Why Goal Setting Sucks, Sometimes, I Think. 10

Yes, I said it. Although tentatively, I do believe I believe it.

Goal setting sucks. Possibly.

If you sense conflict, you’re correct. This blog post represents an unfinished argument taking place inside my mindscape.

Quite some time back I read that James Brausch made a New Year’s Resolution to stop making New Year’s Resolutions. And while that may even seem contradictory, I think I understand his motives now.

Because “you either are or you aren’t.”

For me, the phrase “you either are or you aren’t” goes back to an amusing bus ride in Germany during the 2006 World Cup.

The USA just got whooped by the Czech Republic. And one friend who had draped himself with the American flag during the game was now stuffing the flag in to his backpack.

To which my other friend scolded him, “You either ARE or you AREN’T!” Meaning he was either a fan or he wasn’t, and he shouldn’t hide the flag just because we lost.

Hilarity ensued when we got the entire bus of assorted nationalities to agree, “You either ARE or you AREN’T.” My scolded friend was quite upset to be berated and he explained he was just hot. But the phrase has stuck with me.

You’re either losing weight or you’re not.

You can set a goal to lose 15lbs. But while you’re cheating on your diet plan are you losing weight or not?

You can set a goal to make $X dollars per month, but while you’re playing on Twitter are you increasing your income or not.

You can try to quit a bad habit, but when you rationalize a reason to cheat “just once,” are you breaking the habit or not?

I’m starting to wonder if…

…goal setting may just be an excuse to procrastinate.

If you say you want to lose 15lbs in the next 3-4 months, how many days will you feel it’s OK to harm this goal because the deadline is still far away?

What if you just woke up and said to yourself “I’m losing weight today.” What if you woke up and said that everyday?

Would that be more powerful than setting a date 3-4 months out by which you want to reach a goal? I’m starting to think so.

What do you think?

Should you live by “You either are or you aren’t?” Meaning no excuses?

Or should you set long term goals?

Please do share. As I said, this argument is still unfinished in my mindscape.

10 thoughts on “Why Goal Setting Sucks, Sometimes, I Think.

  1. Reply Stephen Dean Jul 29, 2009 12:00 am

    PS For the title of this post, I was channeling my college days where I wrote as informally and conversationally as possible while still trying to ace the paper.

    I always found it strange when people would suddenly write all smart-like when writing a college paper. I knew they didn’t talk that way, why write that way?

    That’s why I was destined to become a copywriter.

  2. Reply Alan C. Jul 29, 2009 1:20 am

    I believe long-term goals are fine but you need to combine them with your “today” thing.

    By doing at least one thing each day towards the goal, even if the only practical thing you can do is write it down again, you can stay on track.

    Otherwise you do indeed end up ‘deciding’ that you’ll ‘start tomorrow’, ie re-start 🙂

    As the saying goes, if you’re not moving forwards you’re going backwards, so always do *something* to move forwards, even if it’s really little.

    More directly on copywriting, I’ll tackle a specific, such as the bullet points or close. One bite at a time, like eating an elephant.

    The other great thing about doing something every day is you don’t find anything cropping up to mess up your plans – or at least no more than one day of them. For example if you eat at least one bite of the nellyphant every day you will eventually consume it. If you make a grand plan of eating a whole leg this weekend, I guarantee someone will invite you out for dinner at the weekend…

    Alan C.

  3. Reply Tony Finbarr-Smith Jul 29, 2009 2:20 am

    you either are or you aren’t… I like it.

    I agree that simply setting a goal and then making a piss-poor half-assed attempt at it is not good enough.

    Too many times I’ve found myself with a goal that I’ve not worked at until the last few days, achieving nothing special.

    The answer?

    lots of small goals that make one bigger goal.

    I made a video about goals, but I’ve not uploaded it yet, so instead I’ll suggest another one I made. It highlights the importance of focusing on just one thing at a time. The video also includes financial proof of it:

    thanks again for another great post Stephen!


  4. Reply Ian Brodie Jul 29, 2009 4:50 am

    I don’t think there’s a contradiction between setting longer term goals and taking action every day.

