4 Obstacles to Better Goal Setting

Determined to set goals for next season? Learn about four common goal-settting problems and how to solve them from STACK Expert Miguel Aragoncillo.

Hitting the Bullseye

To get to that next level of performance, you need to set goals that you can realistically achieve. Steer clear of these four common goal-setting obstacles, and you will be on your way to hitting your target.

Obstacle 1: Focusing On One Overly Specific Goal

You come up with a single goal and laid it all out, including all the steps you need to take to get the job done. But such hyperfocus can cause you to miss the big picture. In a 1999 study called "Gorillas in Our Midst," two Harvard researchers asked subjects to identify how many times basketball players wearing white shirts passed the ball. The majority of subjects ignored the players in black shirts because they were focused on counting the white-shirted players. They also failed to notice a man in a gorilla suit walking onto the court, pounding his chest, then walking away.[1]


Set your goal, but be aware of the changing landscape of real life. Take a step back and try to look at the big picture to identify problems before they occur.

Obstacle 2: Goal Not Specific Enough

If you don't spend enough time creating your goals, you might run into trouble when the goal is too broad or too vague.


Instead of saying you want to lift heavier weight, specify the weight you want to life or focus on the training plan you will follow to hit that weight. Or, if you're trying to slim down, set a goal of reaching a specific weight or dropping a jean size by a certain date.

Obstacle 3: Unrealistic Time Expectations

Give yourself enough time to reach your goals in a healthy fashion, or else you may get discouraged halfway through when you're not making enough progress.


Whether you're aiming to lose 20 pounds before a big event or push your Bench, Squat and Deadlift to the next level, create a timeline with milestones on the way to your goal by certain dates. This will help you determine if it's possible to achieve your goal in the time allotted. If not, you may need to change your approach or reset your goal.

For example, if you want to bench press 315 pounds in a year, but your current bench is 225, in six months you should be pressing around 270 pounds. Is that realistic? If not, you may want to scale back your goal.

Obstacle 4: Goals Are Simply Too Challenging

To reach your goals, you need to push yourself outside your comfort zone. But if your goal requires you to push too far, you can hurt yourself both physically and psychologically.  ("Goals Gone Wild," Academy of Management Perspectives, 2009).[2]


Tailor your goals to your talents and abilities. Be realistic about what you can accomplish and constantly remind yourself of the result you want to achieve. This will help you stay focused.

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[1] Simons, Daniel J., and Christopher F. Chabris. "Gorillas in Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness for Dynamic Events." Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 20 June 1999.

[2] Ordóñez, Lisa D., Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, and Max H. Bazerman. "Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting." Academy of Management Perspectives, 2009.

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