8 Critical Goal Setting Mistakes and How to Instantly Fix Them!

8 Goal Setting Mistakes & How to Fix Them

As people, we are almost always looking for growth.

It’s setting new goals and trying to get to that higher level that helps us feel accomplished! However, people often find that they aren’t able to reach their goals.

Oftentimes this is due to some of the common goal setting mistakes.

These common mistakes are:

  • Using Negative Goals
  • Not being nearly specific enough
  • Failing to use sensory language
  • Goals in the future tense
  • Unwritten goals
  • Not considering the effect on others
  • No timeframe on the goals
  • Not being 100% responsible for the goal

Making any of these goals setting mistakes can result in you not achieving your desired outcome, so I’ll go into each and every one to teach you how to fix them!

Why Most People Suck at Goal Setting

Most problems with goal setting stem from 1 thing, which we’ll have to cover before diving deeper into each of the mistakes separately.

Get this right, and you’re halfway through achieving your goals already!

Here’s the issue:

Most people think goal setting is a conscious activity. However, most of the steps required to actually reach your goals require involving the unconscious mind as well!

Think of your mind as a ship:

Your conscious mind is the captain.

Your unconscious mind is the crew.

If the crew is not in alignment with the captain, or the captain’s instructions are unclear, then the ship will not reach its destination.

It’s why I have (and will continue to) studied NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

In short:

What you’re going to learn here is how to use the right language in your goal setting to speak right to your unconscious mind in a way that makes it infinitely more likely to achieve your goals!

If you want to take full control of your mind and your life, I would highly recommend learning all about NLP and how to use it. It will make a huge impact on your success!

I would highly recommend this course.

Note: This is only for people who are serious about achieving that level, since it’s a significant investment, both in time and money. So, if this is not the right decision for you right now, no worries.

Mistake #1: Using Negative Goals

Your unconscious cannot handle negatives!

Let me demonstrate.

I’ve got 1 little task for you:

Right now I want you to NOT think of an orange kangaroo.

I also don’t want you to think of the white house in Washington. And I certainly do not want you to picture that orange kangaroo on rollerblades in the gardens of the white house.

What just happened as you read that?

For most people you saw images in your mind of the things I told you not to think about. Even if you managed to quickly get it out of your mind, it has been there for some time.

That’s what I mean when I say your unconscious does not handle negatives well.

In order for completing the task of not thinking of something, it first has to create or recall an image of the thing that you are trying not to think about.

Here’s why it’s important in goal setting:

One of the main reasons why so many people struggle with achieving their goals is because they state their goals in the negative. Things they try to get away from.

For example:

  • I do not want to be fat.
  • I do not want to be in debt.
  • I do not want to be stuck in a dead-end job.
  • I do not want to be alone.

Perhaps you have been doing the same.

If you know you have been setting goals along those lines. Reflect upon what results you’re getting in your life.

Many people find that they get exactly what they say they don’t want!

Remember that your unconscious mind cannot work with negatives. So to your mind, your crew for getting to your destination, these goals look like this:

  • I do not want to be fat.
  • I do not want to be in debt.
  • I do not want to be stuck in a dead-end job.
  • I do not want to be alone.

Here’s why negative goals are so devastating:

If you realize that in your life you have been getting exactly the things you don’t want, it is most likely because that’s what you asked your unconscious without realizing that’s what you did!

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How to Fix this Goal Setting Mistake

This one has a simple fix!

Just ask yourself:

“Okay, I don’t want to be/get X, but what do I want instead?”

You always want to focus on the positive so that your unconscious can focus on bringing the right pieces of information to your attention that will help you get closer to your goals.

For example:

  • I want to have a six pack.
  • I want to have $50000 in savings.
  • I want a job as manager, making $4500/month net.
  • I want to be in a steady relationship.

Do you see how these goals are way better already?

However, the goals above have only been adjusted for 1-2 of the common issues.

Sidenote (if you don’t want to learn about the unconscious, move on to mistake #2):

At any given second, you’re taking in at least 2 million little bits of information. Unconsciously that is, because if you would be aware of everything around you, you’d go insane.

