October 12, 2019  

14 Goal-Setting Mistakes You’re (Likely) Making


Guilty of any of these? Learn how to overcome these 14 goal-setting mistakes so you can make progress and achieve your biggest goals this year.

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My alarm went off at 5:15 this morning and it felt like the hardest thing in the world to even lift my arm to hit snooze. You can relate to those mornings when it’s so, so tough to wake up early, right?

My mind raced to come up with an excuse to stay in bed. It seriously took all of the mental energy I could muster to push past the excuses I was telling myself and remember how important this workout was to my health goals. It was hard, but I rolled out of bed and made it to the gym just in time for workout.

I have had this exact mental battle with myself every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since May when I first joined my gym (Burn Boot Camp, if you’re curious). But I’ve promised myself I will stick with it because I am determined to get stronger, shed some inches, and create healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Working toward big goals is so tough. It’s so easy to push them off to the side because they seem daunting or really hard or just plain scary. But those big goals of yours? They are so worth working for!

I imagine you set some big personal goals this year, and now we’re nearing the end of the year and you may be wondering what happened. Why haven’t you made any progress? Where did you go wrong? What exactly got in your way?

Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the mistakes we all make that stand in the way of us reaching our goals. You may not even realize you’re guilty of them!

Read through the list below and pinpoint the mistakes you’re making. Once you are aware of your roadblocks, it’s a lot easier to watch for them and not let them slow you down.

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15 Common Goal-Setting Mistakes

Read through this list of 15 common mistakes people often make with their goals. You may not be fully aware these things are stalling your progress, but I bet you’ll be able to pinpoint the ones you are guilty of as you read through this list!

1. My goals only exist in my head

Goals that only live in your head are dreams, not goals. They don’t feel very concrete when all you do is think about them. They tend to feel more like things you’ll do “someday” rather than goals you’re actively working toward.

Try this instead:

Grab a pen and put your goals down on paper. Writing your goals down makes them more real–it’s like making a pact with yourself!

Write out the details of what you want to accomplish and the action steps you’re going to take. Keep that paper somewhere where you will see it often so you remember to keep working toward that big goal of yours!

You can use a pen and paper for this or if you’re ready to take it a step further, I highly highly recommend the Powersheets Goal Planner. It’s phenomenal at helping you create goals with action plans and gives you space to track your progress every month.

2. I’m not tracking my progress

If you set goals in January and wait to revisit them until the end of the year, you’re unlikely to get very far. You won’t know how you’re doing, you won’t be motivated to push forward, and you will likely forget about your goals altogether.

Try this instead:

Create a place to track progress on your goals and update it regularly. You can use a note on your phone, printable habit trackers, your journal, your planner, Powersheets, or even a little Post-It. The most important thing is that you’re tracking your work as you go so you can see your progress!

It’s become a habit of mine to look at my goals for the month before bed every night. I LOVE being able to check off some of the daily things and note progress toward the larger items.

For example, this month I’m focused on logging my food in My Fitness Pal every single day and that’s listed as a daily action item in my goal planner. So every single night I see that and get to continue the chain of checkmarks, and if I forgot to log a meal that’s the perfect reminder to do before I go to bed. Seeing the string of checkmarks is really motivating because I don’t want to break the chain!

This leads me right into the next mistake I often see…

3. I’m not doing goal check-ins

It’s really important to schedule intentional time to check in on your goals. You can’t just write them down and never look at them again, you have to keep revisiting them to keep them top of mind and to also make adjustments as you go. It’s tough to make progress when you don’t even remember what you’re working toward in the first place!

Try this instead:

Add a recurring goal check-in to your calendar. Quarterly or monthly are good frequencies. I’m working on developing several daily and weekly habits right now, so I actually do mini check-ins every night before bed where I quickly glance through my goal planner, make note of anything that needs some attention and check off my progress.

Goal check-ins are a chance to review your goals, revise them if necessary, check-in on your progress, and determine your next action steps.

Check out my blog post on goal check-ins and download the free goal setting worksheet.

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4. I don’t revise my goals

Goals are not set in stone so take the liberty to edit them whenever you like. This is your life, you’re in control!

If your goal doesn’t feel quite right, it’s totally okay to tweak it or to even let it go. If you aren’t pumped up about it anymore, you won’t complete it anyway so it’s better to focus your energy on rocking your other goals.

Try this instead:

Regularly revisit your goals and look at them with fresh eyes. You’ll come at them with a different perspective than you had when you originally created them. I really recommend putting regular goal check-ins on the calendar so you have a specific time to review and revise your goals as needed.

Related: Why Goal Check-Ins Are Vital To Success (Plus Free Goal Setting Worksheet)

For example, I set a goal back in January to invite more people over and do more social things with friends. That goal has grown so well this summer and I feel really good about the new friendships I’ve started because I was focused on connecting with others.