    In fact, one’s needed to support the other. If you just take action every day – how do you make sure it’s in the right direction. It must be in support of your longer term goal.

    But you do bring up a great point. Just setting long term goals isn’t enough. And there is a risk it can lead to complacency – especially for those who’ve swallowed the “if you want it hard enough, the universe will give it to you” line.

    The further out the goal is, and the more abstract or end-result oriented the goal is – the more you need to turn it into clear weekly or daily action goals.

    It’s like setting a sales target of $1m for next year. That’s a great starting point – but if you don’t figure out the actions you need to take to hit that goal, there’s a big risk you’ll slack off and not take the actions needed.


    Most people massively underestimate the level of actviity needed to hit many end goals. If you take that $1m target and break it down into the number of individual sales you need (by dividing by your average sales size) it gets a bit clearer. Then divide by 52 to see how many you need to make per week. If you sell by making initial phone calls, then having meetings – divide by your meeting-to-sale conversion rate to get an idea of how many meeting you need to have in a week to hit your goal. Then divide by your phone-call-to-meeting conversion rate to find out how many calls you need to be making per week.

    Of course, the figures aren’t anywhere near exact – but they are the right order of magnitude.

    And for most people it’s a huge surprise to realise how much activity they actually have to do to hit their overall goal. If they don’t do the mental exercise to work it out they often guess at 1/2, 1/3 or less what the actual figure is.

    And so if they haven’t done that conversion of end goal into short term activity targets – they just don’t focus enough to get the job done. Not because they’re lazy – just because they don’t realise just how much activity it’s going to take.

    IMHO anyway!


  5. Reply Ryan Healy Jul 29, 2009 8:46 am

    Back when I was in Amway/Quixtar and trying to make it in network marketing, I wrote PAGES of goals, deadlines, etc. And never accomplished anything.

    I then created an action plan — what I was actually going to do in the next 30 days (NOT what I was going to achieve) — and built a 6-figure business in one year.

    I think there’s limited valued in results-based goal setting. I think there is HUGE value in focusing on your daily behaviors. The secret to success lies in your daily routine.

    So don’t focus on results or outcomes, which are out of your control; focus on behaviors, which ARE in your control.


  6. Reply Stephen Dean Jul 29, 2009 12:11 pm

    @Alan C.

    Thanks Alan. I write copy the same way when I get stuck. If a section has me struggling usually just jumping somewhere else will keep me writing. And often I have the solution once I get back to the previous section.

  7. Reply Stephen Dean Jul 29, 2009 12:50 pm

    Thanks for the video Tony. Small goals, they definitely keep you from getting overwhelmed.

  8. Reply Stephen Dean Jul 29, 2009 12:57 pm

    @Ian. Thanks for the great comment Ian. Even while I’ve been contemplating the value of goal setting, I did make a spreadsheet to outline how much cash I wanna bring in over the next 6 months. I suppose that’s my goal setting.

    @Ryan Thanks Ryan, that makes a lot of sense to me. An action plan. Seems you’d have to readjust or factor in results to continue the action plan? Or at least to make the next action plan?

    Great idea, might try that.

  9. Reply Jack Keifer Jul 29, 2009 6:57 pm

    Hey Stephen, great read!

    I see general goal setting before acting on something as being no more fruitful than having a wish-list. A goal in itself is not a bad thing, it’s just that people generally don’t apply the concept of goal setting in a useful way.

    Acting on a defined vision, or action plan will allow you to approach a “goal” retroactively. This is how you give them power. …Huh?

    What I mean is that by acting on some aspect of your business, you will get a measurable result of that action.

    This then becomes the time to set a goal, based on that measurable result. The goal of course is to beat that result. To improve what you already have accomplished. To beat your previous ‘score’.

    Now your goals have power because they are based on tangible actions. As you build each new goal upon previous results, you will achieve a runaway snowball effect.

    Not only that, but using goals properly makes having a business fun. And that’s what its really all about anyway. Enjoying life, and attaining true freedom simply becomes a natural by-product of playing the game.


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