Maybe the Problem Isn’t You: A Quick & Dirty Guide to Setting Attainable Goals

Recently, someone said to me “I don’t set goals because it just sets me up for failure.” I’m a huge fan of goals and find tremendous value in them, so this statement really got me thinking.

On one hand, I suppose there’s some logic here- I mean, you can’t really get off-track if you were never on a track to begin with, right? So in some bizarre way, I guess this approach could look a lot like win-win, in that you win by never feeling the disappointment associated with falling off the wagon and you “win” by not having to do the work of actually coming up with a direction.

On the other hand, WHAT?! (sorry, it just slipped out) Admittedly, I’ve never been one to drive to the airport, hop on the first plane I find and just see where in the world I end up so perhaps I’m not the best judge but I’m having a hard time processing this theory because it’s fundamentally flawed. It implies that an unpleasant result (failure) is triggered by an action (setting goals). I probably should’ve paid more attention in middle school science class but I remember something about theories only being valid as long as there’s no evidence to contradict them. I personally have TONS of evidence to contradict this theory; in fact, anyone who’s ever set and accomplished a goal is a walking, talking contradiction. I think we’ve sufficiently disproven this one folks- it’s complete nonsense. Setting goals does not equal failure.

With all that said, I believe what this person truly meant to say is “I don’t set goals because…” wait for it “…I don’t believe I’ll accomplish them.” And the truth shall set you free! If you are this person, I’d encourage you to ask yourself “why”. Why do you believe you will fail? Why do you think your goals are unattainable? But I already know the answer because I used to be this person too. I remember what it felt like to want to reach higher and really go for what I wanted but I always seemed to end up feeling defeated and frustrated. And the vicious cycle repeats. Not to worry though, I have a solution to propose and it’s really rather simple: SET BETTER GOALS. Listen up! Coach Alison is gonna walk you through it.

Without further delay, I give you…



(catchy title, huh?)

(1)   Focus on actions, not results.

  • One of the things I’d like to do this year is not be so exhausted all the time. Great! So…what does that mean exactly? How do I get from EXHAUSTED to NOT EXHAUSTED?
  • Instead of what you’ve been doing, try this instead: Write down the steps or actions that’ll get you to the place you want to go. I am going to say that I need to get more sleep (if you saw my schedule, you’d totally understand why that’s the obvious place to start).
  • See what I did there: I’ve taken an abstract result and broken it into tangible action items.

(2)   Make it measurable.

  • We’ve established that in order for me to feel less exhausted, I need to get more sleep. Excellent! So…what does that mean exactly? How do I figure out if I’m getting more sleep?
  • Instead of what you’ve been doing, try this instead: Take your action items from (1) above and figure out (a) what ruler you’ll use to measure whether or not you’ve completed the action and (b) how you measure up currently. I’m going to start by saying that in order to get more sleep, I should increase the number of hours each week that I spend sleeping. Then, I’ll add up the number of hours I’m currently sleeping each week (which is just too pitiful to put into words).
  • See what I did there: I’ve taken a vague action, developed a specific measurement tool, and established a baseline measurement.

(3)   Come up with a game plan.

  • Okay, we’ve now established that in order for me to feel less exhausted, I need to get more sleep and to do that, I need to increase the number of hours I sleep each week. So we’ve calculated the (pathetic) number of hours I typically sleep each week. Outstanding! So…what do we do with this information exactly? Is going to bed 30 seconds earlier than usual getting more sleep? Technically, yes. But will I feel more rested? Probably not.
  • Instead of what you’ve been doing, try this instead: Take your action plan from (1) above and your measurement tool and current measurement from (2) above and come up with a plan to bridge the gap. Because my real number is too embarrassing to publish, let’s assume I currently sleep 6 hours each night or 42 hours per week (yay! sleeping as a full-time job J). My plan is to increase the number of hours I sleep by approximately 15% or about 7 hours per week, equating to an extra hour per night. Assuming my current bedtime is 11:00pm (spoiler alert #1: it’s not) and my wake-up time is 5:00am (spoiler alert #2: it’s not), I could either go to bed at 10:00pm or get up at 6:00am. My wake-up time is far less negotiable than my bedtime, so I’m going to go with a 10:00pm bedtime.
  • See what I did there: Using my measurement tool, I’ve developed an action plan to build upon my baseline measurement.


(4)   Write it down or tell the world.

  • Now that we’ve established that in order for me to feel less exhausted, I need to get more sleep which means I need to increase the number of hours I spend sleeping by increasing the (pathetic) number of hours I currently sleep and going to bed at 10:00pm rather than 11:00pm. Awesome! So…how do make sure I do this exactly? How do I hold myself accountable?
  • Instead of what you’ve been doing, try this instead: I could write “GO TO BED AT 10:00PM ALISON!!!!” on posterboard and hang it right next to the chair I occupy while I sleep-procrastinate so that it’s glaring down at me as I sit there feverishly typing away on my laptop and avoiding sleep. Or I could make my plan known on social media, a personal blog, family newsletter or some other public platform because I assure you that once my friends and family are given a reason to be on my case, they’ll jump all over that! And we all know that once you put it on Facebook, there’s no turning back.
  • See what I did there: I’ve taken my action plan and publically committed to getting it done (for better or worse).

To re-cap: I took “I want to feel less exhausted all the time” and turned it into “I’m going to go to bed at 10:00pm instead of 11:00pm”- making my ultimate goal a concrete, easily-visible target to aim at. Try that process on and see how it fits you. I think, at a minimum, you’ll find yourself feeling a bit more in control of your own destiny. Perhaps you’ll even notice a glimmer of hope that you can actually pull this off. You won’t know until you try.