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What is the most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals?

Most Likely Consequence of Setting Unrealistic Goals

You’re ready to make a change in your life and are feeling motivated. You’ve been told to dream big, that you can do anything you set your mind to, and manifest whatever you want in the world. But what could be the problem with setting goals too high? What is the most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals? 

Hi, my name is Katie Lister, and I am the founder of Growth Gals and a Registered Nurse. To become the person you want to be, you need to intentionally set goals and work towards them. However, one of the most common pitfalls of goal setting is making unfeasible goals which can be detrimental to personal growth. This article will tell you everything you need to know about achievable goal setting including how to stop setting unrealistic goals and what to do instead.

Sticking to your goals is tough, we get it. You’re inspired one day so you set a big goal but in a couple of weeks life happens and you get thrown off course or in a few months you get bored and quit. Either way, you end up feeling demotivated and stuck in the same place you were before. You’re not alone; we’ve all been there. Continue reading to understand the psychology behind why we set unattainable goals, some relatable examples, and how to set more realistic goals moving forward. 


What are unrealistic goals?

These are goals that are not doable, practical, or achievable. They typically set higher standards than one can reach. These goals are not in alignment with one’s current skills or abilities. No plan is made and there are no steps outlined to achieve the desired result, therefore making the goal unrealistic. 

Why do people set impractical goals?

Generally speaking, we tend to be overconfident in our abilities to try and boost our self-esteem. We may also be uncertain of what is possible. We have heard about overnight success stories with crash diets and social media influencers, so have unrealistic expectations. “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” – Bill Gates. We think this is the norm and with enough determination and willpower, we can do it too.

People may also have a very painful WHY behind our goal, whereby they desperately want to avoid the opposite outcome. Perhaps their father just had a fatal heart attack. They want to ensure they don’t end up with the same fate and set a goal to run a marathon in 6 weeks. Or maybe they grew up in foster care, moving every few months, so they want to purchase their forever home to feel secure. 

According to Locke, having a goal that is too easy is also unmotivating. Locke’s goal setting theory states that specific and challenging goals (but not too challenging) lead to better outcomes than general easy goals. Many have heard of this concept and may swing too far on the pendulum and set goals that are too difficult. What is the most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals?

The intention behind these scenarios is valid, understandable, and an excellent driver for progress. But it’s important to recognize that impractical big goals are not going to set you up for success.

What is the most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals?

Becoming Unmotivated 

You might be all fired up, inspired, and excited about all the possibilities when you set your goal. Your first mistake was likely not developing an action plan because if you did this, you’d see pretty quickly that the time, energy, skills, and capacities to achieve your desired result within the timeline you set out for yourself is virtually impossible. 

Feel deflated and can lead to burnout

The most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals is feeling so defeated that you lose confidence in your capability to achieve anything. If you consistently do this, you are likely to get to the point where you give up. What’s the point in setting goals if you fail time after time? You may experience burnout from all the time and energy wasted.

Stagnancy and regression

After multiple defeats, you’re likely going to give up on working towards anything as it has been deflating. Stagnation happens when you’re not motivated to take action steps towards anything in life. You’ll blindly accept whatever comes your way, such as settling with the aches and pains that come from not moving, an uninspiring job or interest payments piling up. Without intentional action forward, you will regress backward. This common North American problem has negative consequences on mental health.


What is the most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals? Unfortunately, it is failure.  If you never fail that means you’re never trying anything new, pushing yourself, or getting out of your comfort zone. Failure is necessary for growth.  However, if you trying to work towards achieving goals that are way out of reach, you are setting yourself up for failure. This is discouraging, unmotivating, depressing, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing. It may ultimately hinder your self-confidence and mental health.

Examples of unrealistic goals

Hopefully, it is clear what unfeasible goals are and why they are detrimental to our well-being. The following examples will help you understand this concept in a practical way.

