How to stop making unrealistic goals

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New year, new you — or so the saying goes. 

It’s the start of another year, and you might be feeling apprehensive about whether or not you should even set goals for your business. No matter what you’ve tried, you just can’t seem to follow through with what you set out to do.

This can be frustrating, especially when you’re already experiencing a certain level of success. Your business is growing and you definitely want to do more, but it seems that your own behaviours don’t align with everything else you want to achieve.

I know exactly how this feels because I’ve been in your shoes. The truth was, I was in the way of my own success. I didn’t have a business plan aside from “grow my business and make a lot of money”, and I didn’t know how to set goals correctly. It turns out to be true that if you fail to plan then you plan to fail, and that’s exactly what happened with my previous business.

My past mistakes have helped me learn how to set goals and ensure that I can achieve them one step at a time. When I set goals now, I aim for the moon because even if I fail, at least I fall amongst the stars. It's better to keep moving forward and get halfway to your goal, than not to set a goal at all and stay frozen in your current stage of development.

You might be falling into the very goal-setting traps that I used to practice, where your only target is to make a lot of money, so keep reading if you want to learn how to avoid the mistakes I made and improve your own goal-setting practices.

5 goal-setting traps you need to avoid

Identifying common goal-setting traps can help you find alternative solutions so that you can achieve realistic goals and push your business to the next level.

Here are five common mistakes that business owners (including myself) can make when they set goals. 

1. Setting “loose” goals

In my previous business, I always set very loose goals so that I could have a bit of leeway and make the tasks seem more achievable, but as you’ve probably guessed, setting loose goals just set me up for failure. 

Loose goals are vague and abstract, so even if it feels like you’re achieving certain milestones, they are either not going towards a clear direction or they’re not happening consistently enough to make an impact on your business.

You can turn vague goals into actionable ones by using concrete terms for each goal you set. Instead of saying “I want my business to make more money” ask yourself first how much money you want to make each month, year or quarter. 

Developing a timeline for your milestones (i.e. three-month goals, six-month goals, etc.) will also help you create achievable goals and help you track your progress towards the overall achievement.

2. Setting immeasurable goals

Goals need to be measurable and quantifiable, otherwise, you will have a difficult time taking action and tracking your progress. This is where your metrics and business data will come in handy.

A metric is a quantifiable measurement that tracks a specific aspect of your business activity so you can measure the success (or failure) of performance in that activity. Tracking your metrics will help you align your team and processes with your business goals. 

Your return on investment (ROI) is one of the biggest metrics in business as it measures how efficiently your business is utilising available resources. For example, if one of your goals is to increase monthly product sales by $50,000 then checking your ROI will help you identify high-performing products you can boost, and show which ones are holding you back. 

Your metrics are a good indicator for when you’ve set unrealistic goals for yourself, allowing you to revise your objectives based on what your data actually tells you. You can set goals with data by utilising your historical data along with current quantitative and qualitative data to give you a bigger view of your company performance and places where you can grow. 

Different data can be used to help define and measure your goals. These can include:

  • Historical data  - What you’ve achieved as well as growth pockets and slumps in previous years. You can use this to forecast trends as well as potential problems you might encounter as you work towards your goal. 
  • Qualitative data - How people feel about your business and what they think about your brand. This can help you understand your customer’s needs and preferences and tailor your offering to suit them. 
  • Quantitative data - Actual business numbers, figures and percentages for yourself as well as your industry as a whole. These can guide you in setting realistic and attainable goals.

3. Having a negative mindset

A negative mindset can impact the way you think and act. If your goals have negative thoughts attached to them, or if there are negative emotions you associate with the goal-setting experience, then you might become less motivated to achieve them. 

For example, you might set yourself a 'safe' goal you know you can hit. You tell yourself you are "just being realistic" when in reality, it's a negative mindset in disguise. You doubt your ability or you doubt that goals even work in the first place.

It can also go the opposite way as well and push you to set vague or unrealistic goals you never attempt to reach, thinking that it’s better to have goals than none at all, even if you don’t have any plans to follow through.

