By: Cortney Morris
There is nothing worse than seeing people with clear goals and good intentions set themselves up to fail. With nearly a decade of coaching experience, I’ve identified specific patterns that cause people to fail. These patterns are seemingly harmless yet significantly impact one’s mindset, confidence, and ultimately, their efforts.
If you find yourself struggling with execution, sticking to your plan, or not achieving the results you want, dedicate some time to recognizing and avoiding these three critical pitfalls. They will without question cause you to struggle more than you need to.
Be aware, for like any ensnaring pitfall, they are seductive, and you may think they are helping you but in reality, they only hold you back and wreak havoc on your mindset.
Before reading further, please take a moment to pause and ensure that the goal that you’ve set is meaningful to you. It is essential that you feel genuinely connected to your goal. If you don’t, these pitfalls won’t matter. To delve deeper into crafting a meaningful goal, you can read our questions here.
Pitfall #1: Your Goal is Too Big
Yes, your goal can be too big. The size of your goal matters more than you realize.
For a long time, I worked for an organization that was greatly entrenched in the idea of setting big, scary goals. We were trained to push people to set bigger and bigger goals believing that in doing so they will accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
There is some merit to this approach. When you set a goal that is bigger than you know how to solve, it forces you to find new solutions. I think of it as pole vaulting vs. hurdling. If you are overcoming a hurdle, you know what skills you need to build and the muscles you need to strengthen. In your mind, you likely believe that you can do it with the right training and approach.
The moment we talk about jumping 10 feet in the air, it requires a completely new strategy. It requires you to think beyond just yourself. You aren’t going to be able to jump 10 feet on skill and muscle alone, now you need a pole and a whole new set of skills to be able to use the pole to launch yourself over that bar and land effectively.
Goals are very similar. Where we set the bar determines the level of thinking and strategies required. Set it too low and you may not push yourself that far beyond what you know. In fact, when goals are too small, we typically aren’t that engaged in pursuing them because we know they don’t require much more than what we already have.
So, is there such a thing as having a goal that is too high?
Let’s take a look at Yerkes-Dodson’s research. The Yerkes-Dodson law considers the relationship between pressure (goals) and performance. It turns out, that when goals are too small (as we mentioned above), performance only increases slightly. When goals are too big, it creates so much stress that performance dwindles.
To get peak performance we need enough pressure that we are excited and engaged in the process, but not so much that we feel overwhelmed. I like the chart from Healthline below to illustrate this research.
How do you know if your goal is too small or too big?
Take your big, exciting goal and start to break it down into a smaller time frame. Work backward, what would you need to accomplish this year? To do that, what would you need to accomplish this month? This week? As you look at your new weekly and monthly goals, check in with yourself.
Are you excited or engaged? Engaged simply means that you may not know exactly how to achieve it, and you are excited to figure it out. Like a great puzzle or challenge. This is your best self starting to perk up and bring your “A game”. When this happens to me, I immediately want to start working on my plan or solutions to see if I can start moving toward my goal. The challenge has lit a fire in me.
If you are not excited or engaged, your goal is too small. Increase it. Your gut is telling you that you are capable of more. Find the challenge that will engage your best self.
Are you looking at your weekly or monthly goal and having serious doubts? Are you wanting to get started or are you already overwhelmed? Overwhelm is a sign of too much stress/anxiety and your performance will show it. If you are already feeling overwhelmed or defeated, it is a sign that you need to find a way to lower the pressure because your goal is too big.
Be kind to yourself. Play the long game. You may not be at the point to hit that goal just yet. Adjust your goal so it pushes you without overwhelming you. You want enough of a challenge that it forces you to be strategic and bring your best self to the table. It is just slightly outside of your current skill set. That slight challenge causes you to want to step up and achieve it. Once you start hitting your goal, go ahead and raise it again. Keep your challenge level in perfect balance by playing with the goal and the timeframe, whether it be for the day, week, year, or decade.
To ensure you are at peak performance:
- Identify your big goal, the one that excites you whether that is one year out or 5 years out.
- Break your goal down into monthly and then weekly goals.
- Determine what you would need to do to achieve those goals. As you review your plan, check in on the challenge level. Is it too much, too little, or just enough?
- Track your efforts and adjust as needed.
Pitfall #2: You Are More Attached to the Result Than the Process
Do you have a plan to achieve your goals? Are you following that plan or are you struggling to get started/stick with it?
I see this happen all the time. We love the goal, and we put a plan together but for some reason, we don’t follow it. This lack of execution usually comes down to one of two things.
One: You don’t trust the process
We live in an instant gratification world. If you want something, you can get it delivered to your door in an hour. If you post something on social media, you can find out within seconds whether people like it or not. If you need an answer from someone, you can send them a quick text. In this world, there is not a lot that you have to wait for.
However, with goal achievement, there is no instant gratification. It’s a long game, and we aren’t used to playing the long game. We want instant results and when results don’t come immediately we struggle.
In business, this generally means you start and stop. When you don’t get the result as quickly as you want, you question the process. Then, you change directions. Or, you become paralyzed wondering what will actually create the result. You are so focused on getting the result, but you aren’t sticking with the process long enough to see the result.
If you find yourself in this place, set milestones. Identify your process and determine what would signify you are on the right path. Like a mile marker in a marathon. Marathons are long and mile markers are essential for someone to know they are making progress and headed in the right direction. Decide what your mile markers are. This will help you stick with the process or identify when it is time to adjust in a more logical and effective way.
