The 3 Biggest Goal-Setting Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

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Have you ever set a goal (or five) at the start of the new year, then fallen way off track just a few months later? You’re not alone. Read along to learn more about the three most common goal-setting mistakes I see in my practice, along with actionable tips on setting goals you can really stick to.

The start of the New Year is often a catalyst for change in our lives. Whether you make resolutions or not, you probably have some goals for this year. Maybe this is when we decide to focus harder on healthy eating, fitness, de-stressing, or improving our relationships. We start out in January with the best of intentions, but often, the goals we begin to work on fall by the wayside once the novelty of the new year wears off.

Why is adherence so tricky? What goal-setting mistakes am I making?

1. Our goals aren’t SMART

You’ve probably heard this mnemonic in school or at work, but it can be a helpful tool in your personal life too. As you set goals, run them through the SMART test to make sure they’re not… dumb. If you have one big goal, you can break it down into a few smaller goals like I’m about to do below.

Specific

Let’s use healthy eating as an example. Although a goal like “eat healthier” is well-intentioned, it’s pretty vague. Instead, think about what actual changes you’ll need to make to eat healthier. A more specific objective might be, “eat more veggies.”

Measurable

Our specific goals are less meaningful if we can’t measure them. Building off of our healthy eating example, let’s make our vegetable goal measurable. “Eat more veggies” might turn into, “Add one serving of veggies to lunch.”

Attainable

Is our goal something that we can achieve? I’ll add a caveat here- don’t be afraid to set a challenging goal! If you’re persistent in the pursuit of your goal, you’ll get there. You can also make your goal more ambitious as you start seeing success.

Staying with our veggie example, it’s probably pretty realistic to add a serving of veggies at lunch. Throwing some carrot sticks in a bag is definitely something we can do.

Relevant

Reflect–does your goal matter to you? Does it align with other bigger goals that you have? If our original intent was to eat healthier, then adding a serving of veggies definitely aligns with that.

Timely

It is important to set several time parameters when we’re setting goals. How many days per week do you expect to do this new behavior? At what point will you be able to say you’ve been successful? With all of that in mind, our goal would be, “Bring a veggie snack to lunch 4 days per week during the month of January.”

2. We expect ourselves to be perfect right away

Repeat after me: “Relapse is normal.” Seriously, we all mess up. It’s easy to give up once you slip up. This is the “I ate one cookie, therefore I failed at my diet, so I might as well eat the whole box” mentality. Avoid this kind of thinking by remembering why you set your goal in the first place.

It can take a significant amount of time to change behavior, so it’s important to be patient. Although there’s no magic number, researchers estimate that it takes about 66 days to form a new habit. Stick with it! If you make a mistake, remind yourself of your successes, brush yourself off, and keep going. 

3. We don’t track our success

It’s hard to say we’ve been successful if we have no data to back it up. I’m a dork about data. I thrive on it. It’s cool. Hard numbers can make fuzzy topics like goals more objective, which is awesome. Going back to our veggie example again… Let’s say we’re putting a checkmark on our calendar every day we successfully remember to bring our little bag of carrot sticks. If our goal was to bring a veggie snack 4 days per week for a month, and we could see (based on our calendar) that we usually remember on 3 days per week, then we can say that we’re almost there!

Seeing a visual representation of our success can improve our motivation.

There are a variety of strategies you can use to track your success. You can use the calendar example we just went over, you can try a food tracking app, you can use a habit tracker app, or make your very own personalized tracker. And…. lucky you! I’ve created a customizable habit tracker to thank you for hanging out with me at Chelsea Dishes.

Click here to download my signature habit tracker for free!

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