The 7 Biggest Mistakes In Goal Setting (and how to avoid them): #2

Trying to set goals that are not really yours

Whose goal are you trying to achieve? You will only be truly engaged with a goal if it is really yours. If you are trying to live up to someone else’s idea of who you should be, you are bound to have some unconscious resistance – unless your vision for yourself exactly coincides with theirs.

Your unconscious mind likes to be given instructions. It loves to have things to do. And if you don’t give it any instructions, it will take them from wherever it can find them – which is why advertising works.

If you have not fully examined what is important to you and what you want, the goals you set may be influenced by family, the media, or peer pressure. You may be fine with this – but you can’t be sure until you are clear on your own needs and values.

Why I know this is important

When I left college I had no real idea of what I wanted to do. Eventually, I followed my dad’s advice – given to me with the best of intentions: “Get a professional qualification so you’ll always have a secure job” – and became a trainee chartered accountant. Big mistake!

I was terrible at it. Perhaps ‘infantry soldier’ or ‘professional footballer’ would have been less well suited to my skills and personality, but it would be a close-run thing. I found it extremely hard to motivate myself to do the studying required, and managed to extricate myself days before taking the first set of exams – which I would undoubtedly have failed.

Why did I find this so hard? Because I was following someone else’s advice, not listening to my own deepest inner self. If you try to force your unconscious mind in a direction it does not want to go, you will find that it will keep placing obstacles in your way: you’ll miss that train, mislay that vital document, the dog will eat your homework, and so on.

So: look within yourself and find what is really important to you before you set your goals.

Bonus tip: What’s wrong with S.M.A.R.T. goals

If you are in business you will probably have come across the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which states that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed.

These are all necessary criteria for success, but they leave out an important factor: do you care whether you achieve the goal?

In the environment where the S.M.A.R.T. approach originated there was no shortage of “away from” motivation. If you did not carry out your tasks, you would be fired. When you are setting goals for yourself, you need an approach that resonates with your values and harnesses the power of “towards” motivation.

Read this next: How to avoid goal-setting mistake #3

© 2006 – 2016, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Katherine Gordy Levine

    Right on. How I solved this one. When doing a SMART GOAL one of the things I ask people to measure is motivation using a rating scale. Moreover, at all goal reviews motivation needs to be re-measured.

    1. Andy Smith

      Thanks Katherine – this is a great idea. I’m a big fan of rating scales – they instantly give some detachment from problems that can seem too difficult to overcome, they give you something to aim at, and they give you a way of measuring progress. Plus, unless the initial rating is zero, they help you realise that you have already made some progress and that some things are working.

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