3 Major Problems with Setting Goals and What You Should Do Instead


Most people begin the new year with “resolutions.” Usually these resolutions come in the form of goals…

But what if I told you that there’s an even better way to achieving your goals and getting the results you want, without setting goals?

Let me explain.

Like most people, I use to set goals for the things I wanted to achieve. When I started this blog, for example, I had goals for how many times a week I wanted to post an article and how many email subscribers I wanted to reach by certain time frames. Guess what happened.

I failed.

My semester got busy, and I didn’t have time to post as frequently as I had intended to. For the entire month of October I didn’t post a single article and over a six month period my subscriber list had barely grown. I was disappointed in myself, and for a while I was even considering dropping the whole blogging thing.

Problem #1 With Setting Goals: Setting Yourself up for Failure

That’s the first problem with setting goals. People often set goals that are beyond their scope, and then when they fail to achieve them, they end up feeling like a failure and giving up.

One solution might be to set more realistic goals. Something that you know you can achieve.

That should solve the problem, right?

Well, let’s say that you decide that your goal is to lose 10 pounds, instead of 20. It’s still going to be tough, but you know you can do it.

So for three months you work you butt off, running, sweating, and dieting every single day. Then, the day finally comes when you stand on the scale and you can barely believe it, but it reads 10 lbs less than it did 3 months prior. With a big smile on your face, you pump your fists in the air and joyfully shout, “I did it!” You reached your goal and you feel like a champion.

But then all of a sudden the joy fades and a strange thought pops into your head… “Now what?”

Problem #2 With Setting Goals: Short-term Motivation

When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what do you do after you’ve achieved it? What is left to keep pushing you forward?

Many people will work hard for months to lose weight, but as soon as they reach their goal, they stop working out, they stop dieting, and they gain the weight back. Usually much faster than they had lost it.

Of course, you could always set a new goal once you’ve reached your first goal. Maybe you’ll lose 10 more pounds. But then what? 10 more? You can see how this can start to become a problem. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Problem #3 With Setting Goals: Reduces Your Current Happiness

The biggest problem with setting goals is that it creates a mindset that puts happiness off until you achieve your goal.

“Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy… Once I lose 10 pounds, then I’ll be happy…  Once I make $1,000,000 dollars, then I’ll be happy.”

Unfortunately, these are all empty promises.

So what should you do instead?

Focus on Systems, Not Goals.

What’s the difference between systems and goals?

Goals are the desired end-result, while systems are the processes that allow you to achieve your goals.

If you’re trying to lose weight, the system is your diet and exercise. If you’re trying to get good grades, the system is your study habits. If you’re trying to save money, the system is your spending habits.

You see, when you’re focused on the goal, you tend to overlook the importance of the system. You view the system as this terrible sacrifice that you must make in order to achieve your goal. You hate going to the gym. You hate studying. You hate not being able to buy all the things you want. But you’ll endure it in order to achieve your goal, based on the promise that once you achieve your goal, then you’ll be happy.

But like we’ve already established, that’s not the way things usually work out.

That’s why it’s much more effective to become a systems-oriented person, rather than a goal-oriented person.

If you ignore your goals and focus only on the system, your happiness is no longer dependent on you achieving your goal. Instead, you find happiness in the system itself. You look forward to working out your muscles.  You look forward to learning your class material.  You look forward to saving your hard earned money. Obviously the hardest part is making this shift in your mindset, but once you are able to shift your focus from the goal to the system, the result is that your goals become a by-product of your systems, not the driving force.

When my goal was to publish an article every week, it stressed me out. What usually ended up happening was I’d put it off another day, and another day, and weeks would pass without me writing a single thing. I felt pressured to have to post something, which made me not post anything, and then I felt like a failure.

So for 2014, instead of trying to publish a certain number of posts each week, or to reach a certain number of subscribers by a certain time frame, I’m just going to focus on writing. Every single day. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes. The point is for me to get into the habit of writing on a daily basis, and to enjoy it.

By focusing on writing, instead of posting, I’m hoping that I’ll not only relieve some of that pressure, but also see better results, and actually post more. It’s a bit of a paradox, I know, but I’m pretty confident that it’ll work. It’s simply a matter of committing to the system.

Now I’m not saying that goals are completely useless.  All I’m saying is that goals should not be the driving force for making progress.

Goals are good for giving you a sense of direction and for tracking progress, but strong systems are the key to actually making progress.


What are your thoughts? Should we be more focused on goals or systems? Have you had more success with one vs the other? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Image Source: By Ondrejk (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Stefano

Stefano Ganddini

Hey there! I'm the creator of Collegetopia and the guy who writes all these articles. I'm here to help you live BIG, do EPIC shit, & be HAPPY. Click here to read more.

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  • No

    This is absolute bullshit. You had a goal of making one post a week then you changed your goal to a more achievable goal of writing once a day and succeeded.

    But then you call goals nonsense… this article is absolute shit. God have mercy on your soul.

    • You missed the whole point of the article. I didn’t change my goal to a more achievable goal… I simply made a mental shift to focus on the process of achieving the goal, rather than on the goal itself.

  • disqus_ssVMkQih0D

    I agree with the other comment, although to be fair it probably was a little aggressive. In my view, you are still setting a goal – write each day – it’s just a much more manageable goal to obtain. At first, your goal to write a certain number of posts each day or week was a larger or medium sized goal. This might have been unrealistic, or at the very least hard to visualize and achieve. Your new goal is a small and concise, short-term goal. It is more manageable and you are more successful at achieving it due to it’s realistic and sizable nature. The overall result of articles written is better too, due to the fact that you have focused on a smaller goal that is more obtainable. The fact you can consistently achieve it makes for continued motivation and greater results. It is indeed a change of mindset, but still goal-setting. Best of luck!