Five Downsides to Goal Setting … and How You Can Deal with Each

Hiker woman searching direction with a compass in the mountains. Point of view shot

Five Downsides to Goal Setting ... and How You Can Deal with EachYou’ve heard it many times before. You may have even studied programs to help you with it. You’ve seen your friends and colleagues succeed with them. But have you ever thought there might be some actual negatives to setting your goals?

Before you think this article might contradict everything you’ve learned about the benefits of this time-honored strategy, hold up.

Achieving what you want as a freelance web writer is still best realized with goals, then breaking those down into more manageable objectives and tasks. They provide a clear roadmap of where you need to go and what happens next. If you make them SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, timely), you can increase your chances for success even more.

Yet the current pervasive goal-setting mentality comes from a study often cited that’s not quite as it seems. You’ve probably heard that 3% of Harvard MBA graduates who established and wrote down their goals earned 10 times as much income as their non-goal-setting peers. But this study doesn’t exist in any scholarly journal or academic source. It’s simply become a long-perpetuated myth that’s provided the rationale for people to set goals and achieve them, sometimes at any cost.

When people are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, they can choose actions and behaviors they would normally not do. If fact, an actual study from Northwestern University and Harvard Business School — with the amusing title “Goals Gone Wild” — examined this exact premise and drew five conclusions from their findings.

Let’s take a look at some of these “dark sides” of goal setting, and how you can combat each before they sidetrack your route to web-writing success:

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Janice Sakata-Schultze

I've been an educator for over 20 years in California and Colorado and am now in transition to become a web copywriter specializing in travel, personal development and catalogs. I am also study graphic design. I am beginning to have some success in travel writing, travel photography and stock photography, but my aim is to branch out into copywriting, because it's something I enjoy doing. I live outside Denver with my husband, two school-age daughters and Labrador retriever. In my spare time, I love to run, do yoga, knit, cook, read, travel, hike, ski and sometimes play golf (when I can hit the ball good and straight).


  • Yes, yes, and yes!

    I’ve always struggled with goal-setting, because once I set myself a serious goal … I become obsessed with it. And then frustrated when things go awry. Then, when the inevitable burnout comes up, I dig in my heels and refuse to make goals or decisions at all. (In fact I’m teetering toward burnout right now … oops.)

    This is another article I need to bookmark. Thanks for sharing!

  • Actually, another thought came to me after I posted that comment … something related to #1.

    When you’ve got a full-time job (or any job, really) and you’re trying to build up a freelance business on the side, there’s this temptation to throw all your energy into one at the expense of the other. “You cannot serve two masters,” as they say, and you can definitely start hating the one and loving the other, depending on your mood.

    This is also something I’m still struggling with. I came to Russia to teach, but I find myself grudging every hour spent at work, which often eats up my best writing times.

    Anyone else have advice in this area? Or an article to recommend?

    • Hi Randi,

      I can definitely relate. I have my copywriting business. I also write fiction. There are times when these two seem to step on each other’s toes. What sometimes works (not always) is focus less on losing time to one that might better serve the other and instead to set up small rituals to me in the right frame of mind to work on what needs working when it best fits into the schedule. Does that make sense?

      • It does make sense. I already use small rituals (like listening to a certain playlist) in order to get ready to write, but it would probably help to have some kind of ritual for getting ready to focus on teaching. 😉

        I think it also helps to plan–to think, “What can I get done today in my priority projects?” And then make up a small, realistic to-do list and focus on that.

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