Why is it Important to Set Realistic Goals? 8 Strong Reasons

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Why is it important to set realistic goals

It is always best to start with the end in mind – Stephen Covey

We all have a tendency to dream big and set great standards of success for ourselves. While there is nothing wrong with aiming far, a dream without a plan of action will remain just that.

This is where realistic goals come into play. But why is it important to set realistic goals? The need of the decade for time-oriented people like us is to not only know what we want but also know what we can actually achieve. Moreover, realistic goals take into account our personal skills, timeframe, and disposition to predetermine the required direction and action.

Sure, goal setting is incredibly important, but knowing exactly why and how to achieve a goal is what eventually counts. Unless knowledge of the means and resources to realize a goal is clear, we’re bound to lose momentum along the way.

The Illusion of Unrealistic Goals

illusion of unrealistic goals

Setting goals and having high expectations from ourselves is easy because we all set out excited to see what the future holds. However, that motivation dies sooner or later owing to the lack of a solid plan.

Unrealistic goals lack the required structure, discipline, and feasibility to get to where we want. Although we feel overly optimistic and certain when setting them, they counter our productivity when they fail to materialize in the long run.

○ Absence of Benchmark for Measuring Progress

Often when we set impractical goals based on our attraction to the outcome or the “shiny object” we see at the end, we gear ourselves up for disappointment.

Unrealistic financial, business goals, or personal goals fail to measure the journey needed to be taken to reach a certain destinationWithout any reference point or standard to gauge our progress, we end up losing the enthusiasm and motivation that we began with.

Instead, having realistically achievable goal help us track our growth and further our self-esteem because we can meet the expectations we had set for ourselves in the very beginning.

By comparing and analyzing our performance to any criterion or prototype we’ve set, we can then make the necessary accommodations or changes needed. By focusing on the process more than the output, we can identify the gaps between our standard and our ideal and strive to improve from there continuously.

○ An Overwhelmed Mind achieves Little to Nothing

overwhelmed mind achives nothing

Goal setting and goal achievement can often become a cause of anxiety rather than excitement for many. This happens when we make far-fetched and unreasonable goals as the measure of our productivity and success.

Long to-do work lists that are not time-bound or fitness plans that require more energy than we can afford to exert are all guaranteed to end in failure. They sound only probable on paper or in our minds, not in reality.

A mind overwhelmed by such high standards to meet gets bogged down by the pressure of it all and ends up achieving little to nothing. The stress and anxiety created by overly ambitious goals can be rather counterproductive and also dishearten us from tracking forward. 

Especially with today’s ever increasing workload, it helps to craft smart goals for ourselves that do not feel too demanding or difficult. The last thing we want to do is punish ourselves by piling on more than we can handle on our plates.

○ The Vicious Cycle of Self-Sabotage and Guilt

Self-sabotaging or harmful behavior begins when we are usually looking for distractions to find a way out. This happens when we are not fulfilled or fearful of the work we have undertaken.

In such a scenario, since we feel like we lack the ability or resources to accomplish the task we have at hand, we end up losing complete focus and giving up. The mentality of ruining everything since nothing is making visible progress is what causes this sort of behavior.

For example, working on that huge list of errands we crafted might seem impossible to achieve all in a day’s time. Therefore, we end up distracting ourselves with technology, social media, food, or anything which gives us instant gratification. Having achieved very little later then sends us down a spiral of endless self-criticism.

However, if we set realistic goals and build self-confidence through small wins, it can break this cycle. When we have a clear idea of precisely what we need to do and how we can tackle it, we are able to curb our inner critic and lead with a sense of direction and purpose.

Let’s discuss the key reasons why is it important to set realistic goals in the modern world.

8 Integral Reasons Why it is Important to Set Realistic Goals in Modern World

Realistic goal setting is the smartest way of making progress that is tangible and feeds the long-term vision we wish to execute. It helps to build our goals around our work schedule, know our action plan, and concentrate our efforts in the right direction.

Without these key factors, it is almost impossible to stay motivated in making the right choices and effective decisions from turning those dreams into concrete reality.