You can conscious pay attention to about 7 (+ or – 2) bits of information.

Your unconscious deletes, filters and generalizes all incoming data for you, so that it becomes manageable for you. However, all of the “raw” data is still there.

For example:

As you’re paying attention to this article, you’re likely not paying attention to the temperature of your right foot, how your clothes feel on your body or that itch on your left knee.

Until I brought those things up.

The information has been there all along, but your unconscious chose to ignore it. And it works the same way with regards to your goals as well.

By setting negative goals, that’s what gets brought to your attention:

All the things that relate to the bad thing, which can demotivate you or bring you into unproductive behavior. Instead of having your unconscious focus on bringing the right things to your attention to reach your goals.

Again, if you want to learn how to learn NLP, check this out.

Mistake #2: Not Being Nearly Specific Enough

Here’s another issue with your unconscious:

It is also sometimes called your “reptilian brain” because it’s the oldest part of your brain that has been there since before we got our more advanced thinking mechanisms.

It’s a lot like an animal’s instinct.

Scientists estimate that the capability of the unconscious to understand language is roughly equal to that of a 5 to 7 year old.

Again, imagine being a captain on a ship:

Instead of giving out just any orders, you now know that you need to give orders that are specific and clear enough so that a 5-7 year old would be able to understand them.

However, people often set goals like:

  • I want to have a successful business.
  • I want to be in shape.
  • I want to be rich.

These goals are not nearly specific enough.

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In fact, if you don’t get uncomfortable about the specificity of your goal, you should probably make it more specific. To the point where there not be ANY doubt as to what it is you want.

How to Fix this Goal Setting Mistake


I cannot stress that enough.

Your unconscious mind is on your side! Even if it doesn’t feel that way, likely because you haven’t been giving the right instructions.

Your mind wants to help.

So you need to be as specific as possible so that it know what it should be helping you with! Again, if a child would not be able to understand EXACTLY what you want, get more specific!

For example:

  • I want a business that is making me $150000 per year in after-tax profit while allowing me to work 50 hours per week or less and go on vacation for 3 weeks per year.
  • I want to get in the best shape of my life so that I can finish the marathon of New York is 4 hours and 25 minutes.
  • I want to have $100000 in savings as well as investments that bring me a total monthly passive cash flow of $1750/month.

See how much more specific that is?

And still, if those are your goals, you could drill down even further if you really wanted to get crystal clear on your goals!

Mistake 3: Failing to Use Sensory Language

Let’s take things 1 step further.

When people set their goals, they set them for their conscious mind. However, it is mostly our unconscious that is in charge, which filters all the information we get through our 5 senses:

  • Visual (images)
  • Auditory (sounds)
  • Kinesthetic (feelings/touch)
  • Gustatory (taste)
  • Olfactory (smell)

Then there is a 6th way in which you experience the world.

We call this your Auditory Digital system in NLP by which we are referring to that voice in your head by which you talk to yourself.

In short, these 6 things form your representation of the world.

It is the language of your unconscious mind.

However, if you look at all of the examples above, they don’t use any language involving our senses. In other words, they don’t speak the same language as your unconscious.

How to Fix this Goal Setting Mistake

Think about when you achieve your goal:

  • How do you feel when you achieve it?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What are you telling yourself in that internal voice?

Factor these into your goals:

For example:

When I crossed that finish line of the marathon of New York, I could hear the excited cheering of the crowd. I look at the counter and realize I made it in 4 hours, 24 minutes and 17 seconds as a smile forms on my face. “I made it!” I can hear my internal voice shout to me. As I turn around, I can see my family come running towards me to give me a hug. They look as excited as I am and are ecstatic! As we hug, I feel tired with the sweat dripping down my body, but I feel prouder than I have ever felt in my life!

Just read that and notice how it feels inside of you compared to the previous goal examples I’ve written down.

World of difference, right?

Even when it is not your own goal, you can’t help but feel excited just reading that.

