Photo by humblestream, used under Creative Commons license

Life coaches, personal trainers, and business consultants  advise us to set goals and create a strategic plan with actions and deadlines that will enable us to achieve them.

When is it appropriate to modify or abandon a goal?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Last year, I set the goal of running my first marathon. I was proud of my achievement and promptly signed up for another one, coming up in June 2016.

Yesterday, I officially abandoned that goal…and breathed a sigh of relief.

When we set a lofty goal,  personal or professional, we can expect some struggles and challenges along the way. Difficulty alone is not sufficient grounds for abandonment.

If you are making steady progress more slowly than you’d hoped, it makes sense to adjust the time frame or size of a goal: maybe it will take two years to grow sales 10% rather then one; maybe a 5K race is a better goal for this year than a 10K.

If I’m executing my action plan and hitting all my smaller objectives but the ultimate goal has not been reached, it’s time to review my strategies. Perhaps I didn’t have enough or the right information when I made my plan, misunderstanding or underestimating what activities would actually get me there. I’m still aiming for the goal, but modifying my actions  to become more effective.

There are a few scenarios in which it makes sense to abandon a goal entirely:

  1. Continuing toward this goal impairs your ability to reach another, more important goal. Most individuals and organizations have multiple goals; ideally they should all be in congruence, but it’s not uncommon for some of them to be in some degree of opposition to each other.
  2. The “price of admission” is too high. If the cost of achieving the goal – in time, money, personnel, reputation – has become greater than the reward, it makes sense to stop.
  3. Our big WHY has changed or disappeared. We set goals for some bigger reason aligned with our mission, values, and position. If any of those change significantly, so should our goals.

Eliminating a goal under any of these circumstances is NOT failure!

(In the case of my abandoned marathon, I realized that while I love to run, I do not enjoy the sheer number of training miles necessary for a race of that length. Plus, they conflict with the training time necessary for my NEW goal this year: hiking the 210-mile John Muir Trail!)