Are you limiting yourself by your goals?

Setting goals can help you become successful, but they can also prevent you from achieving your full potential. Goals can be a powerful driving force – as you’ve probably heard ad nauseam. What may be more surprising is that they can also be a significant limiting factor. Beware!

Goals. Again. - Really?

We’ve all heard it. We hear it all the time. Frankly, most of us are getting tired of hearing it… “If you want to be successful, you have to set yourself goals!” Great. Now what? Telling someone that setting goals is essential to being successful is like saying they must open the door to leave the building. Granted, you may exit the building without opening any door, but in most cases this would not be efficient, healthy or even safe. Be that as it may, knowing that I must use the door to exit the building, will still, in no way, tell me how to get to my desired destination.

But enough abstraction. Let me be clear about one thing: I am not suggesting that setting goals is bad or that you shouldn’t. Setting yourself goals is essential! The real question here is how do you go about it? Setting goals per se is very different from setting the right goals, in the right way.

Sure, you can set yourself goals that are well within reach so you know from the start that you will probably achieve them. This may make you feel slightly accomplished once you’re done, but probably not completely satisfied. Furthermore, you run the risk of not even getting started… because for such a small reward, why even bother?!

The other option is to set yourself stratospheric goals. Goals so far “out there” that they seem almost impossible. Of course, reaching such goals would make you feel ecstatic, but the risk of not getting there and feeling like a failure is particularly high. So again, if it seems so impossible, why even bother?!

The real art does not lie in setting goals per se, but much more in setting the right goals, the right way.


Modeling vs. Copying

The real art here, therefore, lies in finding the right mix. This mix is very personal! There is no one-size-fits-all in goal setting (based on personal experience: one-size never fits all!). However, you can indeed learn from others; there is no gain in making the same mistakes others have already done. Learn from the experience of others, model successful people, but keep in mind: you are different! Hence you will necessarily have to find your very own recipe for success! 

If you model people’s behavior and strategies, you look for patterns, for ideas, for inspiration, yet you keep in mind that not everything will apply to you in the same way. You stay alert and creative, you keep questioning with an open-mind and don’t merely follow with your eyes closed. Once you start copying however, you cease being “original”. You lose your own identity and the very qualities that make you unique. Therefore remember, learn from others, but create your own strategies. And most importantly, do not accept limits imposed by others as your own!


Be original

The question that arises, then, is how do you go about finding your personal, tailor-made and perfectly fitting mix of reachable and impossible?  The answer is: you cannot possibly know in advance. Whenever you’re experimenting and trying to create something new, you cannot possibly know in advance what the winning combination will be. All you know are all the combinations that didn’t work; hence you must keep changing combinations and keep trying something new, until you succeed. 

Be bold enough to experiment – especially to keep experimenting when many attempts have gone awry – and you will soon find the golden balance between reachable and impossible that constitutes the right mix for you personally. Some people need ambitious goals to find motivation, others need realistic ones to believe they can do it.

Some need ambitious goals to find motivation. Others need realistic ones to build confidence.


Don’t be realistic!

Whatever your situation, make sure you are setting powerful goals. To do this, you could ask yourself – for any given objective – what is the highest target you believe you can reach if you really set your mind to it (seen as a question of dedication, rather than skill development). From there, kick it up a notch! If you know you can reach a certain level, you will likely find it within you to believe that “just a little more” is also somehow possible. The idea here is that your goal is reachable enough for you to believe in yourself and your abilities, yet high enough that the mere thought of actually being able to achieve such a grand goal, will spark your excitement and motivation. Being overly realistic, therefore, will close all doors towards achieving extraordinary success.

Should you err in goal-setting, err on the bold side.


Should you err in goal-setting, err on the bold side! Because goals that are too low, necessarily turn into a limiting factor. Here’s an example for it: imagine you decide that you want to run 10km in 50mins. As a moderately experienced runner, you know that you should pace yourself and not go all out right out the door. For this reason, when you start your run, you start at a 5min/km average or maybe just a little bit faster and you know that this way you have the best chance of achieving your goal. Therefore, if you’re fit enough, you will hold that pace and make it just under 50 mins. So far so good.

Now let’s assume you’re not just a moderately experienced runner, you’re also extremely talented, strong and well-trained – often more than you are even aware of. Had you started running at what would have seemed an insanely fast 4min/Km you might have been able to hold on and run your 10K in 40mins, an entire 10mins (more than 20%) faster! But because you set yourself the goal to finish it in 50mins you did not allow yourself to go faster.

When you set a goal within the boundaries of the “realistically achievable”, you tap into the realm of your abilities, but not into the realm of your potential!


Challenging vs. reasonable

Granted, there are times when we still believe to have highly overachieved. But these are either exceptions or in actual fact the end-result is still below what might have been achievable, given a different mindset. Had you set your goal at 40mins instead of 50mins, you would have started running faster from the beginning, allowing yourself to “overachieve”. However, you would have merely overachieved in comparison to your expectations, not to your potential! The benefit though is that you have indeed achieved a much higher goal than you initially dared to try. (As in the aforementioned running example)

Summing it all up, remember: whenever you set a goal within the boundaries of the “realistically achievable”, you tap into the realm of your abilities, but not into the realm of your potential! Your potential is always greater than the sum of your current abilities… so give yourself a chance to realize your full potential and set challenging but reasonable goals. And remember: if in doubt, choose “challenging” over “reasonable”!