For your own goals, you want to have this level of emotional attachment so that your unconscious can get excited about it as well, and feel how meaningful the goal is to you!

Mistake #4: Using the Future Tense

Onto the next mistake.

Read the goal above again, and notice the specific language I’m using (besides all the sensory information). If you read it you’ll notice that I’ve only used the present and even the past tense.

This is critical!

One of the common goal setting mistakes people make is to state their goals in the future tense, which distances them from their goal.

For example:

  • I will be a millionaire.
  • I will reach my ideal weight.
  • I will find my perfect partner.

To your mind, these are things in the future and may very well remain in the future indefinitely.

How to Fix this Goal Setting Mistake

The fix is easy.

Whenever you sit down to write out your goal(s), you should write them down in the present tense as if you have already achieved them!

You want to paint the picture of that “in the now” moment when you achieve your goal.

Give your unconscious mind the sensation of having already achieved your goals, and you’ll find you’ll have an even stronger connection to your goal.

Mistake #5: Not Writing Down Your Goals

Recall the feelings you got when reading the goal I wrote down under #3.

That wasn’t even YOUR goal!

One of the benefits of writing down your goal is that you can (and should) read that goal on a daily basis. Imagine yourself having achieved it every single day and you’ll feel that power!

Most people make the mistake of not writing down their goals.

Because of this, their goals are often some internal mess! Because they don’t write things down, they’re usually not specific about it and don’t use the sensory language as if they have already achieved it.

It’s all about that clarity!

How to Fix this Goal Setting Mistake

This one is pretty obvious, right?

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After you have gone through all of the mistakes in this article, I want you to sit down in front of a piece of paper (or computer) and write your clear desired outcome down.

You’re going to use all of the things you’re learning here.

Meaning you write them out as detailed as you can, using sensory language, you’ll become crystal clear on your goal by writing it down so that your mind can help you achieve it!

Mistake #6: Not Considering the Effect on Others

Let me tell you a story:

This is a story I’ve heard as part of my certification course in NLP. I’m re-sharing it, because I think it’s so powerful in showing this concept:

So there was this guy with a dream:

To buy a house in Ireland and move there with his family.

However, this man has had this dream for 20 years and has still not achieved it. So he sought some therapy to figure out why.

They walked through the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting method:

Was the goal specific? Well, yes!

Was it measurable and meaningful? Yes, this man could vividly imagine his life when he achieved this goal.

Was it realistic? Absolutely!

So what was the issue?

The therapist then asked him this question:

“If you achieve your goal, what would be the impact on your loved ones? Your wife and children?”

The man went blank…

“I haven’t thought of that.” He said. After a few seconds he added “Well, my wife would lose her job and have to look for a new one. My kids have to move away from their friends and go to another school…”

“They probably would hate moving to Ireland!”

That’s the unconscious mind at work!

It knew this, even though he hasn’t consciously thought about it. For these 20 years it protected him, because he knew deep down that his wife and children wouldn’t want to move with him.

Achieving his goal would mean living in Ireland alone without the love of his life and with children (back home) who hated him.

The end result?

He changed his goal to buying a vacation home in Ireland, where they would go multiple times per year. And he reached that goal within 6 months!

The lesson is this:

The mistake most people make is that they often don’t consider the consequences for other people. And if those consequences aren’t in alignment your unconscious will protect you by sabotaging your goal!

How to Fix this Goal Setting Mistake

You will really have to think about your goal.

More specifically, you need to sit down and think about everyone involved in the goal. It should check these 3 boxes:

  • What’s the result for you?
  • What are the consequences for your loved ones?
  • What are the consequences for the world/people in general?

The first two are pretty self explanatory.

For the third one, let’s say the goal is building a successful business. However, that business would be terrible for the environment, and this person values the environment highly.

In this case, the person isn’t likely to reach that goal.

The reason is that it isn’t in line with his/her values. Deep down they know that achieving it means being detrimental to the environment, and so the unconscious mind sabotages the attempts at it.

Mistake #7: No Timeframe for the Goal

You probably got this part, right?

