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Why goal setting is dumb and what to do instead

- March 15, 2024 3 MIN READ

Goal setting is often touted as the holy grail of success. Yet, amidst the initial excitement of setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals, there is one thing that always gets in the way when we set out to achieve what we want, ourselves, writes business coach Jim Cocks.

What if I told you that goal setting is not the holy grail it’s made out to be? What if, instead of fixating on rigid objectives, there’s a more effective way to navigate the unpredictable terrain of business building?

The pitfalls of goal setting

Before delving into alternative approaches, let’s examine why goal setting may not always deliver the desired results:

1. Rigidity:

Setting specific goals can be limiting. In a rapidly changing business world, adaptability is paramount. This is where rigid goals may hinder the ability to pivot and seize emerging opportunities. Always ensure you hold a level of flexibility in your thinking and you may find a shortcut.


2. Tunnel vision:

As a coach I always say “what you focus on is what you get” and goal setting can sometimes lead entrepreneurs to fixate solely on the endpoint rather than the journey. This focus can obscure valuable learning experiences and prevent us from exploring alternative paths to success.

3. Unrealistic expectations:

I once got on a call with a coach looking for some mentoring to start his new business. Brand new to entrepreneurship he had recently attended a Tony Robbins and set the audacious goal of achieving $10 million in 10 months, ambitious, yes, probable, no. As much as I tried to help him see the reality of his given situation he would not shift from the unrealistic outcome. So I kindly wished him well and didn’t offer him a place in my mastermind. Setting over-ambitious goals may fuel motivation initially, but unrealistic expectations simply bring disappointment when objectives aren’t met. They can also overshadow the joy of progress and growth. Yes, I gave away a sale, but if my clients are set up with unrealistic expectations, I can’t support them to achieve the best outcomes.

4. Fear of Failure:

Goal setting can also heighten the fear of failure, we become fixated on avoiding setbacks and preserving this predetermined trajectory. How can we expect to do something right 100% of the time? Especially when it’s something we have never done before. I don’t know about you, but adventure is one of my biggest values (so much so it’s tattooed on my arm). Without embracing the chance of failure, things will get pretty boring.

Embracing a process-oriented approach

Rather than fixating on rigid goals, successful entrepreneurs often adopt a process-oriented approach, prioritising planning, continuous improvement and learning.


1. Focus on systems:

Instead of setting specific goals, focus on developing systems that facilitate growth and progress. By cultivating habits and routines entrepreneurs can create sustainable frameworks for long-term achievement. Planning should happen Quarterly and Annually at minimum. Giving you time to reflect on where you have come and where you are heading, with solid next steps to get there.

2. Embrace progress, however it appears:

View success as a journey not a destination, experiment, adapt, refine. Embrace the concept of “failing forward,” recognizing that setbacks are opportunities for learning and growth.

3. Cultivate a growth mindset:

Adopt a growth mindset, characterised by a belief in your ability to learn and improve over time. Embrace challenges as opportunities for development and reframe setbacks as stepping stones towards success.

4. Prioritise values-based action:

The biggest pivot in my own 7 figure company was to align my actions with the core values and beliefs of not only myself but my team, focusing on meaningful impact. Prioritising this system allows you to create a business that is both personally fulfilling and successful.

The power of reflection and planning

In lieu of rigid goal setting, entrepreneurs can harness the power of reflection and longer term planning to guide their journey:

1. Plan, Plan, Plan:

Rather than setting specific goals, plan in alignment with your long-term vision and values. Planning monthly outcomes as an example provides a flexible framework for decision-making, allowing entrepreneurs to adapt to changing circumstances while staying true to their overarching objectives.

2. Practise regular reflection:

Engage in regular reflection to assess progress, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate achievements. By cultivating a habit of introspection, entrepreneurs can gain valuable insights into their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth.

3. Stay agile and adaptive:

Remain agile and adaptive in your approach, responding proactively to evolving market dynamics and customer needs. Embrace uncertainty as an inherent aspect of entrepreneurship, leveraging your resilience and creativity to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.

By embracing a process-oriented approach, prioritising values-based action, and harnessing the power of intentions and reflection, entrepreneurs can navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship with resilience, creativity, and adaptability. Success is not a destination to be reached but rather a journey to be embraced—an ongoing pursuit of growth, learning, and fulfilment. Let go of those rigid goals and embrace the freedom of possibility.


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