Convincing Others to Set Goals

Ever met someone who doesn’t set goals? Here’s a couple answers for common reasons people give for not setting goals.


DirectionI’m a vision seeking, goal setting, to-do list making person. I suspect you are too.

However, it’s likely that you run into people in your daily life who could care less about setting goals.  It’s also likely that you may manage some of them, or perhaps, be tasked with converting them to goal setting.  The horror!

How can you go about convincing others to set goals?

Here are some common excuses I’ve heard, and ways to work around these road blocks.

Every time I set goals, I fail!

Lots of people set goals… many of them on January first.  Others set department goals in response to initiatives from management.  Both of these sets of goals are often unrealistic, quickly lost in the daily to-do lists, or require a lot of metaphorical moving parts that don’t exist at hand.  Unsurprisingly, these goals fail because of lack of planning and so many things outside the goal-setter’s ability to control.

If this is the reason you hear for someone’s lack of goals setting, you need to help them assess why that goal didn’t work, and get their confidence back.  Ask questions such as:

Was the goal you set realistic? Did you have the time and money to accomplish the goal, or was it a stretch? Did it require other people who didn’t have time to dedicate to the project?  Was the goal in line with your overall priorities for the year?

One goal I had for this year was to run a half-marathon, and I was hoping to do it in May.  However this goal directly conflicted with my volunteering goals, and goal to get a job.  I used my free time to pursue those goals, rather than run.  Therefore I “failed” in respect to my half-marathon goal.  I didn’t take a moment to assess how much free time I had, sometime simply assessing resources will help people set realistic goals.

I already have a to-do list.

Yep, me too.

Let’s go back to that first sentence “Vision seeking, goal setting, to-do list making”  I’m surprised how often people mix up those three items, but they are absolutely not the same thing. Your goals are not another to-do list, and furthermore your goals should flow from your vision.  Vision is focused, and it starts at the top.  It’s the 50,000 foot view, not the street view.  When you decide where you’re going to go, it means you can’t see travel down all the side streets.

I hate that.

With every cell in my body I want to be able to do all the things I like to do, read all the books, see all the friends, run all the races, write all the blog posts.

But a vision means that you have a place you’re going.

Here’s the good news.

Having a vision means your to-do list can get shorter.

Why is that? Because it becomes easier to stop adding things to your list and life that don’t matter.  You stop getting so attached to projects that don’t contribute to your bottom line, or your overall success.  It becomes easier to look at other people who are doing those things and say “It’s great that they can do that, but it doesn’t contribute to my happiness or my plan.”

If this is the reason someone gives you, ask them questions that get at the types of items on their to do list.  Ask: Are these tasks contributing to your overall success?  Who sets your to-do list?

I don’t have time to set goals.

Imagine you’re heading from Salem, Massachusetts to San Diego, California, and you have a timeline of a week to travel there. So you set out on your bike. By the end of the first day you realize, “There’s a long way to go, and I’m not even close to meeting my first deadline. I better work harder.”  It doesn’t matter how hard you work pedaling that bicycle, you will not make it to California in a week.  Google maps estimates that it’ll take you 269 hours, and there’s only 168 hours in a week!

A lot of times people think there’s not time to set goals, then set out on their bike to make a cross-country trip.  But, taking a look at the vision, and then assessing the methods you’ll use to achieve them is crucial.  Instead of using a bicycle – try a car, or a plane!  Suddenly you’ll find a lot more time in your schedule, once you’ve assessed the methods for tackling your to do lists.

Setting intentional goals save time because you can properly assess your resources, build your team, and cut out the side trips, and finally, picking the appropriate vehicle to travel in.

The next time you run into people who are skeptical about goal setting, figure out the why behind their excuses, and then set them straight.  Gently.