to That

Setting goals is more than wishful thinking and daydreaming. I say this as someone who has always set goals for herself and planned in her own way to make them happen.

Did I accomplish all my goals from the first year? No! I’ve completely failed at this for the first few years.

Why? Because I set goals that were either irrelevant or poorly defined.  They were unrealistic, and I lacked KPIs to help me measure if I was on the right track.

In this article, I’ll explain why I failed and how you can skip ahead to setting relevant goals for yourself. We are all aware that setting goals is not just nice to have. Without them, we have no short-term plan for fulfilling our mission. Goals are essential for intentional progress, both professionally and personally. 

But why do you think most people fail to achieve their objectives?

My experience has taught me that most people fail to set relevant goals or follow through, just like I did. This is because they lack a good method for doing so, regardless of their good intentions.

Setting goals and building momentum to achieve them must be systematic and consistent.

How is it for you?

Do you achieve your goals, or is it wishful thinking?

Back when goal setting was just wishful thinking for me as well, I made a series of mistakes that served as my lesson. Here are the most insightful ones:

  • I did not set goals in the context of reality 
  • I set goals without understanding what resources I would need to achieve them
  • There were no criteria in place for how the achieved goal looks
  • The goals were vague and left room for interpretation 
  • I did not set milestones or detailed plans 
  • I had no KPIs to tell me if I was on the right track 

Let’s take a look at them one by one.

Goals are not set in the context of reality

I used to think of my goals in terms of what I wanted to see happen in the next year. But I was doing this without considering the context I was in.

I used to wish and hope that January 1st would bring miracles and completely change how I work and live.

I didn’t realize at the time that significant overnight changes tend to be fleeting. And that trying to make several major changes at once is more likely to fail.

How can you avoid making this mistake in the future?

It is far better to gradually make small changes and trust in compounded growth’s power. A 1% weekly increase in income, time spent exercising, and value delivered to your clients results in a 60% increase at the end of the year.

I learned to assess my current situation before setting goals. Tomorrow, I need to be better than I was yesterday. The only person with whom I compete and compare myself is… myself.

No resources to achieve the goals

Yes, goal achievement is heavily dependent on planning and consistency. But it is also about having access to the resources you need. No matter how motivated you are, I am afraid your goal is jeopardized if you do not have access to what you need to carry out your plan.

What exactly do I mean by resources? It could be anything from financial resources (if investments are necessary) to human resources or simply time.

I used to ignore this simple but significant fact. I believed that I would find a way to make it happen even if I didn’t have access to resources. I was hoping that things would be different in a few weeks or months. Once again, wishful thinking got the best of me. However, I’ve learned that setting unattainable goals due to a lack of resources is equivalent to having no goals, as harsh as this may sound.

Also, I’ve learned that lack of resources needed for a goal may indicate that the goal is set too early.  It means that there are other steps in between to be considered.

How can you avoid making this mistake in the future?

Include an inventory of your resources in your goal-setting process. If you don’t have everything you need to achieve a goal, reconsider the goal.

No criteria in place for how the achieved goal looks

For a long time, this has been one of my mistakes. I used to set goals without taking time to understand what the end result is. I was working in vain, that’s the reality.

Isn’t it difficult to identify something if you don’t know what it looks like? It works the same way with completed goals. 

How can you avoid making this mistake in the future?

It is critical to have very clear criteria in place, ideally quantifiable, for how the goal looks when completed. Otherwise, you are relying solely on subjectivity.

It becomes even more difficult when your goal is at the heart of a new business or initiative. You cannot build on a shaky foundation, so ensure you are crystal clear on the criteria for achieving your objectives.

Goals are vague and leave room for interpretation 

For me, setting vague goals was a consequence of needing more clarity about my vision and mission. How can you take the first step if you don’t know what the final destination is? It is challenging when you do not see the direction. 

This was exactly my case until I started adding a vision review exercise into my annual goal-setting sessions. This came to over confirm the direction I am headed to and to bring clarity of what my next steps are.

How can you avoid making this mistake in the future?

What I discovered is that planning for a year in advance is necessary but insufficient. What worked for me was to start with a 3- to 5-year vision and work backward to today.

Knowing where I want to be in the next 3-5 years is critical for setting my one-year and quarterly specific goals. So I recommend you start there as well.

No milestones or detailed plans

This is the most common goal-setting mistake, and I was guilty of it as well.

Goals are usually set for a more extended period of time, such as three months or a year. However, without regular checks on the progress, I frequently missed the final deadline. Other times, at the end of the year, I would overburden myself by making up for 9 months of not working on the goals.

How can you avoid making this mistake in the future?

This mistake taught me that goal setting requires a well-thought-out plan and a few milestones.

Milestones are less intimidating than goals because they are only a few steps ahead rather than at the end of the road. Every time I reach a milestone, I like to celebrate. I usually do something small to mark my progress.

Not setting KPIs

KPIs can exist without goals, and goals can exist without KPIs. But having both is what will fast-track your progress.

To be honest, I did not have the habit of consistently setting KPIs in my personal life many years ago. I somehow associated them with business and used them only in that context.

How can you avoid making this mistake in the future?

Later, I discovered that setting goals and relevant KPIs go hand in hand to support my personal and professional development. So, these days, my KPIs are closely linked to goals, and they are yet another expression of the path I chose.

Learn from my mistakes and set relevant goals

I wish to tell you that my relationship with goals has always been easy, but it hasn’t.

I just mentioned six of the biggest mistakes I made in the beginning, but there were others as well. Despite the fact that I failed to meet my objectives, I learned a lot from the experience. I considered how I could do it better next time. Sometimes it worked right away, and sometimes it took a while…

There were years when the progress was slow. So I looked for ways to improve, and the following years were better.

I experimented with various goal-setting frameworks and adapted them to fit my needs. It was a process and I learned a lot.

While I am now much better at goal setting and have a system in place to help me achieve my objectives, including thorough reviews which I wrote about here.  

I look for ways to increase my goal completion rate every year and this ultimately leads to right growth rates across the board. 

Join my Fearless List to receive insights in your inbox

Scroll to Top