1. Hitting the ‘Golden Mean’

The golden mean

This principle works in tandem with Aristotle’s Golden Mean or Buddha’s Middle Path. It relies on the theory of striking a comfortable, happy medium that is both future-oriented and yet mindful of the present limitations.

Whilst setting big, grand goals is amazing, it also helps to take note of the ‘achievability’ factor surrounding it. Dreaming big is important for us to aim higher and move out of our comfort zone. However, recognizing what is feasible and evaluating whether the input is worth the output can help us make better decisions.

Realistic goals are a happy medium between overly ambitious goals and mediocre goals. They take into account the challenging aspect of the former to keep us engaged whilst also being achievable enough for us to not cave into the challenge. In the case of extremes, the goal-setting will either be too hard to realize or too easy and boring to pursue.

2. Importance of Landing Where You Plan

importance of plan

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot For The Moon. Even if you miss it, you will still land among the stars”. While this may sound very dreamy and aspiring, it makes the main goal sounds a bit discouraging at the very outset.

Realistic goals are more one-track and focused on the end goal from the very start. This does not mean that they are limiting you from dreaming big, but they give you the assurance that you will eventually land exactly where you plan. 

Without such precision for what exactly is the “success point” that you’re striving for, it is easy to feel lost and confused. The feeling of knowing one’s predetermined output and actually being able to achieve it is what counts as a real success.

Here, you can clearly see where you are headed, and you cannot fail your goal through excuses or by betting on sheer luck.

3. Realistic Goals Take Less Time to Achieve

smart goal setting

As discussed earlier, the contemporary world demands solutions to problems that are mindful of their time and energy. Without being aware of this, we can feel as if we are working hard without really getting anywhere.

Realistic goals are met timely because they are made with a stipulated time frame in mind. They are premeditated targets that are made consciously and prioritized accordingly. Accomplishing goals this way is more promising because we are less likely to get distracted and jump onto another spontaneous target or desire.

Such a realistic goal setting is known as a SMART Goal. This stands for:

  • S (Specific) or Significant
  • M (Measurable) or Meaningful
  • A (Attainable) or Action-Oriented
  • R (Relevant) or Rewarding
  • T (Time-Bound) or Trackable 

Realistic goals meet all these 5 criteria, making it easier to meet that goal faster since a lot of preparation has been done beforehand. Effective people with a winning mentality know that having a blueprint ready at hand and preparing in all aspects is critical to ensure success.

4. Benefitting from Micro-Goal Setting

Micro-Goal Setting

Micro goals overpower macro goals when it comes to targeting sustained progress and growth. It helps to break down big, bigger goals into smaller stepping stones that can be met sooner.

If achieving your ideal weight is your targeted goal, setting an unreasonably high expectation within a very short span of time is likely to end in failure, frustration, and guilt. Instead, rewarding yourself by constantly working towards meeting micro weight loss milestones will help build momentum and stay disciplined to aim higher instead of hitting a plateau.

For example, demanding your body drop 10 lb in a month is not only a tough standard to meet but also probably an unhealthy one. Instead, set fixed timelines for you to slowly lose the total weight in bits so that you not only maintain it but also let each breakthrough serve as an incentive to push harder.

Besides this, micro-goals work more realistically since they help in breaking down large life goals into bits that can be prioritized. This is more likely to work because then we can be present and work on only one aspect of that large goal that is more urgent and is feasible with the current resources at hand.

5. Dopamine High and Boosting Self-Esteem

high dopamine boosing self esteem

Consistently attaining the standards we create for ourselves releases a “feel-good” chemical called dopamine in our bodies. This neurotransmitter is known to elevate our mood, increase our memory, focus, and more.

A 2017 study found that we feel more “physically ready” to take on challenges when we experience a rise in our SBP or Systolic Blood Pressure.  This happens when we deal with or overcome challenges posed when we set realistic goals rather than overly difficult ones.

