The Problems of Goal Setting

What possible problems can there be with setting goals? It certainly seems harmless enough. If you think of goals as a kind of budget, the same problems that occur with setting a budget can occur with setting goals. Using the budget analogy, we know that we must build a budget according to three points: 1) What is my long-term financial purpose? 2) What is my financial strategy? 3) What resources do I have control of?

Likewise, when we establish goals, we must build them around the similar points of reference:  1) What is our long-term purpose? 2) What is our strategy for setting goals? 3) What resources are in our control to achieve those goals? So, let’s address these:


What is your long-term purpose? 

The tendency in goal-setting can be to either confuse a goal with an aspiration or to reduce goals to merely simple actions that are disenfranchised from one’s purpose. Let me use sports as an analogy. If you are the owner of an NFL team, what are your aspirations? Perhaps you want to win the Super Bowl or at least a divisional conference title, and I would hope you would say that you want to earn significant profit. Now, an aspiration should not be confused with a goal. Goals help us achieve our aspirations. Aspirations should be lofty, even seemingly unachievable. But they must not be goals. A few decades ago, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team made it their goal to win the world series at all costs. They paid exorbitant prices (for that time) to get skilled players They literally bankrupted the organization to win. And, they won, but the entire organization fell apart afterward, and every player was traded away. They confused their goals with their purpose and lost their future and their team in the process. Yes, they DO have a world series ring, but they left no lasting legacy, not even the structure to play decent ball the following years.

If your only goal is to win, you will probably soon be without a team, a coach, or players. As an owner or coach or manager or player, you should absolutely want to win, and do all you can to win, but you also need to still be in business to try again next year, whether you win or not.  Your fans, shareholders, employees and coaches and players are not just counting on a big win, they are counting on having a team and a salary and a dividend the following season and every season after that.

So, we must be wise to determine our long-term purpose to help us shape our strategies, and determine how we establish our goals.


What is our strategy?

Strategy is the process of decision-making that governs your life or business or family. Strategy is all about decisions and how to make them to advance your aspirations. Again, using sports, if you want to win a Super Bowl while also earning a good profit, you must make an abundant number of decisions to accomplish that, such as, who should be my coach? Who should be my personnel manager to hire the right players? What budget will I put together to pay the players and what can I live with and afford or not? How do I determine if my team is making progress towards a winning season and how do I determine my cost analyses or ratios other than simple profit/loss or earnings statements to determine “success”? In other words, what determines if we had a successful year or not? These are just starting point questions and each needs careful consideration before a final answer can be given. However, none of those are “goal” questions.  They are strategy questions.


What resources do I have under my control?

Resources you control ultimately determine goals. Using our sports model, you can list what you control and what you don’t. You can control what trainer you hire and what regimen for physical training the athletes follow, and you can build the gym for their conditioning, but you can’t control whether an athlete gets injured. As we know, one season-ending injury to a franchise player could destroy any aspirations you have of winning the conference title, but that really has little to do with goal-setting.

You have control over the coach you hire, but you don’t have control over how well the players respect him or how hard they play for him. You can’t control the weather in all the cities your team plays, you can’t control fan behavior in those stadiums, you can’t control poor judgment calls by referees and umpires, you can’t control sickness in key athletes. Are you getting the picture? All of these issues can and will play a major part in whether your team wins or loses. Once you understand what you DO control, you can begin setting some goals within those areas.

Let’s bring the topic away from sports and put it more realistically into your world. You can set goals of self-improvement and educational credentials, but you can’t control whether or not the boss selects you to be the next V.P. Your goals must exist only in the areas YOU control.

In my real estate business, I could set target goals of how many houses I planned to purchase and flip in a year. I controlled what I bought, where I bought, how I rehabbed and how I marketed. I did not control weather delays, illness among subcontractors, the buyer’s financing, or acts of nature, disaster or accidents. So, I set my goals over what I controlled and reached for my dreams, something I am still living and still aspiring to.


One reason I am writing this particular blog is to help those who will be setting goals or making resolutions for the New Year. Too often, a person will set a “goal” to lose weight. They focus on the amount of weight they want to lose and then spend too little time focusing on the actual goals they SHOULD be setting. Actually, losing weight is mostly an aspiration – a dream of what you’d like to look like, how you’d like to feel. That’s an aspiration, not a goal.

Your strategy should be, “What decisions must I make to make my weight loss aspiration a reality?”  For example, should you modify your diet? If so, how and to what extent? Should you hire a nutritionist to help, or should you purchase the ready-made meals from dietary companies? Should you consider exercise? What kind? How long? When? Where? Alone or with a companion? Do you join a gym or workout at home? What exercises would be best for you at your age, health condition, with your schedule, for your family?

Your actual goals would then be formed within those particular areas. For example, perhaps you decide that walking is the best exercise for you. You can set a goal of walking for 45 minutes 6 mornings out of 7 from 6:00-6:45am. You set your plan to walk 3.5 mph. Well, now you need to determine how to measure that rate consistently, you need a means of guaranteeing you will get up by 5:45 to be walking at 6. You need something to wear and provisions for inclement weather. You need a place to walk, safety precautions, etc.

Do you see how goals come from strategy and strategy comes from aspirations? Learn this carefully and you will become an expert at setting realistic and achievable goals that take you on a path that allows your aspirations to become reality.