Two: You aren’t in alignment with the process
What I love about working with people to achieve their goals is that there are so many different ways to achieve a goal. Each person I work with has identified their own strategy to help them accomplish their goal, and each plan is different from the next. Is one strategy better than another? It depends on the person. Someone who is really outgoing and great in person would benefit from a strategy that capitalizes on that. On the flip side, someone super introverted will probably struggle with a strategy driven by getting in front of groups of new people every day.
To be successful, you must be in alignment with the process (plan) you’ve identified.
Let’s say I want to get healthier and I decide that to hit my goal, I have to run. I see every other runner and they are so fit, I know that has to be the solution. But, I hate running and I don’t see myself as a runner. Truthfully, every time I get on the treadmill I dread it. How successful do you think I will be? If my attitude doesn’t change, what is the likelihood I will be running in 90 days? Slim to none.
In business, I see this happen because people will see what others are doing and decide that is what they need to do. Even if it is something they don’t like doing. They might think, well, I only need to do it for 6 months. After that, I’ll have the results and then it won’t matter.
What they don’t consider is the toll it takes to force yourself to do something you don’t like or aren’t in alignment with. Moreover, when doing something you dislike, what type of result do you get? When you call someone you don’t really want to call, do you think they can tell? Your energy around your process will affect you and the results you get.
Until your identity aligns with the activity you will struggle. If you view the process as painful, you won’t stick with it. If you don’t stick with it, you won’t be successful.
In either scenario, it is easy to be excited about the goal, it’s much harder to be excited about the process or plan to achieve it. The problem is, most of your time is spent in process executing the plan.
Goal achievement is a journey, why not find a process that you can align with and stick to? There are a thousand ways up the mountain, give yourself permission to find your way, define how you will know it’s working, and then commit to it long enough to see results. Own your process.
Fall In Love With The Process:
- Identify your strengths and passions within your role.
- Reflect: How can you use those strengths and passions as a way to achieve your goal?
- Define your plan: What activities will you commit to that will ultimately lead to your goal? Make sure you bring in your unique strengths, passions, and perspective.
- Identify how you will know your process is working. What will you pay attention to that will tell you, you are on your way? What will tell you if you need to adjust?
- Commit to the daily activities
As a disclaimer, discomfort is always part of the learning process. Just because you are uncomfortable doesn’t mean it is a sign you shouldn’t do it. Make sure you differentiate between I am not aligned with this activity and I’m uncomfortable because this is hard. Check-in on your why behind the process. When you are aligned with your why, pushing through the discomfort is easier. For more about this, check out this article.
Bottom line: Don’t force yourself to do something you hate or be something you are not. Give yourself the gift of finding your own way/path.
Pitfall #3: You Neglect Small Victories
In full transparency, I struggle with the idea of good enough. I always believe I could have done better. Even when I hit my target for the day, I think to myself that I could have done more. Sometimes I find myself thinking of all the time I wasted instead of all of the things I accomplished.
That small voice that plays in the back of my mind is dangerous. If I give it too much attention, it will stop me from being successful. I will get more and more frustrated until I stop pushing myself as hard because I feel like I’m playing a game I cannot win.
Human beings need to win. You need to win. You need to know that what you are doing is working. When you see evidence that what you are doing is working, you get added energy and motivation to keep going.
Unfortunately, when that small voice is negative, your brain is working against you. Your brain is negatively biased. This means that you tend to put more focus and attention on what is not working as opposed to what is. Instead of seeing your growth and improvement, you are more likely to notice where you are falling short. You are also hard-wired to give more weight to your failures than your successes.
In order to grow, you need to feel like you are getting closer to your goals. Small wins are what give you the energy to keep going. If all you ever do is look at how far you still have to go or all of the problems you are facing, you will burn out.
The challenge as human beings is that we are really bad at seeing small progress. We built to see big changes, not small ones. This means if you are going to give yourself the benefit of small wins you will have to be intentional. Find a way to identify where you are seeing progress, where you are noticing yourself growing and getting closer. That energy will help you build the confidence necessary to keep pushing through tough times.
How to acknowledge tiny gains:
- Focus on creating a small win early in your day. When you are winning, your body releases dopamine. Dopamine improves learning, engagement, and performance. I read something somewhere that mentioned timing a typical routine in your morning and then trying to beat that time every day. This can be something simple like responding to emails, writing your to-do list, or getting into the office just a few minutes earlier. Having an early win will give you great energy as you approach your day.
- Focus on activities, not results. Our brain is primed to look at results. The problem is, we don’t always have a big result every day. Some days we just have to commit to the activities and trust that the results will come. Create wins from activities. Personally, I like to keep a calendar and X through the days that I keep up with specific activities. That way I can start a streak, my goal then becomes not to break the streak. If I do break the streak, I start over and see if I can create an even longer streak. This focus on my activities will compound and ultimately lead to my success.
- Reflect daily. At the end of every day take a moment to reflect. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Zoom out. Look back at where you were when you started or a month ago and where you are now. Stop focusing on how far you have to go, just notice where you are starting to see improvements. Acknowledging these improvements will give you the energy to stay engaged in the process. The more engaged you are in the process, the faster you will achieve your goals.