The Problem with Time Bound Goals

The other day I found an old notebook that I took with me to a lecture to take notes. Flicking through my old notes I discovered in the back a list of goals I was aiming to complete by the end of 2012!

The last time I had looked at that piece of paper I had only ticked off one or two on the list of goals, and it was very rewarding to see that I could now tick off another four that I had completed without even realising that I had completed them, and without even referring back to the list.

This got me thinking…

In my profession as a PT we of course put a great emphasis on goal setting – and it IS important. Specifically we put an emphasis on making sure our clients have SMART goals which means they must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound.

I would agree that goals need to be SPECIFIC and I think that this is the main problem – most people are far too vague with their goals. But these days I am reconsidering how important the time bound aspect is.

This is because, to be completely honest – a much greater percent of the time people do NOT achieve their goals within the timeframe they have chosen. Sometimes it’s because they were unrealistic about the timeframe. Sometimes it’s because life got in the way. Life is unpredictable, and goals and their importance can fluctuate over time.

The problem with this is that when people realise they haven’t achieved a goal, such as to lose a certain amount of weight by the end of six months, for example, this can be more detrimental to their health than if they hadn’t put a time frame on it. People say if there is no time frame then no one would put in enough effort which is the reason we need a timeframe. But from what I’ve seen having a time frame isn’t what motivates people or gets people to achieve their goals – what motivates them is independent of time – it is a desire to get healthier, a love and enjoyment for the exercise or a very big life change coming up (.ie. a wedding) that they can focus on. Time alone is not enough of a motivator.

Now of course we all begin with a motivator – a desire that makes us want to achieve a goal. If it’s the desire to stop other people pressuring us who want us to achieve the goal, already we are unlikely to have the level of commitment that is needed to achieve that goal. On the other hand even if the desire comes from within, many times this desire is not STRONG at the beginning of the journey. After all if it’s motivating for you to work towards your goal of losing 20kg so you can be a healthy weight, would you have put that 20kg on in the first place? Often times we do have a strong knowing and a longing to improve our health but if we become so unhealthy in the first place it’s usually because there are many other factors in our live that provide a bigger pull i.e. the satisfaction gained from eating junk food. It is often only once we start out on goal journey using at first a lot of self will and a working on self confidence that we truly discover what will and can motivate us.

When people set out to achieve a goal and do not have a strong force behind them or are in the ‘development’ stage of working on their confidence of achieving that goal, and then they see that they have not managed to achieve their goals by their predetermined time this can act as a huge blow to their existing effort. They may have been exercising regularly all the time but haven’t achieved their goal because they haven’t fixed their diet. Do you think seeing that they haven’t achieved the goal will shock them into changing their diet? Maybe. But emotional reactions aren’t usually like that. Often it will turn the other way with an attitude of ‘why am I even bothering? All this hard work for nothing!?” and so on.

Success breeds success so we should avoid highlighting failures with time bound goals. This is another reason why it’s good to make many small goals rather than one big goal.

So what do we do?

  1. Make specific goals
  2. Make a bunch of small goals (in addition to a bigger goal if you have one)– depending on how achievable they are between 3-5 o4 5-10. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many to work on at once.
  3. Review the list often write a reminder in your diary/phone to review the list every week, every fortnight or at the very least and the end of each month
  4. Don’t put a time limit on the goals but ask yourself every time you review the list, what am I doing (daily or weekly) to contribute towards these goals?

Number four is the most crucial step that I have found from my own experience. The reason that I completed those goals was that I never stopped working towards them, event though I forgot to review them. Luckily my job supported that, but if it didn’t that’s where the reviewing the list often would be very important.

The most important thing I have realised is not time, but that we are continuously working towards those goals for as long as they are important to us. What you can do might change, how you get there might be slower than you thought but crawl, walk, or run as long as you are moving forward you are still on the path and getting close and closer to your goals. Let each small success become more motivation, do it right at this will naturally increase, as well as the speed towards which you achieve those goals.


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