I’m an obsessive goal setter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set goals at the start of every year. And reviewed them at the end.

And for the most part, here’s what I discovered: there isn’t a single year where I managed to meet all my goals.

But over time, I got better. Over time, I discovered there are some fundamental flaws in the way most of us set goals. Flaws that not only keep us from meeting our goals, but leave us frustrated and feeling like we fell short.

And that’s a problem – because if you’re a go-getter like me, you want to hit those goals. Not meeting them doesn’t feel good. In fact, it feels downright bad.

Throughout the years, I played around with many aspects of my goalsetting routine. Set more goals. Less goals. Set long term goals. Short term ones. Set objectives instead of goals. Measure my goals. Leave them in a drawer for a year, and then look at what happened.

And over time, I started seeing five classic mistakes I was making in my goal setting – 5 mistakes that were setting me up to fail from the start.

#1. You don’t set goals

The first mistake I see many people make is they don’t set goals. By that, I don’t mean they don’t try and set something – it’s just not goals they’re setting.

Many of us confuse goals with wishes, objectives, or “nice to haves”. Goals are specific. Wishes are fluffy. Goals are measureable. They’re achievable, and realistic. They’re concrete.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set myself a “stretch goal”, only to discover that either there was no way I was going to meet that goal, or feel constantly frustrated by the amount of effort it took to actually keep me going.

I know that “if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars”, but in reality, that’s a pretty frustrating place to be.

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#2. You don’t have a system in place

Setting goals is only the first step (and by far the easiest one). The tricky part is figuring out how you’ll actually achieve them.

To do that, you’ll need a system.

A system is something that allows you to:

1. Break your goal down in actionable steps
2. Measure progress against those steps
3. Course correct if necessary

Personally, I like using the GOAL method.

First, I set an overall Goal (“I commit to generating ____ in revenue by December 31st of this year”).

Then, I break that down into Objectives. I like using quarters, so I might include something like “by the end of Q1, I commit to generating ____ in revenue”, or “by the end of Q1, I want to have ______ in my pipeline”).

The next step is to turn that into Actions. I set actions for myself on a weekly basis. Examples of actions are things like “This week, I want to send out _____ prospecting emails” or “This week, I want to have _____ prospecting calls”).

The final step is Labor. Labor is all about identifying those tasks you must accomplish on a daily basis, like “today, I’m going to spend ____ hours prospecting” or “this morning, I’m going to finish that proposal”.

A system like this is cohesive: it links your daily Labor, weekly Actions, quarterly Objectives and annual Goals together.

Unless you’ve got a system like this in place, you may well be setting goals, but you’re unlikely to actually achieve them.

#3. You have no “why”

Sometimes, when I take on a coaching client, we’ll review their goals together. As a part of that conversation, I’ll ask them why they want to achieve a particular goal.

Often, I’ll get a nicely crafted story about how important it is to the future of their firm, or how they want to become the #1 seller inside their company.

When I dig deeper, there’s often an awkward silence.

Many of us set goals without having a clear “why”. Or we have others (like our sales manager) set goals for us.

So what’s your “why” ?

Think of your “why” as the deeply rooted, unquenchable thirst you have for accomplishing something. It’s not “creating shareholder value” or “make President’s Club” (does anyone still do that anymore ?).

Your “why” goes WAY deeper than that.

Your “why” relates directly to your values. To the things you hold dearly. To the things you can’t live without. Your “why” is unique to you. And it’s intrinsic (meaning it doesn’t depend on external factors).

Unless you have a clear “why”, you’ll quit at the first sign of trouble.

You won’t make that last call. Send that final email. Clean out your pipeline. Spend every waking hour thinking about how to do better.

Your why is highly personal, and emotional – maybe you want to give your family the lifestyle and security they deserve. Maybe you want to rise above your personal limitations. Maybe you want fame, admiration and recognition (don’t laugh, some of us do).

Whatever it is, just find it, and be honest about it. With others, but mostly with yourself.

Unless you have a clear “why”, achieving the “what” becomes that much harder.

#4. You have ambiguous goals

I live by the beach. And I surf. Meaning that, when I leave my doorstep, I’m surrounded by healthy, fit-looking youngsters who look like they’ve been ripped out of the latest issue of GQ magazine.

So every spring, I go through the same struggle.

Part of me wants to look lean and fit (well, lean for a 40-something). But part of me also wants to enjoy life and have fun.

The problem is, these two things don’t go together.

You can have the six pack, but you can’t have a sixpack (think about it, you’ll get my meaning).

Meaning I spend every spring in torment. At the end of a long day, part of me wants to take my kids out for pizza, and have a beer. But the other part wants me to go for a run instead.

Who wins ? It depends. But that’s not the point.

The point is that, in this particular case, I have two desires which are diametrically opposed (“being fit” and “enjoying life”).

How many of us go through the same thing ? We dream of running our own business, but crave security and a dependable income. We want to be the top seller inside our firm, but we also want to spend more time at home. We want to exceed our targets, but hate the idea of prospecting.

Do yourself a favour. Stop it.

Just pick one side, and live with the idea that no – you can’t have it all. If you truly, massively want to succeed, that takes sacrifice.

#5. You don’t have a “Plan B”

Look. I know we’re supposed to set our goals in stone, and then work diligently to achieve them.

But in reality, life doesn’t always work that way. It’s not black or white. There’s all kinds of shades of grey.

Maybe we lose a major deal, but we still did all we could to win it. We discover mid-year that the sixpack wasn’t all that important anyway.

Or, as often happens, we almost hit our goal, but not quite.

I used to get frustrated when that happened. Not anymore.

For years, I’ve set myself weight goals. Nothing too extreme, just enough for me to feel comfortable. Problem is, my lifestyle can be less than accomodating: travel, three meals per day in hotels and restaurants, kicking back with friends on the weekend, …

So here’s what I did: I built in a “Plan B”.

About two years ago, I told myself that I’d build in a 5% tolerance. If I stayed within 5% of my weight goal, I’d be happy. Guess what ? Haven’t missed a single day.

Now, this may seem trivial. 5% ?

But it’s the difference between feeling good about myself, and beating myself up every time the scale was “on the wrong side” of where it should be.

Done right, goalsetting is one of the most powerful practices to help us advance ourselves, our careers and our lives.

According to Forbes, only 8% of us meet our New Year’s resolutions. Will you ?