How to Avoid 7 Common Mistakes on the Road to Success

When you're smarter about how you set goals, you're more likely to succeed.

Posted Jun 05, 2014

“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.”—Michael Korda

Everybody and their grandmother (and probably your grandmother) will tell you that setting goals is the key to success. I was taught goal-setting at an early age and I’ve taught goal-setting and goal-getting for many years, to thousands of students.

And for the most part, my students get really stoked as they work with goals and see the amazing results they can create. But every once in a while, a student approaches me and says that they hate goals, and that goals just make their lives miserable and stressful!

How could setting a goal and pursuing something you desire make you feel lousy? I’d never had that experience so I checked some books and articles to try to figure it out. I cam to realize that there are certain goal-setting, goal-getting errors that can make the process backfire on you.

Here are seven:

1. Your goals aren’t aligned with who you really are. As Brain Tracy says, “Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.” Do your goals really reflect what’s important to you? Are they the things you think you should want but don’t actually want? Pursuing a goal that isn’t who you are is like wearing shoes two sizes too big or too small—you’ll be miserable. Find goals that fit who you really are, and who you are becoming.

2. You’re pursuing someone else’s goals. You look around and see what a great relationship a friend has or the amazing new career your cousin has. You may see others winning awards or getting paid bundles of money. So you set your sights on what they’ve got. But as Marcus Buckingham says, “We can never achieve goals that envy sets for us. Looking at your friends and wishing you had what they had is a waste of precious energy. Because we are all unique, what makes another happy may do the opposite for you. That's why advice is nice but often disappointing when heeded.” You aren’t here to live someone else’s life, no matter how good it looks from the outside. Only your own internal voice can tell you what will really bring you joy and fulfillment.

3. You want something different but you’re not willing to be different. Change is an inherent part of goal-getting. When you set a worthy goal, it automatically stretches you and makes you confront some of your limiting beliefs and decisions. It forces you to become the kind of person who has or does whatever your goal is. As Les Brown said, “You cannot expect to achieve new goals or move beyond your present circumstances unless you change.” If you’re determined to remain the same old you, expect to achieve the same old results.

4. You don’t appreciate the present. If your happiness is always “out there” somewhere, you’ll never be happy. Waiting to be happy until you reach your goals is a sucker’s game—because there’s always a new goal just out of reach. It’s okay to be a bit discontented with where you are. But you’ll make yourself miserable if you don’t look around and feel grateful for your life as it is now. As long as your heart is beating and you can take a breath, as long as you can experience a new sunrise, you have plenty to appreciate. As Bo Bennett says, “Success is about enjoying what you have and where you are, while pursuing achievable goals.”

5. You don’t really believe you can achieve your goal. Are you trying to do something you believe is impossible for you to achieve? That's like shackling a 200-pound weight to your ankles before a race. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly you design your goals or how tenaciously you pursue them. If you don’t really believe you can reach them, you’ll be fighting yourself the whole way. As Ralph Marston says, “Your goals, minus your doubts, equal your reality.” You’ll certainly create misery for yourself if you insist on dragging your doubts along with you as you work toward your goals.

And here’s the thing about “impossible": You can never prove it. Think about it: We can prove that something can be done. We know that we can break the 4-minute mile and walk on the moon—both things once considered impossible. But there’s no way to prove that you can’t do or achieve something. Even if a million people try and don’t succeed, the 1,000,001st person might. So why believe in impossible at all?

6. You’re trying to get there too fast. People often say that life is a journey—but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone describe life as a sprint! Goals can propel us forward. But natural momentum is not the same as a frantic chase. Andrew Bernstein writes, “We need to distinguish between stress and stimulation. Having deadlines, setting goals, and pushing yourself to perform at capacity are stimulating. Stress is when you're anxious, upset, or frustrated, which dramatically reduces your ability to perform.”

7. You haven’t built in smaller wins along the way. Some people have goals that are huge: Eradicate world hunger. Create peace in the Middle East. Marry George Clooney (wait, that one’s been taken). I would never discourage anyone from having big goals. But we all need to make sure we have steps along the way so that we can feel progress. You won’t eradicate hunger all at once. But you can come up with a good project to feed the homeless in your community. You can inspire conferences and brain trusts to develop new approaches. Give yourself bite-size pieces of your large goals. As John Johnson said, “If you make them too big, you get overwhelmed and you don't do anything. If you make small goals and accomplish them, it gives you the confidence to go on to higher goals.”

Setting goals and pursuing them should make you feel inspired, not tired; enthusiastic, not discouraged; and confident, not insecure. I’ll end with a favorite reminder about goals: “When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live.”—Greg Anderson


Until next time. . . Mahalo!

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about using NLP to set goals click here.