Unrealistic vs. Effective: What Makes Goals Work?

Goal Setting

Unrealistic vs. Effective: What Makes Goals Work?

by: Ruth Ballard, PowerUp Leadership

Around this time of year, many of us take it upon ourselves to set New Years’ Resolutions. Be it in regards to our personal or professional lives, the start of a new year presents an opportunity to direct energy and attention towards our goals, and to work towards achievements we can really take pride in. But despite our best intentions and step-by-step plans, many of us abandon our resolutions by March, or even by the end of January. The explanation for this phenomenon may lie in exactly how we set our goals.

To approach goal-setting in an effective way, we can consider what type of goals set us up for failure from the start. Poorly set goals are often described as unrealistic, which makes intuitive sense: if a goal is genuinely too difficult to achieve, pursuing it will cause stress and results are unlikely to be positive. But outside of the obvious and the circumstantial, what actually makes a goal seem unrealistic? Here are three major factors: 

  1. The goal is not specific or measurable. If an objective is too broad or vague, it can seem impossible to accomplish real progress. Abstract goals can encompass many areas for long-term growth and improvement, overwhelming us before we even get started.
  1. The goal is impacted by self-doubt: An achievable goal may start to seem unrealistic when approached without confidence. A person who believes they aren’t capable of achieving their goal is significantly less likely to make progress.
  1. The goal is not a stretch goal: For a goal to be truly motivating it needs to be exciting to the individual who needs to take action to meet it.  This is why stretch goals are so important, when we visualize achieving a stretch goal it gives us a dopamine hit.

With those factors in mind, it can be tempting to set easy goals for ourselves on the grounds that they are more pragmatic. However, research shows the opposite is true: while a practical evaluation of circumstances must play a role in goal-setting, we are no more likely to meet so-called “realistic” goals if they don’t present a reasonable level of difficulty. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/per.2194) Tough but meaningful goals have higher success rates than easy but unambitious ones. A truly effective goal must balance achievable, measurable results and motivating challenges.

Effective goal-setting is a skill that can have a major impact on short and long-term success. No matter what time of year you make your resolution, a coach can help you decide what a meaningful and attainable goal looks like for you. By taking concrete, personalized steps, personal development can be more exciting than overwhelming. A coach can give you the support you need to turn your goals into real results as an accountability partner and source of encouragement. To learn more, please schedule a complimentary consultation.