It’s one of the main things that people talk about with S.M.A.R.T. goals. Yet people often don’t put a specific date on their goals.

Just imagine this:

You’re the captain of your ship remember? So what if you gave your crew the task to sail to Sicily.

The crew would be wondering:

When are we supposed to be there? In a week? A month? Next year? Summers are nice there, so maybe by next summer?

It’s not the worst mistake on the list.

If you do everything else right, you will likely still reach the goal you set for yourself, but the downside is that it might take you significantly longer than it could have taken!

How to Fix this Mistake

You probably have an idea of how long it would take to achieve the goal.

Personally, I’d shorten that time a bit and then write that down as you’re creating your goal. Just like the example I shared at mistake 3, you want to add a day into the story.

The important part is to make sure it’s realistic, without doing yourself short.

For example, I have set myself an income goal for this blog. It’s a significant amount that I want to be earning (€3000+/month) and I’ve set the date for this for the end of May 2021.

Is it a short time frame for a new blog? Yes.

However, I know that I am very capable in both my writing as well as my marketing skills to pull it off. So it is definitely achievable.

If I set the date for the end of December (a little over a month from now as of writing this) then the timeframe would be too short.


If you don’t believe that you can achieve the goal by the date you chose, then it is unlikely that you will achieve your goal by that time.

Mistake #8: Not Being 100% Responsible for the Goal

Now there’s one final trap that people fall into.

It is the mistake of setting goals that are not 100% in the person’s control.

For example:

  • I want to convince my spouse to stop smoking.
  • I want this potential client to take the deal.
  • I want my girlfriend/boyfriend to propose to me.

So, what’s the issue?

As you can see in each of those examples, the person setting the goal is not the person who is responsible for achieving the goal in the end.

They do have some influence (often a lot), but they are not 100% responsible!

How to Fix This Goal Setting Mistake

In this case you need to re-frame your goal.

Your goal needs to be something where you are 100% responsible for the outcome.

For example:

  • I want to lead by example and make a solid case for living healthily.
  • I want to give the best damn presentation I’ve ever given to this potential client.
  • I want to be the most loving and caring person I can to create the best possible relationship.

Those are all things that you can do.

They have a lot of influence on the outcomes I shared earlier, but these goals are all about the things that you can control. Not the decision the other person makes.

Putting It All Together

Alright, we made it to the final step!

I want to congratulate you for sticking with it all the way to this point, because I know that this is a lot of information to take in!

It shows how dedicated you are to achieving your goals.

So, let’s get you on your way:

You have read about the 8 critical goal setting mistakes that many people and have learned how to avoid these mistakes, so that you can get your goal setting right!

Now, it’s your turn to write out your goals.

If you’ve read this article all the way, you have all the information and knowledge to do this. Just imagine you just achieved your goal and then write out your goal.

To give you some inspiration, here is part of mine (translated from Dutch, my native language):

It is the 29th of May and I have just reached my goal of making 3000 euros in revenue for this month with my company The Unchained Life. I can feel that warm feeling in my heart while the broadest smile I have ever had in my life starts to form on my face. In the meanwhile I can hear that voice in my head go “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! YES!” enthusiastically! I get out of bed, since it’s the morning just after I read the email that some of my commissions have been paid that pushed me over the 3000 euro threshold for the month of May.

I’m actually smiling from ear to ear just reading and typing that!

Go crazy when you are writing down your goals! Make it as detailed as you need it to be to really feel amazing about it! In my case, the above is just 1 paragraph, but there are 5 more.

Just make sure it’s crystal clear for you!

Taking Things to the Next Level!

Again, this might not be for you.

If you followed the steps in this article, you will have used some of the guiding principles of NLP to significantly increase the likelihood of you achieving your goals!

Give yourself a round of applause for that!

If you want to take things to the next level, I’d recommend learning about NLP and how to use it to reach your next level in life, check out this course.

Highly recommend if you want to dive deeper.

If that’s not you, then just get to work on going through the goal setting process to write down your desired outcomes!

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