The key is to stop those negative thoughts so that they don’t hinder you in moving towards success. Goals do work and you can achieve the next level in your business.

Here are ways you can prevent a negative mindset from taking over: 

  • Practice having an active mindset - Instead of fixating on what’s wrong, focus on what you can do, and you can start practising this in your daily routine. For example, instead of thinking, I don’t have enough money for that, ask, How can I bring in enough money for that? It’s important to create a daily routine that helps you accomplish your to-dos and build your self-confidence.
  • Focus on your goals, not the emotions - Facing challenges will always be part of the business journey, what matters is how you deal with them. Getting emotions means making rash and illogical decisions. Instead, remind yourself of your overall goal to help stay calm and collected, so that you can find the best solutions and get going again.
  • Move with intent - Being intentional with your thoughts and actions can help you become more self-aware, especially during moments where you feel you’re reverting back to negative thought patterns. You have control over what you think. If you notice negative thoughts pop up, you have the power to switch them around to be positive and constructive.

4. Failing to set a plan of action

Setting goals is just the first step, you will need to have a plan of action so that you can accomplish them. 

Action plans are part of the business strategic planning, it includes the tasks you and your team need to complete in order to achieve your goals. This gives you mini-steps that when achieved consistently (i.e. every day, every week) will automatically bring your goal to fruition. 

Without a plan of action, it can be challenging to move forward and experience consistent growth, of which I can attest to.

I had a very loose business plan for my custom cycling wear business, but I didn't have a strategy or action plan, and that became evident in the revenue. We would gain $150k in a month, then we’ll see our revenues fall down to $30k by the next month. 

On the back of that, I grew increasingly worried about my business stability and viability, which was a big indicator that I (and my business) wasn’t at peak performance. When there are concerns around business continuity, other people will eventually notice and gradually stop supporting that business in favour of better options.

Setting goals properly and building a detailed plan of action could have prevented those peaks and troughs and given me steady and consistent growth. An action plan can guide you in which direction to take each and every day, and ensure that you’ve got contingencies in place should you encounter stumbling blocks along the way.

5. Procrastinating on the follow-through

It’s important to not be complacent, even after you’ve set achievable and growth-boosting goals. Your journey starts as soon as you’ve set your goals, so you need to take action straight away and get the ball rolling.

Procrastinating can hinder you from achieving your goals and make it easier for you to think that you can leave it “for another day”.

You need to remind yourself how badly you want to succeed and find ways to motivate yourself in achieving your goals, right now. You can commit to your goals by developing a daily routine that builds your self-discipline and mental toughness so that even when you feel tempted to procrastinate you can quickly push the feeling aside. 

Surrounding yourself with good role models and mentors can also help you stay motivated, just make sure to avoid comparing your progress to your peers, as this will only blindside you from your own goals and create negative feelings.

It’s understandable if you have “off” days that make it seem difficult to follow through with your to-do list. It’s important to have strategies that can help you get back on track quickly and feel motivated to try again. 

Here are ways you can break out of a rut and achieve follow-through:

  • Develop a timeline and set reminders - This will help you break down each goal into manageable action items and stay on track with your progress. Scheduling reminders for yourself will also ensure that you don’t forget any of your to-dos.
  • Process your thoughts out loud - Sometimes it can be difficult to organise your thoughts when you have so many ideas whirling in your head. Speaking your thoughts out loud and recording them can help you pin those ideas down so that you can organise them when you listen back to the recording.
  • Create a visual map - Creating colour-coded boards is a great way to have an overview of your goals and your current progress, allowing you to easily remove, add or change tasks as you go.

It's okay if you've made mistakes with setting goals, every business owner has fallen into a goal-setting trap at one point in their journey. What’s important is having someone to guide you and challenge the goals you’ve developed to intensify your results while holding you accountable. This can go a long way in helping you and your business. 

If you’re ready to set realistic, measurable goals that will take your business to the next level, book a call with one of our business sherpas for a one-on-one session. Evolve to Grow can guide you in building better goal-setting practices so that you can make your business vision a reality.

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