When I sat down to do my goal refresh in October, I crossed this goal off of the list. I feel great about my progress and I will continue to cultivate those new friendships. But I decided with all of the socializing that happens around the holidays no matter what, as an introvert, I won’t be up for a lot of additional hosting. I let that goal go for now and replaced it with a self-care goal that I know I will need more during the holiday season.

5. I haven’t PAIRED my goal with an existing habit

Let’s say that you want to read more books this year so you set a goal of reading for 20 minutes every day. That’s a great goal, but you’ll likely get to the end of your day and realize you forgot all about finding time for reading.

Try this instead:

The quickest way to start a new habit is to pair it with an existing habit. With that in mind, you might decide to always read for 20 minutes after you brush your teeth at night. Since brushing your teeth is a habit you do without even thinking, you’ll start to remember to read more often if you pair those habits together.

Think about those everyday tasks you do without giving them a second thought and stack your new habits on them. This is often called habit stacking and it works!

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6. My goals are meant for someone else

This is a common trap with goal setting.

  • You set a goal to lose weight because that’s what everyone does, right?
  • You set a goal to have a big garden like your mom but you have zero desire to be a gardener.
  • You set a goal to run a 5K like your friend even though you yourself would rather go to Barre Class.

It’s very easy to create goals with great intentions but they’re not truly what you want to achieve. The (real or perceived) pressure from family members, the amazing-sounding goals others are chasing…it’s easy to be influenced by others.

But at the end of the day, if you aren’t deeply passionate and motivated to chase after your goals, it’s pointless to set those goals in the first place. If you say your goal is to run a 5K this year but deep down you have very little interest in a race, you are bound to fail.

Try this instead:

Write your goals down on paper and then review them with a critical eye. Be honest with yourself–does each goal light you up, get you excited, make you excited to start working toward it TODAY? What goals on the list don’t feel very exciting to you? Are you sure YOU really want that goal or is it maybe a goal you set out of obligation or guilt or competition?

You will always fall short of goals that are meant for other people, so do not let them take up valuable space among your big goals.

7. I don’t have accountability

Once you set a goal, take a few minutes to brainstorm ways you can build in accountability. Having someone in your life that knows your goals and can be a coach and cheerleader and support system is HUGE.

For example, one of my goals this year is to develop a huge new product for my blog audience. I’m really excited about it but it’s a big undertaking and, I’ll admit, pretty scary. I found myself pushing it off and pushing it off all spring and summer.

I finally added some accountability to this goal by enrolling in an online course that will help me work through this project. With a specific timeline for the course, lots of assignments, coaching from the instructor, and an accountability group on Facebook, I’m finally making some progress. It’s not that I didn’t know how to do it, but just having that extra accountability has pushed me to make tremendous progress just this month alone!

Try this instead:

I really believe that every single goal should have some type of accountability built into it. Accountability can take all shapes and forms – here are some ideas to get your wheels turning:

  • Give your spouse permission to check in on your progress every evening at dinner.
  • Ask your sister or a friend to text you about your progress once a week.
  • Schedule a babysitter to come over for a couple of hours at the same time every single week so you always have time for your goal built into your calendar.
  • Hire a personal trainer or a gym that offers one-on-one training sessions (this is the main reason I joined Burn Boot Camp earlier this year).
  • Find a Facebook group about your goal topic and commit to participating in the conversations and sharing your progress.
  • Sign up for lessons or a class so you have a scheduled time to do the work and an instructor to guide you.
  • Find a friend that wants to complete the same goal and do it together! Whether you live down the street or across the country, if you’re both working toward the same end goal it will be easy and fun to do this together.
  • Commit to sharing a progress update on Instagram every day or every week.
  • Coaches aren’t just for sports – you can hire business coaches, life coaches, and so many specialty coaches to help you on your journey.

What other ways do you add accountability to your goals? This list is certainly just a starting point, I’d love to hear what other ideas you have!

8. I don’t have a roadmap

Your goals should fit into the bigger picture of the dream and vision you have for your life 10 years from now. Those huge dreams of yours won’t happen by accident, they take intentional work on smaller goals all along the way.

If your goal isn’t aligned with your long-term vision, then it may not be a goal worth pursuing. Make sure you are clear on exactly why this goal matters in the big picture of your life. How will it help you get closer to your dreams?

Without a roadmap of where you want to go, short term goals can feel meaningless and not that important. It’s easy to blow off a small goal when you haven’t connected it to the big picture, to your “why”.

Try this instead:

Work backward! I think Rachel Hollis teaches this in a way that’s so easy to understand. You can read a quick overview of her goal-setting process here, or dig deeper inside her best-selling book Girl Stop Apologizing.

The short version of how Rachel explains it is that you first need to know what the finish line is (your dream). Then you identify the three major guideposts you will need to go past on your way to the finish line. From there, you break it down even further and figure out what mile markers you need to work toward.

This is how you break down your dreams into bite-sized goals and create a road map that’s aligned with your long term dreams.

