6 Reasons Why Goal Setting Doesn’t Work

Sports Psychology Tips: 6 Reasons Why Goal Setting Doesn't Work

Goal setting can be a very powerful process but...

Goal setting is widely used in the field of sport and performance psychology.  Goal setting consists of defining specific short term and long term goals. This is in order to have a sense of direction and know what you want to achieve, as well as knowing if you are on track or not and therefore able to implement changes to obtain your goal.  Goal setting also helps you to define clear objectives.  To help with your motivation, persistence, focus and to influence your performance.  Although this strategy has specific steps defined in an acronym as SMART which stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant  and Time-based”, goal setting interventions should be tailored to the needs of each individual.  Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate what you as an individual want to achieve and “how” you will work towards each goal. 

In terms of the SMART approach the objective has to be specific, clear and defined in a positive manner.  It is helpful for it to be measurable which means that you will be able to evaluate it objectively, so that the direction and improvements can be seen.  The goal has to be relevant and attainable, so that it is not too difficult and perceived as overly challenging.  Yet, your goals don’t want to be too easy too and risk you being demotivated.  

Finally, time based goals are important.  Setting a date which you can aim to achieve your goals.  They could be short term, a mid term or in the long term.  For instance, a goal for a runner can be to run a marathon between 2 hours and 30 and 3 hours, but before achieving that goal can have a 10 km run and an half marathon goal aiming at running within a specific time frame.  As for running the athlete can also, as an objective, decide to train more days during the week or increase the number of km run or decrease the time needed to run a distance.  In short, to know how long to run for and exactly what distance and at what intensity level.

To improve your clarity about your objectives, you can also visualize your goals using your senses and really feel, see and hear what you want to achieve.

You could focus on the result, such as winning a match or winning the Olympic Gold medal.  You could focus on the process, such as learning new skills , or on the performance such as improving a task or some specific abilities.  Focusing on the process and on the performance as well as on the result can be beneficial in that paying attention only on the result can often place a great deal of pressure on you, the athlete.  

Why Goal Setting Fails

  1. Focusing only on outcome goals or results only is not advised, as they are outside of your control.  Gain a nice balance by adding performance goals and process goals too as they are more likely to be within your control.
  2. Setting unachievable goals.  This is when your goals are not stated in a positive manner and your unconscious mind looks at them in a negative way.  You could ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 how likely it is that you will achieve your goal to aid the process.
  3. When your goal is unclear or it is not measurable.  This can mean that you do not know whether or not that you have achieved the goal.  So again ask yourself an important question – is this goals measurable?
  4. Setting too many goals.  This can make goal setting feel like an overwhelming experience which leaves you demotivated and confused.  Keep it simple is the way forward in this respect!    
  5. You don’t set the goal, your coach does and you’re not confident enough to challenge them.  By not saying anything to your coach and not agreeing to the goal that is set, often leads to frustration and can also impact on your self-esteem.  It’s certainly best to be open and honest with your coach where possible.
  6. Last, but not least uncertainty, such as during pandemic scenario due to COVID restrictions or if you have a long-term injury can make planning difficult and the future unknown.  Therefore, this is where short-term and process goals that are under your control are very important. 

To sum up, setting goals can be a very effective intervention to improve performances.  It can also be fun and a creative process and can most definitely help you to move to the next level when done correctly. 

If you’d like to reach out for support to help you set clear and simple goals this year I can be contacted here.

You may also wish to join our growing community – THE SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY HUB – for regular Sports Psychology tips, podcasts, motivation and support.

Alessia Bruno

Best Wishes 

Alessia Bruno

Clinical and Sport Psychologist, EMDR Europe Consultant and Performance Coach based in Northern Italy.

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]

How To Overcome Batting Woes In Cricket #BITESIZE

How To Overcome Batting Woes In Cricket #BITESIZE Tom Jones is a highly qualified cricket coach with a fascination for the mental side of the game.  He is also the owner of Cricket Coach 365, a cricket coaching organisation whose philosophy is all about helping junior cricketers build self-awareness and resilience so that they can

Read More »

Are You Really Committed To Your Craft? #BITESIZE

Are You Really Committed To Your Craft? #BITESIZE Penny Mallory is a former Rally Champion and the first and only woman in the world to drive a World Rally Car for Ford. Although her interest began with automotive performance, her passion quickly shifted to human performance and Mental Toughness. Now, as a leading Authority on

Read More »

How To Distance Yourself From Your Thoughts #BITESIZE

Long Term Injuries: How to Confront Difficult Thoughts and Emotions Keagen Hadley is a doctor of occupational therapy specializing in using psychological treatments such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) with his patients. As a patient and therapist, he has a deep understanding of the interventions and knows how emotional stress can interfere with rehabilitation,

Read More »

How To Use ACT and Mindfulness When You’ve Got Lots Of Time To Think #BITESIZE

ACT in Sport, Improving Performance through Mindfulness Dr James Hegarty has a wide range of experiences as a Clinical Psychologist and a long standing interest in Sports Psychology.  Throughout his career he has worked with sports people, from passionate amateurs through to professional athletes.  He was an early adopter of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Training, and

Read More »

Search Our Sports Psychology Website​

Popular Categories

Join Our Online Community Now!

Mental Edge Newsletter

Are you an athlete, coach or parent that would like to learn how to create sustainable high performance? Receive our free regular newsletter, where we share proven mental toughness and high performance tips and strategies. If you want some support and motivation straight to your inbox, then sign up below.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.