Professional Practice

6 Mistakes to Avoid in Goal Setting

Notebook, pen and coffee mug

Setting goals can be a proactive way of developing your skills, experiencing success, and can leave you with a strong feeling of accomplishment. Working through a goal can give you new experiences, new knowledge, and teach you several lessons along the way. Unfortunately, setting goals and working toward them can feel like checking off boxes in a simple process. And when you underestimate what goes into goal setting, it can leave you feeling unsatisfied or unresolved.

So whether you’re looking to set new goals or are already on your way and need to revamp, here are some common mistakes to avoid when working with goals.

1. Not Having a Clear Purpose

Goal setting sounds adventurous and fun. It’s something you might associate with productive and successful people you admire. You might have professional pressure to set goals and be working toward them. But ultimately, it will be tough to follow through if you don’t have a clear purpose behind your goal. Accomplishing anything truly meaningful often requires a complicated process with ups and downs. There will be little victories to celebrate and challenges to overcome. To persist through difficult times, you will need to be intrinsically motivated. Ask yourself:

Notebook, pen and coffee mug

  • Is this goal for me or someone else?
  • Does this goal align with my values?
  • Why do I want to accomplish this goal? 

2. Not Having a Definition of Success

Working toward a goal can feel like you’re on a hamster wheel if you don’t know when you’ve reached the finish line. Having a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, and a way of knowing when you’ve gotten there, is critical to a successful goal-setting experience. This can be challenging in education when we don’t operate from a bottom financial line and in the arts when judgments can fluctuate based on the viewer. It’s for these reasons, SMART goals require the goal to be measurable. It’s not for you to prove to others; it’s for you to prove it to yourself. Avoid the trap of ambiguity by being able to clearly define what success looks like and how you’ll know when you’ve gotten there.

3. Not Having Enough Control

Accomplishing a goal can be challenging when you’re not the one behind the wheel. Many of your goals are going to require contributions or support from others around you, and they can influence your progress. You, however, should have enough control of the process to own the result. When developing your goal, create opportunities to connect with other stakeholders to get their support. Also, think about what decisions will need to be made and who is in charge of those decisions. Sometimes you might not have the final say, like with curriculum, but you can ask the appropriate person for permission to take the lead on a project.

certificate of congratulations with a question mark

4. Not Going Big Enough

Goal setting is not a to-do list. Defining your goal should land on the border between exciting and scary. If you’re not a little embarrassed to talk about your goal, it’s not big enough. Don’t make the mistake of setting goals that require minimal commitment or dedication. Lofty goals often require a lofty process to reach the top. Goals that are too small or shallow can leave you feeling dissatisfied, seeing a minimal change to your practice, and wondering why you even embarked on this in the first place. It’s not uncommon to have a few different goals going at the same time. These goals should vary in scope and longevity, but at least one of them should be a little scary because that’s what’s going to help you stretch and grow.

5. Not Having the Right Resources

When setting goals and developing a plan to accomplish them, consider what resources are necessary to be successful, and determine if they are available. Certain constraints can have a direct impact on your ability to be successful and need to be considered in the goal planning process. You should be able to answer questions like:

List with cost of goal

  • How much will this cost financially?
  • How much time will it take, and when is that time available?
  • Do you have access to any additional materials or equipment you would need?
  • Will you need something from anyone else in your life to accomplish this goal? 

6. Not Persisting Through

One of the most common mistakes people make with goal setting is ending too early. Something might happen along the way that leaves you feeling like you failed. For example, maybe you didn’t finish the graduate program in the timeline you originally intended. These are the challenging moments that test your commitment and motivation, but leave you with a choice on how to proceed. The process of achieving a goal rarely works out in the way you intended. It’s important to persist through these moments, adapt to the new reality, and stay the course. There are, however, some very real reasons as to why you might need to put a goal on hold and you should handle those accordingly. In many cases, the goal will be waiting for you when you’re ready.

The whole process of goal setting can be life-changing. Accomplishing one goal can often lead to another and evolve into a change of practice or way of thinking. Goal setting can be the vehicle to help you stay motivated and inspired to achieve. So, learn from those who have come before you and don’t suffer from these same mistakes. With the proper planning and process design, you’ll set yourself up for success to accomplish great things. Good luck!

What models exist, like SMART goals, to help teachers craft goals? 

How can teachers respond when supervisors set a goal for the teacher? 

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Nick Gehl

Nick Gehl is a department chair of fine arts and a former AOEU Writer. He enjoys working with art teachers to improve the student experience in the studio and foster more leaders in the arts.

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