The 15 most common goal setting myths

Beware of these goal myths

Here we explain the 15 most popular goal setting myths for your understanding.

1. If I want it enough, it will happen.

You have to get it, not just wish for it

You have to get it, not just wish for it

I call this the Law of Attraction effect. Too frequently people start their goals with pure enthusiasm. They are the people who talk about their goals and are keen to share with you their ambitions and intentions.

Over time yet, we find out that their action and behaviors do not match their intention.

Wanting a goal and telling everyone about it will not make most goals happen, if they do then you just got lucky!

The reality is a need to follow up your intent with clear action and ensure progress of your goal.

2. I do not need goals.

Rolls Royce - a desired item

Rolls Royce - a desired item

For many people there is a desire to be content, safe, secure and stable. They have no strong desire or ambition to own a Rolls Royce, climb Mount Everest, start their own charity or become a business leader.


However, it is important to understand that contentment, safety, security having a stable life is a goal.

These goals for many people in modern western society and reading this article may be easy, yet they still remain. This is the reason why people save for their basic pension to extend their desires into their elder years.

So, goals do not need to be big or audacious but simply frameworks and can be used to ensure a future status of the same relative standards.

                                   3. Goals are fixed.                                                                         

Goals change depending on motivation

Goals change depending on motivation

You can set a goal to run a marathon but suffer from a medical setback during training. This renders your goal as void.

After a review, you may discover the motivation was to have some time with a different social group and become healthier. So, it is fine to change the original goal to another that matches the principles of their core motivation and intent.

Goals can change and be flexible depending not only on setbacks and issues but also for times when the progress to goal attainment becomes easier than expected. So, stretching goals and moving goals later can be OK if done in an ethical manner that provides a positive and motivational incentive.

4. Once written down, my goals become easier.

A list of goal aims

A list of goal aims

We’ll let us deal with this myth once and for all. There is often cited studies by either Yale or Harvard of specific studies around this claiming the 3% of students that wrote down their goals actually made 10 times as much as all the other MBA’s who did not.

The claims to these studies include some of the “great names” within personal development including Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy – There is no such proof of such a study, it is WRONG.

The closest claim to this myth is then often misquoted and used through work done by Gail Matthews from Dominican University; indeed Michael Hyatt uses her study as proof that writing goals down increases your chances of goal completion. This is not informing the whole story. The study concluded as follows:

  • Those that send weekly reports of progress on goals increased accountability and therefore their chances of goal completion. So, simply writing down your goals is not good enough, it is important to combine it with action, reporting through an accountability process.

5. Only set one goal at a time.

Too many different goals distract

Too many different goals distract

There is a school of thought that shows some of the highest performers have only a single goal and they pursue it with all their passion and might.

What is often miss understood from this viewpoint is how a single end goal will most likely require many other supportive goals to be broken down and joined up to support it.

In addition, for the long term of an average life span there are significant advantages in having goals that include core elements such as finance, relationships, skills, health and spiritual/philosophy.

Single goals can work well in the short term however several goals provide supportive momentum to the feelings of progress, success and over coming of hurdles.

6. Goals do not work for everyone.

This is possibly the most common myth I come across at JAMSO. Often we are contacted with the comments “goals do not work for me”…. there-in lies the answer. It is not a question of goals working for you, but rather what and how you work for your goals. The key here is to understand the context of your goal setting, how they are linked to broader visions and principles for your personal, cultural and careers. In addition a history of using a single goal setting system with low performance introduces a negative bias and low motivational start point towards any potential goal success. Goals can and do work for everyone when applied in a sensitive, motivational and relevant manner.

7. Goals are for high achievers only.

Ali - One of boxing greatest fighters

Ali - One of boxing greatest fighters

It is tempting to agree with this myth as it reinforces that high achievers have set goals where and when others have not.

This is however not the truth of the case in day to day reality.

It is not every entrepreneurs dream to create a new business the size of Apple, indeed earning enough money to be simply self-sufficient as an entrepreneur is a common goal.

Running a 5km race and not coming in last is a common goal, retaining your job position for the next 5 years so you can retire in comfort may be a reasonable goal. Not all goals need or should be with the highest expectations or limited only to extreme applications.

I suggest set several goals in normal day to day life to help reinforce the goal setting success behaviors and mindset.

8. You don’t have the time to achieve tough goals.

The time is success o'clock

The time is success o'clock

One of the most common excuses for not exercising is someone complaining they do not have the time due to working hours and family commitments.

The same may apply to other areas and goals in life. Most frequently this boils down to a question of priorities and not about time.

Planning time, communicating your changes to others and building daily patterns takes time to develop but are realistic goals. For exercise, in response to this frequent comment we have created a dedicated “office exercises” board on our Pinterest account with over 30 different videos, plans, ideas to bring exercise into the work place.

9. You must have a clear end point for your goals.

The end has a start

The end has a start

How do you define the word success?

