The biggest mistake people make when setting goals

by Amy  - December 23, 2015

This should probably say one of the biggest mistakes I made when I started setting goals.

Yesterday I hit this goal that I had set a few months ago. Thank you to all of you who helped me get there.
Yesterday I hit this goal that I had set a few months ago. Thank you to all of you who helped me get there.

When I was in my 20s I worked in an office with quarterly performance reviews. Every 3 months I would sit with my supervisor and review the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to evaluate my performance. In one way this is very similar to the method I use today for goals. But in another it was very different. The things on the list were action items not goals.

This isn’t actually a bad thing for a quarterly review. These were my projects that I was working on (finish box design for x product, turn in paperwork for xx tradeshow) In fact, I’ll say that I now know how lucky I was to work in a place with such clearly defined performance objectives.

Goals are not the same as a to do list

Years later when I then started my own business I had the opportunity to learn the difference between goals and action items. This was a game changer for my productivity and success.

Since we’re working on goal setting specific to an Ironman race here. I’ll give race examples.

Swim 4 times a week is an action item. I have completed the Ironman Boulder swim in 1 hour and 15 minutes. That’s a goal (except on race day when it actually is your action item).

I put my goals in the past tense because that’s how I was taught. I guess it’s like “assuming the close” when you learn a sales strategy.

Simple, right?

Seems pretty simple, right? It is. I will say that it is simple but it can also sometimes be confusing when I’m laying it all out.

Sometimes goals and action items look a lot alike. But a goal is something that can be completed and an action item is the steps to get their.

Here’s a very simple example that isn’t totally related to racing but is a fairly common new years resolution or goal.

I will lose 25 pounds.

That looks a little like a goal and a little like an action item right? Well it’s probably just an imperfectly written goal. That’s one  (of many) reason it’s so hard to achieve as a new years resolution. Because there are steps that lead up to it.

Losing weight is tough. Some of the steps might be cleaning out the snack cabinet, taking a healthy lunch to work, making a meal plan, meeting with a nutritionist or dietitian.

So if that was my goal with what I have learned about goal setting I would rephrase it like this.

I am standing on the start line of Ironman Cozumel ready for the swim in tri shorts and a sports bra. I am proud of my body and ready to face this race at my race weight.

I didn’t talk about this but part of the difference is that my revised goal includes part of the “why.” Does that help or just make it more confusing?

So, set goals. Not action items.  Goals are usually measurable and they can be completed.

There’s one other thing about goals that I do which is that I try to focus on the process and not the result. Sometimes you have no control with the result. For example a result is a race time. But what if the conditions are tough… then your time might not be what you want even though you did all the training.

Do you set goals? Do you agree with these strategies? Do you think Ironman and triathlon goals are different from other kinds of goals?

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Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created

  • I always follow the SMART for goal-setting (when I’m disciplined about it). Specific, measureable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bound. I went through this process with my new coach on overall goals for 2016 season and he thought they were good. My goal races have changed since the initial discussion for a number of reasons, but the overall season goals are pretty much the same.

    • Absolutely! That is the method. I think your coach is pretty awesome that they took you through that. I haven’t heard of many … or any others doing that. For me even once I had been shown the method I was still setting my goals with to do items. I might be stubborn … or slow.

  • Interesting, so I am actually taking several action steps right now 🙂 I made a very similar goal this past year at Richmond, I just wanted to be there, weighing light, and run as hard as I could. I ended up crushing what I thought I could do, but honestly, it has made me nervous to make time goals this year. I am afraid I can’t beat that day. It took so many factors to make it happen.

    • Yup that is very smart. It’s best to set goals where you can have control. Otherwise you can just be setting yourself up for a disappointment. Thank you for reading!

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