The Goal Paradox

The Goal Paradox and How to Overcome It

If you keep your goals to yourself to avoid embarrassment in the event of failure, then you are not alone. I have had countless goals in my life that I have not wanted to share, as have many of our clients

It’s weird. As much as we desperately want something, for some reason we don’t share these things with people because we’re afraid of being ridiculed for having these desires, or worse, for failing and being ridiculed for that. 

How many times have you thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to be a size 10’, or, ‘Yes, I want an Aston Martin’, but you have been too afraid to tell people? 

Aston Martin DB9 GT: the ultimate in bespoke grand touring


Usually we have this fear because it seems so far out of reach that a) no one will take use seriously, and b) we actually don’t think we will be able to ever reach a size 10 or drive an Aston Martin (I’m not saying we should be a 10 or drive a posh car – those are just examples of things some people want).

I’m sure you know what a SMART goal is, but if not here is a refresher. Goals need to be SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. 

‘I want to be thinner in summer’ is a pointless wish into the abyss. 

But, ‘By 15 December 2030, I will fit into a size 10 swimsuit’ is a SMART goal because it is:

1. Specific – fit into swimsuit

2. Measurable – size 10

3. Achievable – is it achievable or are you setting yourself up for failure (often people miss this one)

4. Relevant – Does it matter to you? 

5. Time-bound – 15 December 2030

I’ve heard the saying, ‘A goal is just a dream with a deadline’ and I think it makes sense. But the other way makes a lot more sense: 

‘A goal that is not SMART is just a dream’

But, the above still has nothing to do with the Goal Paradox. You can have the clearest goal in the universe and keep it hidden in your bedside table where no one will know about it. And, in my experience, your odds of failing that goal are still super high. 

Here is why… 

Keeping your goal to yourself relieves you of any kind of accountability. Telling people about your goal can feel like diving into cold water, but it creates accountability. And for every engagement you have, a new layer of accountability is created. 

This is how it works. 

You tell people

If you tell your friends and family what you’re up to, they will now know that this is what you’re doing. Ironically, it is often the people closest to you who will push back at your goals because you are actually threatening their identity (I’ll write on this too, watch out). But, the people who support you will now know what you are doing, and in a very mild way, you are now accountable to your immediate circle to produce a result. 

I remember telling my friends I was going to do a BCOM degree when I had failed matric maths and was already working in kitchens. My BEST friend took me aside and gave me the talk:

‘You know Jonno, people have been talking and, well, they’re worried this is some kind of stupid mission you’re going to just quit on in a few months’.

When I told my friends I was going to swim from Robben Island to Cape Town (7.5km in icy water), another really good mate of mine said:

 ‘I’ll be watching you do this swim. I don’t think you’re going to make it’.

To be honest, the only fear I have now, of telling the people closest to me about what I want to achieve, is the fear of realising who of the people I know and love I need to spend less time with. 

Then, you ask for help

Once you’ve created the initial layer, you have to get a mentor, coach or someone who can help you. And even though they will give you advice and guidance, the real reason you do this is to create an additional layer of accountability. 

While your ‘coach’ might be helping you, what they are also doing is holding you accountable. Just by knowing you have someone to meet or speak to at a certain point, you have created another layer of accountability. 

But with a mentor or coach comes a bonus layer. Your success is their success. Anyone who helps anyone will be using their clients to build a track record. So if you engage with a professional, or even ask someone for help, you are actually helping them improve (or degrade) their track record. So you are accountable to them to get results, or they become a failure (did you ever think of that?).

Join people

Once you’re getting help from someone who knows more than you and you’ve told your family, then the next step is to get peer support. My CrossFit coach always says the reason CrossFit works is because suffering builds community, and I have to agree that if you want to suffer somewhere, CrossFit is a good place to do it with other people. 

There is also a lot of research about communities and how they actually make people happier. When humans share a common goal and engage around them, it gives their goals purpose but also creates a deeper connection between people. 

When you join a group of other people doing the same thing as you, you immediately feel connected because you share a common goal, but you are also driven to achieve your goal because the goal or reason for the community needs to be maintained otherwise you will break the connection you have with the community. 

Consider this

If you wanted to become a great writer, you could read all the good books on writing, and practice writing essays, and then write something one day. The alternative is to go to writing school – the above process is built in. 

You’ve got a lecturer (mentor/coach), peers who are all suffering together and your goal is SMART – get accredited with whatever certificate by X date. Usually, you will have told your friends and family about it too. 

Who would you bet on to become a great writer? The one who opts to go it alone? Or the one who opts to get professional help, join a group and tell people about their goal?

Of course there are outliers, but I would bet on the one who enters a course. 

If you’re reading this, you probably finished school. You may also have a degree or a diploma, or something that you have done that was difficult. I wonder what built in accountability you had when you were achieving that. 

School and university are just two of many places where these layers of accountability come built in. Churches, business clubs like Amway and Herbalife, CrossFit and many more all have the same layers of accountability in their DNA, and that’s why they work. 

What is the Goal Paradox?

The Goal Paradox is explained as follows: 

We keep our goals a secret to avoid the shame in the event that we fail. But, sharing our goals with people and engaging others in what we want dramatically increases our chances of success.” 

At RMR, we implemented a goal setting and accountability framework called the Summons, which has one extra step:

Step 1 – have a clear SMART goal

Step 2 – tell the people in your life

Step 3 – ask people for help

Step 4 – join people

Step 5 – help people

When you implement this framework we call it ‘Serving Yourself a Summons’ because just like a court hearing, you are locked in. Default and suffer the consequences 🙂

Helping people adds unbreakable armour to your goal. If your goal is linked to improving the lives of others, it becomes exponentially easier to stick to. 

In the case of weight loss, consider who would benefit from your health transformation the most? If it is your kids, who you would be able to hike with, or ride bikes with, I challenge you to tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then see how that lights your fire. 

As much as we want our own lives to improve, it is built into our DNA that helping people makes us feel better and more motivated. If we can add a selfless edge to selfish goals, our odds on achieving them increases exponentially.

When your tank is empty, and you can’t face the thought of another keto meal, or another lap around the track, you can think about the people you are helping, and how their lives will improve if you achieve what you set out to achieve, and that will give you another drop of secret sauce to crush it. 

How to overcome the Goal Paradox

Understand that keeping it a secret is keeping it from happening. 

Then, start by taking the focus off yourself. It is too easy to get caught up in your own stuff. Think about what this goal could mean to others and what impact it would make in their lives. Once you can see that benefit, even it is just for one person, take the next steps:

  1. Write down your goal on a piece of paper
  2. Ask someone for help 
  3. Connect with others who have the same goal
  4. Then think about telling people in your life, like your family and friends.

And that, is how you ‘Serve yourself a Summons’ and overcome the Goal Paradox.

With power,



If you’d like to set a crazy goal, check out some more info on our Online Course