There are many situations in life where the end goal outcome is unknown, maybe a general direction and approximate vision is generated but the actual details of the goal and its measurement of success is unknown at the starting point.

This is found specifically in spiritual/philosophical views, artistic abilities and expression, research and development, product innovation and even health, relationships or finance.

More often the measure of success is a relative satisfaction given from the start point. So, for example a person may feel the need to “move to the countryside and have a simpler life” as a vague target. Their measure of the end point may vary over time.

This could be achieved through having a second home in the countryside to live during weekends or holidays or moving to a quieter place within their exiting city but with easy connections to both the city center and the surrounding natural areas of beauty.

Be flexible with your end point but measure the success of your journey.

10. Setting goals is setting myself up for failure.

There are reasons for considering some positive lessons through learning to lose and fail however it is perfectly normal and natural to have a fear of failure.

For people and organizations and cultures that are not open to failure there is a degree of work to be done. Some of the best and leading examples of why this goal setting myth is not true should consider the goal setting systems of 10x, BHAG and within business OKR to understand when and why goal setting as a system is positive and the abilities to fine tune and stretch performances is a positive experience.

11. SMART goals are the best.

The most common goal setting system is the SMART system (Specific, measured, attainable, realistic, time bound)

  • – Note JAMSO prefers SMARTER (E= Enjoyable/ethical E=Rewarding/reviewed).

Due to the prevalence of SMART it is often considered the best system. This does not do justice to the many other goal setting systems that exist, indeed depending upon your personality and ambitions SMART goals could be the worst type of goals to set. Instead serious consideration to 10 xs, INSPIRED, BHAG goal systems maybe better suited to produce the optimal outcome and success. For example, it is doubtful that Elon Musk has applied the SMART goal setting method to his highly ambitious plans and success with the Tesla car brand and SPACE X business models, instead these have been born from INSPIRED and BHAG principles.

12. Incremental progress is best for goal setting.

Theory and reality of success

Theory and reality of success

This myth is a natural product from the many years of SMART goal setting use and influences from quality improvement philosophy such as Kaizen.

These systems often produce incremental positive outcomes and improvements. However, this does not mean incremental goalsetting if best for goal setting.

For instance the extensive use of the 10x goal setting system and utilization of modern analytics can create new stretched goals and progress innovations that would not logically come from a SMART system.

So, careful consideration to goal setting design with resource contexts may open the doors for massive progress in specific areas of performance that you seek.

For instance, a plastics molding company may increase their sales using the SMART goal setting system to plan for incremental improvements, yet an investment in a new strategic selling process and improved CRM software package may offer much higher rates of return on investments and results.

13. Your history dictates your future performance.

Do not dwell in it

Do not dwell in it

One of the most common situations with performance management from goal setting is how management produces projected trend lines of future performance.

These projections then are adjusted upwards or downwards depending on the latest measured data.

The reliance on historic performance can dictate expectations, motivation and culture of the people engaged with the goal.

However, a radical deep dive of process refinement, motivations, skills development and commitment to the best practices can shift performance levels and smash goals much sooner than expected.

14. It’s better to concentrate on the process and not the goals.

A 7 phase process

A 7 phase process

This myth has been popularized over the past few years. For instance people just sign up for the local gym, attend the gym and are expected to somehow become slim, healthy and strong with no goals.

Well that does not reflect the design of a successful gym or its successful membership. Sure, you need to go to the gym on a regular basis but whilst training it is the session, weekly, monthly goals that create motivation and sustained improvement or consistence of performance.

The same applies at business, should people just show up and follow a process blindly?

How will their motivation be effected over time?

You see, goal setting creates and stimulates and emotional reaction, these motivators help stimulate success and allows you brain to explore methods to improve your current actions into a broader direction and purpose.

For sustained results, pursue goals with your process.

15. Everything will be great once I achieve my goals.

Bill Gates still pursues goals

Bill Gates still pursues goals

Why do people millionaires want to become billionaires? Why do we explore the oceans, develop new medicines and improve our educational skills?

Natural curiosity of mankind has bought our species from a hunter gatherer species to the most complex and adaptable mammals on the planet.

There is a natural desire and human trait that seeks improvement and development. Sometimes these show themselves in financial goals that continue to grow beyond the dreams of one life time (seek reference to history and the transfer of power and wealth legacy through bloodlines) to pensioners who take up a new hobby in their later years.

Just because the goals you set at this point in your life are vital and important to you does not mean once attained your own goals will stop with a deep satisfaction.

Consider the work of the Gate Foundation, where Bill Gates is still keen and wishes a technological growth for Microsoft but now pursues new goals with his foundation instead of simply being led on a beach drinking cocktails.

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James Doyle - Chief Goal Theory Myth Buster

James Doyle - Chief Goal Theory Myth Buster

 JAMSO supports people and business. For goal setting, goal management, metrics, key performance indicators, business intelligence and analytics. Our clients are personal and business to business partners.