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9. I haven’t removed every possible barrier

Let’s say your goal is to do Whole 30 this month but there are Oreos on the kitchen counter and you’re low on groceries. That’s not a great way to set yourself up for success, is it? Achieving goals is really hard so don’t make it harder on yourself by having all sorts of obstacles and temptations and distractions around you.

Try this instead:

Brainstorm a list of all of the possible scenarios that are likely to throw you off course. Then brainstorm ways to remove as many barriers as possible.

So in the days leading up to your Whole 30 month, stock your kitchen with plenty of healthy foods so you can’t use the excuse of not having anything to eat. Get all of the Oreos out of the kitchen, prep healthy lunches for the week, and make a list of healthy snack options.

10. I have too many goals

I am 100% guilty of this mistake – it’s so easy to want to do it all! Every goal sounds amazing so you just keep adding to your list. And yes, in an ideal world it would be amazing to achieve all of those goals. But we all have kids and lives and limited time and that means we can’t focus on too much all at once.

Instead, use the “quality, not quantity” rule when setting goals. Work out the relative importance of everything that you want to accomplish over the next six to twelve months. Then pick no more than, say, three goals to focus on.

Remember, the success of your work towards a goal rests on focusing on just a few things at a time. If you limit the number of goals you’re working on, you’ll have the time and energy you need to do things really well!

Try this instead:

Whittle your list of goals down to a maximum of 10, ideally much less than that. Your energy is very diluted when you start to focus on so many different things which is why it’s much better to pour your energy into a few goals at a time, then when you meet those you can move onto the next.

Prioritize your goals in order of importance, choose the top goals to focus on right now and table the rest for later.

I like how the Powersheets Goal Planner has exercises for intentional goal setting and space for up to 10 goals with monthly sections to track your daily/weekly/monthly action steps. It always helps me narrow down my goals and choose the most important to focus on first!

11. I’m scared

We can tell ourselves all of the excuses in the world about why we can’t achieve our goals, but deep down inside it’s quite possible that the thing holding us back if fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of how hard it will be, fear of going against the grain, fear you don’t have what it takes.

Try this instead:

Try journaling about your goal and why you think you’re struggling. If you dig deep, you may be able to uncover the underlying fear that’s getting in your way.

Doitscared.com is a great resource for understanding what types of fear tend to get in your way and what to do about it. Take their free Fear Assessment and check out their podcast for inspiration and advice.

12. My goals are pretty vague

If your goal isn’t very specific, it’s tough to know if you’re really making any progress. Wanting to save money is a great goal, but it’s pretty easy to fool yourself into believing you’re actually working on your goal just by getting the cheaper drink at Starbucks or not buying that throw pillow at Target. But how much are you really saving? Is that really going to get you the end result you have in mind?

Try this instead:

Make sure your goals are specific and measurable. It’s important to define what success will look like – otherwise, how will you know when you get there? It’s not enough to say you want to save money, you need to drill down into the specifics. How much money? By when? What actions can you take?

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13. I give up on myself Too Soon

When you set a goal that seems really hard or scary or time-consuming or is something you’ve failed at before, it can sound so daunting that you don’t even bother giving it your full effort.

Or you might be all-in on your goal for a short but when you don’t see immediate progress, you quickly lose steam and give up.

Try this instead:

Understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Chasing after big goals is a journey that might take a while. You may not see progress as quickly as you’d hoped, but progress could be just around the corner if you will just keep moving.

14. I’m not committed to going all-in

This is a goal-setting mistake that’s not talked about enough. The fact of the matter is, lots of people set goals that sound great but their heart isn’t in it, they aren’t excited or motivated or willing to go all-in. And without that commitment, the goal fizzles out before you even give it a fair shot.

Try this instead:

There are a few reasons why you may not be going all-in on your goal. Is it actually meant for someone else? Are you scared? Do you know how this goal fits into your roadmap to your dreams?

It’s really easy to think a goal sounds good, but unless you really want it, you’re unlikely to make much progress. If you don’t feel fired up enough to go all-in on a goal, then you probably need to either discover your deeper “why” (that roadmap finish line) or let go of the goal altogether.


Which of these 14 goal-setting mistakes resonated with you the most? I’d love to hear your thoughts down in the comments below!

Looking for more goal-setting articles? Check out these past blog posts:

  1. Why You Should Have 90-Day Goals (And A Goal Setting Worksheet)
  2. Why Goal Check-Ins Are Vital To Success (Plus Free Goal Setting Worksheet)
  3. Creating A 10-Minute Morning Journaling Routine For Self Reflection And Goal Setting
  4. Setting Goals And Designing A Road Map To Crush Them (plus free worksheet!!)

Have a fantastic day!

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About the author

Emily Counts is the founder of Small Stuff Counts, a home and organization blog she created in 2013. Her goal is to help moms make home life easier so they can create beautiful, organized, and thriving homes. She shares life at home as a mom juggling two young kids and being a working mom with a corporate job. The Iowa-based blogger lives in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two children, and rescue dog. Emily has collaborated with brands including The Container Store, Cricut, Command Brand, Bissell, Sam's Club and Rubbermaid.

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