How to Avoid 3 Pitfalls of Goal-Setting

Goals Can Backfire, But Not if You Know How to Use Them

I’ve been an advocate of goal-setting for decades. Most successful people I know are. They set big goals and recommend others do as well. But some people are more doubtful.

They point to significant goal-related disasters and suggest goals can backfire. In 2002, for instance, General Motors determined to boost its share of the U.S. automobile market to 29 percent, a position they hadn’t held since 1999.

The company was obsessed with the number. But they missed it. Why?

When Goals Go Wrong

GM blamed the competition, especially from South Korea. “If the competition would just play a little fairer, we could do it,” one executive explained.

But analysts said GM became so focused on the goal, they actually undercut their own business to attain it. Because of bad decisions made in pursuit of their goal, the company ended up bankrupt and dependent on federal bailout dollars just to survive.

And it’s not just GM. Other organizations have fallen into the trap. In 2009, the same year GM filed for bankruptcy, a group of scholars published an article entitled “Goals Gone Wild,” detailing several examples.

An Excuse Not to Succeed

It’s a useful article. And it points out several pitfalls goal-setters should watch for. But when I’ve heard from people about the article, I catch a strong whiff of cynicism. If I’m honest, I think some are just looking for an excuse not to succeed.

It’s safe and easy to stay in the comfort zone. And when someone else catches a vision for stepping outside the comfort zone and achieving something significant, it’s uncomfortable to watch. So they become naysayers.

They say goal-setting doesn’t work. It’s risky. Or it causes more problems than it solves.

I’ve personally studied goal-setting for years and practiced it even longer. The cautionary tales are just that—cautions—not reasons to avoid setting goals.

So let’s look at three.

3 Pitfalls Goal-Setters Should Avoid

Many of cautions contained in “Goals Gone Wild” relate to business environments, but some apply to individuals pursuing goals as well. Here are three pitfalls any goal-setters can avoid if they set their targets wisely.

  1. Tunnel vision. GM fell prey to this one. They were so focused on hitting 29 percent, they lost track of the rest of their business.

    But as I teach in my course 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever, you can’t set a goal in one domain of life that will undercut another. Visibility on the full range of domains at the outset can prevent tunnel vision.

  2. Recklessness. Another pitfall is recklessness. Goals should be a little risky. Nothing spectacular happens inside your comfort zone. Difficult goals unlock motivation and prompt breakthrough thinking.

    But I also teach goal-setters to avoid what I call the delusion zone. Some goals are simply impossible. They don’t inspire; they actually ensure failure.

  3. Demotivation. Impossible goals kill our motivation. But that’s not all. Sometimes we rely too heavily on external, instead of intrinsic, motivation. That can kill our motivation as well.

    The answer is to tap into our internal drives and desires. I actually devote an entire lesson of Best Year Ever to helping goal-setters identify their intrinsic motivations.

How to Set Better Goals

Can goal-setting backfire? Sure, if you do it wrong. As a corporate CEO, start-up CEO, mentor, and teacher, I’ve led thousands of people through the goal-setting process.

The cautionary tales don’t prove we shouldn’t set goals. They just show us how to do it better.

If you’re interested in setting goals that actually work, I’m hosting a free, new webinar called 7 Steps for Taking Control of 2017: How to Leverage Goal-Setting to Design the Life You Want. Don’t miss it. Registration is free but spots are limited. Click here to sign up.

Question: Have you faced any of these goal-setting pitfalls? What did you do to overcome them?

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