If you can avoid making these three mistakes when setting and pursuing goals, your success rate will improve. (photo by
1. Inflexible Goals Die When Life Happens
Unfortunately, it is more common for a person to set an inflexible goal than a flexible goal. Flexible goals are so effective because they adapt to your ever-changing life.
If your goal is to meditate for 30 minutes every day, and you have a particularly busy or bad day in which you can’t meet that target, you’ve failed. At this point, most people assume responsibility for the failure, but the actual failure was having such a rigid goal.
I’ve had a back and neck injury over the last few months that’s just recently started to feel like its old self. Knowing that my previously strong habit of exercising took a hit with the injury, I considered all of my options for restarting an exercise plan.
I decided to exercise every day in the gym or playing basketball, with the option of taking one day off per week. I’m not setting a time target or a particular amount of exercise I have to do each day. On days two and three of this new plan, I would not have exercised in the past because I was sore and tired, but I got great workouts each time because my goal was completely flexible to me. All I had to do was show up, and as it often goes, when I showed up, I did more than expected.
Inflexible goals are easily identifiable by their popular, clean numbers. 1,000 words of writing per day. 100 push-ups per day. Exercising 20-30 minutes per day. These goals suggest that life is steady and predictable. It’s not. Make your goals flexible, and you’ll be like a boat moving forward on top of life’s ups and downs.
2. Unrefined Goals Have No Driving Force and Aren’t Actionable
It’s important to clarify your goal. One of the most common (and worthless) goals people set is “lose weight.” Well, it’s only worthless if you stop there because it doesn’t communicate what you really want to do and why. You can refine that goal into categories of fitness and diet, and further refine those into daily actionable plans. If you leave it at “lose weight,” you just have a floating desire that isn’t attached to your life plans.
Continue to refine your goals until they are absolutely clear and specific actions. My goal is to have a fit physique and healthy body, and I’ve refined that into daily exercise. That’s still sounds a bit vague, but I know exactly what I need to do every day, which is to put on my gym clothes and walk to the gym or basketball court to exercise in some capacity. This is a clear daily objective that is also completely flexible to life’s obstacles.
3. Respecting Circumstances Ruins Opportunities for Goal Progress
Jack LaLanne was 96 years old with pneumonia and still did a two hour workout. That man did not care about circumstances to the point that it may have killed him (he died the next day).
I’m convinced that the difference between successful people and average people is how they let circumstances affect them (or not). Successful people (in however you define it) have a knack for ignoring circumstances and continuing to carry out their plans. The average person lets circumstances dictate their behavior, which puts them on an inconsistent path to nowhere.
Average Thinking (Succumbs to Circumstances)
“I can’t today because I’m tired.”
“My arms are sore, so I’ll work out tomorrow.”
“I’m not motivated. I feel discouraged. I’ll do something more fun.”
Elite Thinking (Circumstances Don’t Matter)
“I can still do something.”
“Arms are sore? I’ll work legs today.”
“I don’t need to feel it to do it.”
Put It All Together
If you put these three ideas together, you have the formula for successful goal achievement.
- Make your goals flexible, and you won’t have losing days, you’ll only have days of variable success.
- Refine your goals until they are clear and simple daily actions, and you won’t wallow in “someday” thinking.
- Show blatant disrespect to circumstance. Not even nuclear warfare can keep you from making progress today.
Combining these brings powerful synergies. For example, flexible goals make it easier to ignore circumstances because they don’t force you to perform at your highest level when you’re at your lowest.