3 signs you’ve set terrible goals

This post is part of a series on personal effectiveness and impact. You might like to review the previous articles:

“Goal” isn’t a dirty word (is it)?

Security isn’t a dirty word, Blackadder. Now, Crevice is a dirty word. But not Security…

~ General Melchett, Black Adder Goes Forth!

You may remember I talk about 3 main areas of personal effectiveness: Purpose, Plans and Productivity. Of course, the foundation of everything is purpose… because unless we know what are trying to accomplish, we’ll have a hard time accomplishing it!

This moves us on to idea of goal-setting. Now people have mixed feelings here. On one hand, goal-setting is undisputedly used by high-peforming individuals and teams in to get results in sport, business and other areas of life.

However for many of us, goal-setting has almost become a dirty word. We’ve probably set and failed at goals too many times before, and understandably don’t want to set ourselves up for failure again.

3 sounds you’ll make when you’ve set the wrong goals

The question then becomes: how do I reap the power of setting goals without ending up in failure and discouragement? Here are three exclamations you’ll want to avoid, and the goal-setting techniques that will get you to great goals.


Now “Bof!” is the sound a Frenchman makes when he shrugs his shoulders (I kid you not!) Bof! is the sound of indifference. And yet so often we set goals that don’t inspire us! We think we shouldlose some weight, or should get promoted, but we are not really committed to the outcome. Bof!

Jonathan Goodman says that many SMART goals miss out the R (“Relevance”) and become ‘SMAT’ goals! Or, as he likes to say, STUPID goals: Specific, Time oriented, Unintelligent, Pointless, Idiotic, Discouraging!

So: avoid the Bof! factor. Make sure your goals are truly relevant and that they really do excite and energise you.


“Yikes!” is the sound of overwhelm and panic. Yikes! is the result when we get over-excited and choose too many goals. We panic when we start to consider the reality of accomplishing those whilst juggling everything else in going on in our lives.

I had to learn this the hard way. I remember as a junior consulting manager having the opportunity to take on 3 big projects over the next three months. Frankly each one could have been a full-time commitment, and so taking on all three resulted in the ‘yikes’ factor! Whilst all three were completed satisfactorily, I failed to ‘ace’ any of them. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.

Avoid the Yikes! factor. Laser-focus on a tiny number of goals and crack those before adding anything else to your list.


“Eh?” is the sound of forgetfulness. Of distraction. Eh? is when we realise we’ve lived the last day, the last week or the last month without attention to our goal. It’s the sound of disengagement and, quite probably, of a goal abandoned.

I see this in many firms. Annual goals are set, but two months into the year barely anyone can remember what they were! The Eh? effect has occurred!

I write my top goals on a sticky note that sits on the bottom of my computer screen. I use the versatile IFTTT app to send myself daily reminders about my top goals. I review my goals every Monday morning. All these things form part of my strategy to avoid the Eh? effect!

Goal setting that works

I’ve found that clarity comes when we force ourselves to articulate a very small number of Galvanising Goals. These are specific, challenging and exciting outcomes we want to achieve in the next three months.

What are your galvanising goals? Do they:

  • avoid “Bof!” – by being deeply important to you
  • avoid “Yikes!” – by being tiny in number
  • avoid “Eh?” – by being visibly present and top-of-mind each day
Spread the word
  • James Atack

    Thanks for your valuable thoughts on this. Goals work for me in a professional context, but I have difficulties with them in my personal ilfe. The very act of setting a goal explicitly seems like a weight on my shoulders and puts me off trying the very thing I want to do. So instead I set vague directions and guiding values, and then hope that goal achievement will come out in the wash. This is as true with trying to lose weight as it is with personal development and strategic direction for my family. I’ll just decide I want to lose weight and I’ll go about it by eating less and skipping dessert most days. No specific goals but I’ve lost a kilo in 3 weeks 🙂
    I guess I would be more effective in all those areas if I set specific goals, but I don’t know how to deal with the ‘yuck’ reaction they provoke in me.

    • Richard Medcalf

      You raise such an interesting point James. But surely “just deciding to lose weight” IS actually a goal. Now if you want to do “high performance weight loss” then adding a targeting weight and a timeframe would increase your sense of momentum. But… it frankly might just not be the top priority right now (and you rightly want to avoid the “yikes factor”).

      I think by setting “vague directions and guiding values” you are actually giving considerable attention to avoid the “bof!” factor. You also manage to avoid the “eh?” factor through your considerable self-discipline in implementing the “skip dessert” rule!

      One big thing I’ve learned is we need to set ourselves up for wins. And I think having a measure we are tracking – as well as habits that will take us there – are helpful parts of getting wins on the board. So when I set myself a weight loss goal and tracked it diligently I lost 8kg in 4 weeks!