Goal setting is a powerful tool for improving your life and reaching your dreams, but you can have too much of a good thing. Whether you’re goal setting for the new year or just planning for the next 12 months, you should consider how many goals you’re setting.
How many goals should you set in a year? The number of goals you should set each year will vary widely depending on the size of the goals, and the effort they require. We recommend setting between 3 and 5 goals each year, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
In this article, we will discuss the dangers of setting too many goals and how to decide how much is too much for you when it comes to goal setting.
The Dangers of Setting Too Many Goals
According to research out of the University of Scranton, only 8% of people actually achieve the goals they set for the year. The reasons for these failures are endless, but setting too many goals, especially big goals, at one time could be one of them.
1. BURN OUT.
The real danger of setting too many goals is that it can lead to burn out and overwhelm, and when people become overwhelmed, they tend to fall back into old, comfortable habits. I myself have felt overwhelmed in the past and even experienced burn out chasing too many goals and dreams at the same time. If you’re interested to know more about my personal story, you can read my other article: How I Struggle(d) to Focus on ONE Goal as a Starting Entrepreneur.
2. REACTIONS TO SETBACKS
When people face temporary setbacks on the path to their goals, they’re more likely to take more and more severe missteps, according to research on financial goals.
3. SACRIFICING VALUES.
Some people might make sacrifices in other important areas of their life to achieve an impossible mountain of goals. Researchers at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State found that when people pursue performance-related goals in the workplace, they often resort to unethical practices to achieve them or to seem as if they achieved them.
While setting too many goals at one time can be detrimental to your success, you don’t want to set too few goals either! Most research shows that goals can help improve your quality of life.
Besides, it may be important to have different goals for different areas of your life. It does make sense to have one goal for health, one for your career… and so on. When some goals may take a lot of time to achieve, it can be very motivating to see that you are able to reach other goals in the meantime.
How to Set the Right Number of Goals This Year
There is no magic number of goals that you should set each year. The number of goals you decide to set will depend on several factors, including:
- How much time can you commit to your goals? If you’re already juggling a lot in your day to day life, it is probably better to set fewer goals so that you do not become overwhelmed.
- How important are those goals to you? If you have several goals that are truly and deeply meaningful for you, you might decide to set more goals.
- How big are your goals? Setting several big goals at once could lead to failure. It is best to set one big goal at a time.
- How much work will it take to achieve each goal? Some goals might require more work than others, so you might only want to set one of these each year.
- How do you react to setbacks? Setbacks are inevitable, and how you react to them makes a big difference. If you know that setbacks throw you off track, focus on only a small number of goals at one time, and home in on your mindset.
Types of Goals and How Many You Should Set for Each
There are all kinds of goals out there, and many of them overlap. We are going to break down some different types of goals. This way you can consider which types you’re setting and how many of each type would be reasonable for you.
Keep in mind that these types of goals sometimes overlap. The differentiation below only intends to give you a tool to orient yourself. Categorise your goals as feels most natural to you using these broad guidelines.
Goals like losing weight, spending less, or changing careers – these goals are big, multistep goals that could result in ongoing or unexpected changes to your life. You don’t want to set too many of these types of goals at once. Try to limit it to one or two.
Also, if you plan on setting this type of GOALS, please remember that they are better achieved by FOCUSING ON THE UNDERLYING HABITS you need to create in order to achieve them… (see the section on Habit-Oriented Goals below).
Most time, these “Lifestyle Overhaul” goals will require SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTING MULTIPLE HABITS… Which is why they can be tricky to achieve and maintain over time.
Here are a few articles I wrote on this topic which may help you craft a better plan to reach those goals:
- Are You Trying To Change Too Many Habits At Once?
- How To Create Lasting Habits In 7 Steps
- 3 Reasons Why Your Current Habits Will Change Your Future
These are goals that relate to only one area of your life with little cross over. Single area goals don’t usually require a complete overhaul of your life and tend to have a narrow focus. Here are some examples of the areas your goals might relate to:
- Health – Running 3 times per week or drinking a smoothie every day in the morning.
- Finances – Tracking all of your expenses. To get a little inspiration you can read my other article on the topic here: 9 Saving Tips For You To Be Able To Start Your Business.
- Relationships and Family – Calling your friends regularly or having a date night per month with your partner.
- Personal Development – Reading a book for 10 minutes every day.
- Spirituality – Meditating for 10 minutes every morning.
- Career – Taking one online class to build up a new skill every 6 months.
- Home Improvement – Tidying up your home office.
You don’t want to set too many single-area goals, either. You certainly wouldn’t want 1 per area unless they were all very small goals. Focus on the 2-3 areas that are the most important to you.
If you enjoy setting goals for the different areas of your life, you should look into the Level 10 goal setting method.
Habit-orientated goals do not have an end. By their very nature, they cannot be completed, but if you’re successful, these goals will prove to be powerful ways of enhancing your life. Some examples of habit-orientated goals include:
- Getting more or better sleep each night
- Improving your self-care practices
- Spending more time with your family
- Improving your strength
Starting too many of these habit-oriented goals in one year will often lead to failure, but it can take as little as two months for a new habit to stick. If you stagger the start date for your new habits, you could reasonably change 3-4 habits a year.
Goals that can be completed are goals that have deadlines and that once they are completed, they’re done. These can also be thought of as “projects” instead of goals, but that is a matter of semantics. Here are some examples of completable goals:
- Put $1,000 in your savings account.
- Paint your kitchen.
- Deep clean and declutter your entire house.
These goals are great, you’ll get a great boost from achieving them, but we would argue that this type of goals is really just a simple “task” or “action” that needs to be completed because of a larger goal. For example, if you’re looking to gain financial security, then a good place to start is with a small $1,000 emergency fund. The $1,000 savings is just one piece of a larger goal.
You can have any number of completable goals on your list. Simply take into account the amount of time and energy each task would take and compare it to the time and energy you’ll have to put into it.
Goals with Uncontrollable Outcomes
There are just some goals that we don’t really have control over. For example, you might have a goal of getting a promotion at your job, but if the company you work for does not have a position to promote you to, then it is out of your control. (This is a good time to “pivot,” but that is a subject for another post!)
Now, there is something to be said for the process of achieving a goal, and sometimes the outcome isn’t all that important, but if you set too many goals with outcomes that you have little power over, you may get disappointed with the lack of result.
Be sure to set some goals that you do have some control over to help keep you motivated.
Goals with Deadlines: Long Term Goals vs. Short Term Goals
Goals with deadlines can be short term or long term. Either way, these are generally completable goals that have outcomes that may or may not be within your control.
Examples of Long Term Goals
- Saving to buy a house
- Getting promoted at work
- Getting a degree
- Organizing a large event like a wedding
Examples of Short Term Goals
- Purchasing a car
- Taking a class
- Going on a vacation
- Planning a small event
The main difference between short term and long term goals is a matter of scale. Long term goals simply take longer and are slightly more complicated while short term goals are narrower and do not take as much time. You might have several short term goals that lead to a long term goal.
We can’t recommend how many short or long term goals you should set. It really depends on the goal, how much time and energy it will take, and how important it is to you.
Setting Too Many Goals
Even if you set too many goals, don’t stress it. The problem with setting too many goals isn’t really the number, but how we, as humans, react to setbacks and feelings of overwhelm. Don’t stress about messing up or even failing on a goal. It is all part of the process. Call on your reserves of resiliency and continue on!