Lowering the Bar When Goal Setting

This topic may be a bit controversial, but I am seeing it so much with my clients that I feel the need to write about it.  In the article, How To Fuel Your Motivation, I wrote about goal setting and how it involves knowing your “Why,” your outcome, and the steps needed to get there.  While many people struggle to even set goals in the first place, others fall into another category.  Those are the people who are overly motivated, have an array of goals with very stringent timelines, yet never seem to accomplish those goals because they get overwhelmed.  If that happens to be you then continue reading for some insights. 

A big part of goal setting is to plan and set realistic timelines around each goal. 

This is where the problem lies for those of you who are high achievers, Type A personalities, or who simply have extremely high expectations for yourselves.  When coaching my clients, I use the first two sessions to discuss goals and we plan out strategies for achieving those goals.  However, when someone comes to a session with a list of 25–30 goals to accomplish within one year of coaching we must take a step back.  Sometimes the bar is set too high and the expectations those people have on themselves are just not realistic.  They can end up with too much on their plate, too many commitments, too much stress, failing to achieve according to their standards, then beating themselves up for it in the end. 

So, I ask them to lower the bar.  I realize this is counterintuitive for many of you and, hence, my first sentence of this blog.  However, the process I use helps them obtain a realistic look at their goals and timelines.  Lowering the bar does not have to mean eliminating goals.  But it does mean taking a more thoughtful approach. 

Follow the steps below (preferably with a coach) and give yourself a break so that you can still achieve your goals but with less stress. 


You may have 20 goals but perhaps five of them fall under the category of “communication.”  For example, you may want to learn to give better feedback to your direct reports, handle conflict better, figure out what to do with your own feedback, be more direct, and be a better presenter.  All of those would be considered a communication goal and they would become one goal.  In coaching we would then put together a strategy for how to achieve that goal and many of the steps within the strategy would overlap into all five areas.  So, it’s important to categorize your goals or create themes. 

Personal and Professional

Try to have a good balance of personal and professional/business goals.  Some people are so focused on succeeding in the workplace that they forget to set some personal goals.  Some examples of personal goal categories are health, financial, emotional, mental, intellectual, social, and environmental.


It is especially important to figure out which goals are the highest priority.  Some people are great at categorizing but not so great at prioritizing.  During this step, I ask some very direct questions to get my clients thinking.  Is this a time-sensitive goal?  Is this based on a deliverable?  What impact does it have?  Could you lose your job if you do not achieve this goal?  We talk through the various scenarios until we prioritize all the categories.

Short and Long Term

We then prioritize into short term and long term goals.  I consider short term goals to be 60–90 days, or low hanging fruit.  I consider long term goals to be 1–5 years.  Although, some people also need to consider longer term goals like 10–15 years.  It depends on the categories we came up with during that step.  You could also have short, medium, and long term goals.  This step is where people really struggle, and this is where I ask them to lower the bar.  It is not a sin to stretch out your goals over a longer period. 

Give yourself some room here and come up with a plan that will not put you into a frenzy.  Given, with a coach most goals can and do get achieved quicker but for people who are not working with a coach you need to allow some wiggle room.  If it is not realistic to accomplish something in five years, then plan on seven years.  You will always be reviewing and reevaluating your goals anyway so you will be able to shift if needed.  Goals are a framework, not etched in stone, because life happens the way it happens and there are many things you cannot control. 


Once your goals are divided up between short and long term, then you must look at timelines for the individual goals, and the steps within those goals.  People tend to get too aggressive here as well, so I make sure my clients step back and take a realistic look.  I help them see the bigger picture of all the other things going on in their life and how this goal fits in.  What do they have to sacrifice to meet this timeline?  What does this do to other areas of their life?

Multiple Tracks

Many times, in coaching I help my clients work on multiple tracks of their goals at the same time.  This means that we might be working on several categories of goals simultaneously.  It does not have to be a linear process of achieving one goal before moving on to the next.  But this takes planning, organizing, and focus to stay on track.  If you are trying this on your own be sure to monitor your stress levels and be willing to readjust if needed.      

Review and Adjust 

This step is often overlooked.  You need to make the time to go back and look at your goals to do several things:  adjust timelines, remove goals, add goals, reprioritize, or recategorize. When and how often you do the review depends on the goals and timelines.  Most of my clients are in coaching for a minimum of one year.  So, we informally review their goals every few months, with a formal checkpoint every quarter.  I, personally, set my personal and business goals in the late fourth quarter for the upcoming year with a review each month.

Goal setting involves process, planning, strategy, collaboration, and review but most of all it involves being realistic. 

Some people are not motivated enough, and others are too motivated.  Either way, without the proper balance you will get nothing accomplished.  Now that we are in the fourth quarter take a stab at setting realistic goals for 2021 and beyond by following the steps above.  You can also find more in-depth information on this process in chapter seven of my book, How to Win & Keep Clients.  As always, please reach out if you have any questions!

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