Achieving smaller, smart goals also boosts our self-esteem and self-reliance, which prompts us to take the next leap forward. As a result, the greater the trust we have in ourselves, the more likely we are to overcome obstacles and see them as opportunities for growth and advancement.

In other words, the more we celebrate the small wins we make, the more likely we are to develop an abundance mindset and feel empowered to create a bigger impact.

6. Measured Growth and Ongoing Motivation

measured growth

The saying “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” is often true for unrealistic, larger-than-life goals with high expectations. These goals have no set deadline to meet in the near future and do not hold room for measurable growth through small-scale goals.

Consequently, one often gets either discouraged or distracted by another attractive goal that seems plausible at the moment. Therefore, being able to assess the current performance of a chosen improvement target is more fruitful than running after idealistic and vague future goals.

When your progress is visible to you, and you have a reference point to compare it to, you are more likely to feel stimulated to work harder and passionately. Being able to monitor personal development gives us a tangible means to evaluate our success consistently and keep our eyes fixed on the prize.

Without such a given “barometer” for gauging ourselves, our own dreams lose the direction and meaning required for them to become achievable goals.

7. Being Mindful of our Resources

being mindful of resources

Realistically speaking, achieving goals takes much more than just our willpower and endurance. We have to take into account all sources of input that are collectively involved in creating the desired output.

These include the funds we can afford, our position in life, the time we can carve out, and the energy we can expend towards our realistic goal setting in mind. A goal that is set whilst being conscious of the reality of one’s own ability and the situation is more mindful of the resources involved and their limitations.

In this case, we are better equipped to utilize our personal resources in the best way possible to yield optimal results. For example, a person with more money to spend can join fitness classes with a special instructor whilst a person with more time can learn the same routine at home. It ultimately depends on what resource, if time or money is more important based on their circumstance.

Both methods use resources viable and realistically available to each person and yet can yield the same result. Setting realistic goals is convenient because they allow us to customize our journey towards attaining that goal based on our own ability to the best of the current circumstances.

8. Synchronicity with the Principle of Delayed Gratification

delayed gratification

A clear reward is an important aspect of setting a realistic goal. When the expected reward is clear, we are more likely to prioritize long-term fulfillment over momentary satisfaction or pleasure.

Since realistic goals are more structured and have better clarity, the desire to stick it out till the end in hopes of getting bigger and better over rules short-lived distractions.

Clear-sighted goals can help us learn this principle of delayed gratification, which is an essential life skill. The “Marshmallow Experiment” conducted by a Stanford Professor in the 1960s is proof that this is a universal skill that is pivotal to success in almost all facets of life. 

Prioritizing meaningful targets over frivolous ones means career growth, financial freedom through saving in the long run, increased well-being through healthier choices, and even better relationships.

A Synopsis on why Realistic Goal Setting is Important

Holistic success and well-being require that all aspects of our life work together in harmony and synergy to serve us the best with the right effort and action from our end.

This includes effective realistic goal setting, including a happy balance between our input given and the desired output. Setting realistic goals is undoubtedly the need of the hour since they embody that “golden mean” that challenges us to push forward and gives us the assurance that the target we have set is attainable.

Realistic goals are driven by direction, meaning, purpose and are mindful of the availability of our personal resources. This is why they keep us motivated, boost our self-esteem, take lesser time to achieve, and make us land exactly where we planned to.

Whilst it is incredibly important to dream big, setting realistic goals helps us to structure our own dreams into feasible, micro goals. Climbing up the ladder of success then becomes easier with the incentive received from hitting each milestone and celebrating all the small wins along the way.

Lastly, and most importantly, realistic goals teach us perhaps the most important skill used by successful people across the globe. They help us in prioritizing the end goal in mind and choosing delayed gratification over instantaneous one.

Realistic goals remind us that success does not always have to look like a big intimidating leap into the unknown. But in fact that “the journey of a thousand miles always begins with that first step”.

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Suranya is an writer, lifestyle designer, and nature enthusiast. She is passionate about life, and everything it has to offer. She shares musings on philosophical insights, popular psychology, and holistic wellness.
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