Specific goals examples

    • Run a marathon in 6 weeks if you’re currently sedentary 

    • Win a pro surf competition this year if you can’t swim 

    • Lose 50 pounds this month

    • Buy a house when you’re currently drowning in student debt

    • Become fluent in a new language in two months

These are bigger goals that in the long term would be doable, however in the timeframe allotted virtually impossible. 

Goals out of your control

Another version of this is setting goals that are completely out of your control. Dr. Berkman, a Neuroscientist at the University of Oregon has defined goals as “desired outcomes that wouldn’t otherwise happen without intentional action.” If your goal is something that is completely out of your control, then it simply contradicts the definition of a goal itself. If intentional action does not lead to your desired result, then it cannot be a goal. 

Examples of goals out of your control:

    • Meet your soulmate within the next month 

    • Get your partner to lose 15 lbs

    • Climate change to come to a complete halt 

    • Win the lottery 

    • Have your friend forgive you after you betrayed her trust

When it comes to goals out of your control, what is the most likely consequence of setting unrealistic goals? Notice how these examples are all something that no matter what you do, you don’t have the power to achieve the desired result. There are actions you can take to increase the likelihood of the above outcome but the control is completely in someone else’s hands or superhuman circumstances.

Why is it important to set realistic goals?

If you’re still reading this, I’m pretty sure you want to be growing and moving forward in life. So set yourself up for success. DREAM BIG, but set a realistic goal that will get you closer to your ultimate dream. If you’ve failed at goal-setting in the past, don’t worry. Start with identifying your WHY to discover what goal is really important to you

Realistic goals are not only important, they are necessary. Goal setting increases inspiration, motivation, and drive which is good for your mental health It feels gratifying, rewarding, and confidence-boosting when you do achieve your goal. According to this New York Times article, goals that are challenging and sustainable contribute to overall well-being.

Everyone should still visualize their dream life and aim high. However, the actual goal that you make needs to be practical. It should be challenging to ensure motivation, but not impossible. The most common framework for goal setting is SMART goals for a reason in which the A stands for achievable.

likely consequence of unrealistic goals

How to set realistic goals

To achieve our desired outcomes, we need to stop setting unrealistic goals and reframe them to be more attainable. Setting short term goals can help achieve specific long term goals. Let’s reframe the first examples using milestones to achieve these specific goals. Notice that these goals all meet the SMART criteria.

    • Run a marathon in 6 weeks:
      Complete a 5 km race in 6 weeks. Going for walks or run/walk combos 3x/week could be realistic steps to complete one of your fitness goals. You could be running a marathon within 6 months or a year! 

    • Win a pro surf competition this year if you can’t swim:
      Catch a wave independently. The steps may be to take swimming lessons and book a surf retreat holiday. 

    • Lose 50 lbs in a month:
      Perhaps you could lose 50 lbs in one year instead for more sustainable results. Break it down and consistently work towards losing 1 lb/week. 

    • Buy a house when you’re currently drowning in student debt:
      Pay off a certain amount per month in debt and build an emergency savings account.

    • Become fluent in a new language in two months:
      Be able to understand and converse at a toddler level in two months. Take lessons and plan a trip to immerse yourself in the native-speaking country where you cannot speak English.

These types of goals are all attainable over a longer period by breaking them down step-by-step in an action plan. Based on research, a good time frame for goal setting is approximately three months. Understand the WHY behind the goal, then break it down into more short term goals to help achieve the bigger long term goal. 

Growth Gals can help you achieve your goals!

Growth Gals is an approachable self help community of women who are interested in stepping into the best versions of themselves and creating their ideal life. They promote positive change by helping individuals discover who they truly are, what they value, and who they want to become. Through intentional goal setting, Growth Gals helps women get unstuck and achieve their larger goals. 


As humans, we are wired to overestimate our abilities, get spurts of motivation, and therefore set unrealistic goals. This leads to negative consequences such as feeling deflated and not getting the results we desire. However, if you follow this guide and set short term goals to help achieve a long term goal, you are much more likely to be successful in achieving your desired outcome. Join a community like Growth Gals to surround yourself with like-minded women and get support in setting achievable goals.

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