This is article is part of a series. See all of them here.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Have you ever heard that quote? Well, I’m here to tell you that you should just ignore it. And I’ll tell you why.
Why we like big goals
I think that many of us like to set big goals for ourselves. And motivational speakers always encourage us to do so. They tell us that anything is possible, we are capable of great things and we should reach for the stars. And to be honest, I get that.
I think big goals are so alluring because:
- we are inspired by all the possibilities
- they make us feel more ambitious
- they make us feel better than the people who set small goals
- we think about how great it would be to have those dreams come true
When we think about our New Year’s Resolutions, we want to think of goals such as: make 1 million dollars, get 500,000 followers on YouTube, start a successful company, become a best-selling author, buy a house, look like a model, become famous and so on.
But despite all this, I think setting big goals is a big mistake. After you set a big goal, here’s what can usually happen:
1. You set a big goal and you achieve it.
I think this is the less likely scenario, but it’s definitely not impossible. But keep in mind that if you want to set a big goal and achieve it you probably need to have skills, knowledge, a clear plan, good discipline, time to work on your goal and so on. In some cases, you may even need money, connections and even luck!
So if you are attempting to achieve a big goal in a field you do not know or that requires a skill you do not have, there’s a small chance you will succeed. You need time to get great at most things.
But if you already have the skills, the knowledge or the proven strategy, then you have a good chance at achieving even a big goal. However, if that is the case, I’d say you do not have a big goal. You have an achievable goal.
2. You set a big goal and you fail.
To be honest, I think this is the most common thing that happens. It’s easy to get carried away by the initial excitement of a very big goal. But once the excitement wears off, you realize that this big goal is probably out of reach. If you do not have the necessary knowledge, skills or discipline, you’ll soon lose motivation and give up.
Why you are likely to fail at achieving a big goal
1. It will scare you and you will lose motivation
Setting a really big goal is exciting. Working for a really big goal may not be that exciting. Maybe you will be so scared or anxious by your goal that you won’t even get started. Or maybe you will work on it only long enough to realize how hard it is and then you’ll give up.
Why does this happen? One reason is that when we think about ourselves in the future, the brain thinks about us just as it thinks about other people. In other words, we think our big goals will be achieved by our future selves (who are as different to us as a different person).
You know how we always think that we’ll be more active, productive, disciplined, healthy (and so on) in the future? It’s because we expect we will be different people in the future…but sadly, it’s still us – even though sometimes we do become an improved version of ourselves.
So you’re likely to set an audacious goal because Future You will take care of it. But as time goes by, you realize that Future You doesn’t show up so it’s up to you to do all the work to achieve a really big goal. And that’s when you panic, give up or do both.
2. You are not skilled or knowledgeable enough
Maybe you are not scared by your big goal. You are inspired by it and you keep working on it. But you soon realize that you need skills and knowledge to achieve your goal – and you have neither. I mention skills and knowledge because that’s what you need to succeed in most fields.
If you do not have either, but you have great discipline and a lot of free time, maybe you can compensate by quickly developing the skills and acquiring the knowledge you need.
However, there is one more reason why I think you’re bound to fail if you set a big goal. If you set a really big goal for a relatively short time, I think you won’t succeed because you are overconfident and under-skilled.
Are you just suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect?
And the reason why I say this is a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This refers to a cognitive bias that makes people think they are much more capable than they truly are. When you are incompetent in a field, sometimes you underestimate your abilities because you are not self-aware enough to accurately assess your competence.
So if you think that you can achieve a really big goal (even without great skills and lots of expertise), I think you’re just suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Your high hopes are unrealistic and no matter how much you believe in yourself, this belief cannot compensate for necessary skills. This is why I am always skeptical of people who are cavalier and proudly announce their audacious goals publicly. If that’s you, please take a moment to re-assess your goals.
In case you think you have fallen into this trap too, don’t feel bad about it. I’ve certainly done that too. A few years ago I was so blinded by motivational bs that I let myself dream a little too much. I quit my job and I thought that it will only take me a few years to get thousands of followers online and make thousands of dollars every month. Of course, I didn’t have any remarkable skills or expertise, but I thought that shouldn’t stop me! Wow, was I wrong!
It’s embarrassing for me to even think about this now – let alone publicly share it here. But I just want to make it clear that you can fool yourself quite easily – no matter how educated or smart you are! Also, if you consume a lot of self-help, motivational content that is not science-based, you’re probably more likely to overestimate yourself and dream too big too.
What to do instead: Set achievable goals
I honestly think the best approach is to set achievable goals. Set goals that are big enough to inspire you but small enough that you are sure you can achieve them. What does that mean? Think about what you want to achieve in light of what you have already achieved and what you are capable of.
If you are very skilled and were very successful in your pursuit in the recent past, then set bigger goals. But if you are just starting out or if you experienced failure in the past, then be reasonable. Set a smaller goal than you would like to and make sure you do your best. When you achieve it, set a bigger goal and keep going!
Don’t just say “I’ll 10x my business (or anything else) in 3 months” even if you have no idea how to do that. Start by doubling it and keep going. It is far more impressive to show results than to brag about your dreams.
Keep in mind that you will feel much better if you set a small goal and achieve it than if you set a big goal and fail.
I think that if your results are the same, there is no difference between setting 10 small goals or setting a big one. But I think you’re more likely to achieve the small goals and get the motivation to keep going!
I just wasn’t to add this: I realize that this is my advice based on my experience, knowledge and awareness. Maybe you want to ignore everything I said. Maybe you’re sure you really are capable of shooting for the moon and landing on it. Well, if that’s what you think, set a big goal for yourself! In time you will see if you have the ability to reach it or not and you can always adjust!
Goals are meant to make your life more meaningful and more inspiring. Since failure is painful and success is inspiring, do your best to avoid the former and create the latter. You don’t need to shoot for the moon or the stars to do that – just aim for a better life!
This article is part of a 30-day series where I’ll share an article every day. I will mainly focus on goals, success and habits and I hope this series will help you have a higher chance of achieving your meaningful goals in 2020!