Do You Have a Love/Hate Relationship With Goals? Set achievement benchmarks without setting yourself up for disappointment.

By Jeffrey Shaw

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How are all those goals you set for the new year going? If you're like 43% of people, many have been set aside within just this last month, and with a continuing decline after that. For the high-achiever, this begs the question: How do we set big goals without setting ourselves up for a potential letdown?

We are often pumped up with a lot of motivation hype to "think big," "go big or go home" and "reach for the stars." And why shouldn't we? I'm certainly a proponent of becoming the biggest, baddest, boldest version of yourself you can: plus, goal setting is simply a necessary part of being in business. But what happens when we don't hit them, especially the most audacious ones? The result is disappointment, which is compounded by an often-natural tendency to notice the wins and accomplishments of others, but when it comes to ourselves focus on what hasn't been accomplished.

Of course, there's an inevitable element of possible disappointment in goal setting, because they are, definitionally, an expectation… what we expect the future to look like. And like goals, there's nothing inherently wrong with expectations (it's good to keep an eye on the future), but where there are expectations, there's the risk of disappointment. Hence, a possible love/hate relationship with them.

Plus, there are consequences for not hitting goals aside from their facts and figures. We can become self-critical in ways we likely never would with others. We begin to question ourselves, which breaks down confidence and increases the likelihood of "imposter syndrome." Worse yet, to avoid letting ourselves down again in the same way, we might elect to scale back, play it smaller — contradicting the objective of setting goals in the first place.

Related: The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting

What is one to do? Here are some suggestions:

Don't be attached to outcomes

You know life and business are unpredictable. The best you can do is go for it as big as you can dream, but don't be unnecessarily tethered to the outcome. You can't let how any goal turns out to equate to how you feel about yourself. Otherwise, you're risking eroding the very core of what it takes to be successful: confidence, self-esteem, drive and hope. Learn to move forward with effort and self-assurance while at the same time learning to not be defined by results.

Reframe how you think

Instead of concentrating on the goal itself, focus on setting the circumstances for the result you want. The outcome is out of your control, but the structures designed to help make it happen are very much in your grasp. Keep your gaze focused on necessary processes and steps, and less on how it turns out.

Related: What Are SMART Goals and How Can You Set and Achieve Them?

Set yourself up for a win, no matter what

Many of our goals in business are financial, including the sales we want to hit and money we want to make, but this type is also potentially the biggest source of disappointment. Set yourself up for a win either way by tiering these financial goals. At the highest level, have a "Wow!" category: the one you hit if everything went as planned — your best possible scenario. It's possible, and you know it, but you also know that it's a reach and that most often everything doesn't go as planned.

The next level is the "Ideal" goal — essentially the one that feels most realistic to you. It's also the most likely… still a bit of a stretch, but once met it feels great.

Last is the "Baseline" goal — the one that, while less than ideal and less than you might want, still meets needs (expenses paid, etc.) and keeps things safe and secure. There can be a real sense of satisfaction here, knowing that you did your best — not exactly what you were aiming for but good enough. During trying times like operating during economic downturns or global pandemics, hitting this type of baseline goal is something worthy of pride.

By tiering aspirations in this way, you've set yourself for winning at any level, rather than for disappointment… have left room for the big "Wow!" while also being fine with wherever you land.

Loosening the grip of goal setting while still using it to inspire you is, well, the goal of this process. It's a funny thing about life and business; often, what we hold too tightly tends to not come true. But when we can loosen the grip just a bit, there's room for what we truly want to find its way in.

Related: 7 Tips that Empower You to Manage the Best and Worst of Times

Jeffrey Shaw

Small business coach

Small business coach, Jeffrey Shaw is the author of The Self-Employed Life and LINGO, as well as an in-demand keynote speaker. He's the host of the top-rated podcast, The Self-Employed Life and a LinkedIn Learning instructor. Shaw's TEDxLincolnSquare talk is featured on TED.com.

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