Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
April 16, 2022

Setting Unrealistic Goals Can Set You Up For Failure

If you suffer from perfectionism, chances are you set lofty goals for yourself. Setting goals is great and helps you move forward into the life you want to live. Goal-setting becomes a problem when you come up with unrealistic goals or are aiming too high for a particular goal. 

Often when we set unrealistic goals we set ourselves up for failure. Failure isn’t a bad thing – there’s always a lot to learn from failure. However, if you set yourself up for failure every time you set a lofty goal, you’ll eventually feel like a failure for not achieving it. There’s a balance when it comes to setting goals that can help stop you from feeling like a failure.

I’m not saying don’t set goals. But setting unrealistic goals can become problematic when you’re unable to achieve them. If your self-worth is tied to your ability to achieve all the lofty goals you’ve set, you’re going to burn out and doubt yourself. Your self-worth will decrease and you’ll start feeling bad about yourself. So how do we prevent that from happening?

Realistic vs. Unrealistic Goals

It’s good to hold yourself to a high standard. But if you’re an anxious perfectionist, setting unrealistic goals is a dangerous trap that can leave you feeling like a failure if you don’t meet them. So how do you know if a goal is realistic or not?

Realistic goals are practical. They include things like getting a certification in an area you’re studying or applying for a job position that you want. Some other realistic goals might be smaller, like planning meals for the week or meeting a deadline at work. 

It can be easy for realistic goals to become unrealistic goals. If you’re aiming too high for a particular goal, it might be just out of your reach. And that’s ok. You’re not going to meet every goal you set for yourself. The important part is to remember that you aren’t a failure if you don’t meet a goal. It just means you might need to adjust your goals to make them more realistic and attainable.

There are a few ways to achieve realistic goals:

  • Take stock of your capabilities and capacity to take on new goals
  • Look at what your strengths and weaknesses are
  • Identify what your opportunities and threats are
  • Look at the potential downfalls of setting a particular goal
  • Come up with a strategy
  • Stay calm
  • Get feedback from others
  • Read stories of success and failure

The more “research” you do on the goals you’re setting, the better your chance of succeeding and meeting your goals. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. But if you create unrealistic goals, you may be setting yourself up for feeling like a failure. And no one wants that.

Unrealistic goals are tricky to identify because they could easily become realistic goals with the right adjustments. For example, if you’re setting a financial goal to earn a million dollars in a year, that might be an unrealistic goal that sets you up for failure when you don’t achieve it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set financial goals. 

Take stock of your abilities and what seems reasonable. Maybe break it down by quarters instead of by the year. If you make a million dollars, great, but if not, don’t fall apart and think that you’re a failure. Recognize that making a million dollars in one year was an unrealistic goal. But you have the power to turn it into a realistic one.

Another type of unrealistic goal could be related to working out. Moving your body is great and something I highly recommend. But sometimes you can set unrealistic goals about how often you exercise or how much weight you lift or how many miles you run. It’s better to ease into moving your body, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a while, rather than jumping in full speed to work out every day and go as hard as you can. You could burn out and feel as if you failed.

Do research when it comes to setting goals. See what professionals recommend and try to adjust your goals to fit something that is more attainable. Aiming too high for a particular goal will just set you up for feeling like a failure if you don’t meet it.

aiming too high for a particular goal

Aiming Too High For a Particular Goal

It can be difficult to know whether you’re aiming too high for a particular goal. If we look at the example of earning a million dollars in one year, there are people out there who do that. But are you set up to earn that kind of money? 

Not everyone is Jeff Bezos, and that’s ok. Adjusting your goals to be more realistic sets you up for success. If you exceed your goal, it’s time to make a new one. Again, make sure that goal is attainable and within your skillset. Maybe you aim for making $100,000 a year. Or $75,000. Or maybe your financial goal is just to make enough to pay rent and bills and have enough left over for social outings. 

Whatever your realistic goal is, don’t place judgment on it or compare yourself to others. Focus on what you are capable of, what seems attainable, and go out there and crush those goals.

Why Is It Important to Set Realistic Goals?

The last thing you want to do is to set your sights so high that the goal becomes unattainable. Because when you do that, you could be setting yourself up for failure, which leads to a spiral of self-doubt, depression, anxiety, and self-loathing. 

Setting realistic goals is actually good for your mental health. It helps keep you working towards something. You feel really good when you reach that goal. The perfectionist in you is pleased with your accomplishments. You keep the negative voices at bay by achieving your goals. 

Setting unrealistic goals or aiming too high for a particular goal just tees you up for failure. And no one’s got time for that shit. Think about what you can realistically achieve. It’s great to dream big, but when it comes to executing those dreams, make sure your goals are based on reality.

Therapy and Coaching Can Help You If You’re Setting Unrealistic Goals

Still not sure whether you’re aiming too high for a particular goal? I can help you work through your challenges and come up with goal-setting strategies to keep you from feeling like a failure.

During our work together, you’ll learn how to set realistic goals and see them through. We’ll come up with coping skills to deal with perfectionism and help you step confidently into the world knowing what you’re dealing with and how you can manage it.

I also offer a coaching program for perfectionists that is designed to give you support and guidance around feeling good enough in your professional and personal life – no matter where you live. If you want help overcoming the belief that you have to constantly achieve in order to be worthwhile – and this belief is making you suffer – coaching is for you.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started with therapy or coaching.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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