Why trying to achieve ambitious goals is bad

Why trying to achieve ambitious goals is bad

Ambitious goals are bad. Period.

We could’ve also called this post: “How to set goals” or “How to achieve goals”. But many people are so blinded by wanting to reach their destination immediately, they set their goals too ambitiously and falter under the pressure. That has to stop!

However, before we get into that we’re going to set a few things straight.

The difference between a goal and a vision.

You probably heard that you have to set concise goals for yourself to reach them, and that’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s only half the truth. Because if you make a concise long-term goal, such as: “within 5 years I have to become a millionaire”, then you focus on a long term result you’re not 100 % the master of.

Why are you not the master of this? Because often external forces play a large role when we try to achieve something, and since we are not master of the decisions of others, we cannot be 100 % sure to achieve it. If you want to become a millionaire within 5 years through investing in stocks, for example, you can be the best in the world but you cannot control if there’ll be a market crash. The more specific the goal gets, the more difficult it therefore becomes to reach.

“The more specific the goal gets, the more difficult it therefore becomes to reach.”

However, if you have a vision (the general idea) of becoming a millionaire or simply increasing your income, you focus on the PROCESS of ending up in that general area, including the tools and competences that will help you get there. These you can control and that input will steer you towards your wanted output, meaning you learn the mechanics of how to get there, instead of being blinded by a target that relies on the grace of external factors.

That might mean you end up a millionaire after 6 years or that you have 0.9 million after 5 years – it doesn’t matter, because you focused on how to get there and now you have the tools to continue to build on your vision AND live it out.


So… when do I use what?

Before answering that question, we also introduce: plans and directions. In short: a plan is the tool to reach a goal and a direction is the tool to work towards a vision.

Up to 90 days is a plan but everything above that is a vision. Because life changes so fast and with such unpredicted chaos that it’s nearly impossible to plan more than 90 days ahead. Trying to do so you’ll have to include various margins of error the longer ahead you plan, making your goal less and less specific and concise, to a point where it has in fact become a vision. A direction however, is the… well… direction you set to work towards your vision.

A plan involves concise measures to solve issues standing in the way of reaching the concise goal, whereas the direction involves incremental changes that push you towards where you want to go – your vision.

  • Goal and plan: “We want to increase our income by 100.000 USD for the quarter, which we will do by increasing our advertisement budget by 20 % to drive new customers to our website.”
  • Vision and direction: “We want to become the number 1 wooden clog company in the world, which we will do by increasing the quality of our work and our overall presence on social media.”

You see? The difference is found in the time. The longer time, the less concise you can be because more and more is left to the will of others (external factors).


Set goals for shorter period of time if there’s something you want to reach soon, but focus on the mechanics and tools if there’s something you want to work towards and reach later.


Cool. I get it. So, why are ambitious goals bad?

You probably also heard that you need to be super ambitious and ask the most of yourself. Don’t accept anything less than perfection! Be ambitious! Shoot for the stars!

This sounds good and it’s easy to sell. Demand perfection and you’ll get nothing less – a perfect example of a one-size-fits-all unicorn… It doesn’t exist.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious in life but when we ask too much of ourselves without being ready to meet those expectations, we often falter under the pressure of fear of failure. Ambitious goals are bad because they can make you give up when you realize you don’t know how to, or even that you can’t, reach them.

“we often falter under the pressure of fear of failure.”

Most people don’t differentiate between goal or vision, so for the sake of argument, goal is understood more broadly in the following:


Then what should I do!?

Lower the bar and set less ambitious goals.

“That’s awful advice! Everyone tells me to shoot for the stars, and for the stars I shall SHOOT!”

By all means. Do as you wish. Achieving goals of high ambition does yield great results, but with higher ambition also comes higher chance of failure. And forgive the rudeness: you’re not ready for that yet.

This might seem a bit blunt and a slight generalization but: If you did not want or need to improve on setting goals that work, you would not be reading this.

The aim is to set ACHIEVABLE goals. Goals based on your limit and current skill level.

“The aim is to set ACHIEVABLE goals”

Setting goals that are easier to achieve doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious and push yourself but it’s important you don’t push yourself too far.

If you set yourself an ambitious goal of speaking to 10 strangers in a week, you’ll feel bad if you “only” speak to 5 and you’ll see it as a failure, even if 5 strangers by other metrics would have been a success. It would have been a great success if your goal had been 3, for example. And if you feel bad, if you see this as a failure, a defeat, you might not want to continue. You’ll be discouraged and you’ll give up.

And when you give up on what you want in life, you give up on yourself – which is a shame because you deserve more!

“when you give up on what you want in life, you give up on yourself”

Another scenario of an overly ambitious goal is that you don’t even begin because your goal is so ambitious it’s frightening. Like so many times before the dark voices in the back of your head are telling you – screaming at you – that you’re going to fail and there’s no reason to try – you should just save yourself the embarrassment.

Now wipe away that negative image and imagine you set a lower goal. No, not 0. Imagine you lower the bar, but you still challenge yourself. You tell yourself you have to talk to 2 strangers in a week. That’s doable. For everyone.

“But that’s so low! It’s too easy!”

Yes. Since it’s so much lower you might even reach it on the Wednesday… but then what happens? If it’s too ambitious you might fail and falter, but if it’s low you’ll have a successful experience, and nobody stops you from setting a new goal afterwards.

You might even feel so happy, you set yourself a goal of another 3 before the week is done and who knows – you might end up with 10 after all. Because you were driven by success and the happiness of achieving your goals, instead of being stopped by fear of failure or a misunderstood notion of what defeat really is.

The point is: you set yourself a goal you know you can achieve. Not lower, not higher – but doable!

“set yourself a goal you know you can achieve. Not lower, not higher – but doable!”

When we start something new we often have a tendency to make it much more difficult than it is. Often, all we have to do is to start slow and see how fast we can go from there. If you set your goals low and achieve them, it can spur you on to gradually set your goals higher, and eventually you might just reach those stars you were shooting for.


So, in conclusion

Long-term goals can be problematic because chances of success rely too much on external factors.

Everything above 90 days is therefore no longer a goal, it’s a vision, and it requires the right measures to work towards it. Meaning you set out a direction and focus on the tools and processes that will take you closer to it.

The focus on setting ambitious goals won’t help you, because if they become too ambitious they might deter you from starting and make you falter and give up. Instead:

When we talk about goals and visions, we shouldn’t be bothered about if it’s ambitious enough, we should be concerned about if it’s doable.

[bctt tweet=”We shouldn’t be bothered about if it’s ambitious enough, we should be concerned about if it’s doable” username=”ezphilo”]

2 Replies to “Why trying to achieve ambitious goals is bad”

  1. Great thoughts, Rasmus! Quality improvement is all about flexibility and resilience, in my opinion. If we don’t want to live life in constant “campaign period mode,” then we have to develop a long-term sustainable plan about our direction and vision. Life is all about unexpected extra rounds, off-track experiences, and zig-zag movements – those teach us a lot! -, so we have to be prepared to fail in meeting quantifiable goals. In fact, we have to get accustomed to “failing”; and the best is to take baby steps first… Be kind to yourself, be willing to teach yourself, love your progress, accept help & help others – these simple credos go for self-improvement as well. Goals and facts & figures are reliable feedback, but instinct, feelings (feeling good or bad about something), and general well-being are better indicators of progress or a need for change in direction. 🙂

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