Setting The Bar: How Ambitious Should Your Personal Goals Be?


“Do not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low, because the sea foam would soak the feathers and make them heavy.”

This was Daedalus’ warning to Icarus, who, according to Greek mythology, was able to escape the Minotaur Labyrinth using wings crafted from feathers and wax. We’ll get back to this story at the end of this article.

How ambitious personal goals should be, depends on the person who’s asking.

Let’s have a look at three rules of thumb that should help you on your way:

1. Not too low, not too high.

If your personal goals are relatively easy to achieve, meaning they’re achievable without ever having to leave your comfort zone, you’ll never get to know your full potential.

On the other hand, if you set personal goals that are so outrageous it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to achieve them, it’ll break your motivation.

The level of ambition of your personal goals should scare you, but your goals should not be unattainable.

2. Set goals according to your own abilities.

That what’s easy to achieve within the comfort zone for one person, might be an outrageous goal for others.

You’ll have to set your personal goals according to your capabilities, not someone else’s.

Everybody has a different starting point in life, everybody has different ‘gifts’ and resources.

Look at what you can realistically achieve using your gifts and resources, not at what outliers have achieved using theirs.

3. Set yourself up for a Marathon, not a sprint.

Most people who are setting personal goals are looking for a quick fix, not a lifetime subscription to better habits.

About half of all new gym members quit in the first six months (source). The main reason for quitting is because either the sacrifice was bigger than expected, or the progress was slower than expected.

Realise today that it’s highly unlikely you’ll achieve anything extraordinary within the first six months. If you want to set yourself ambitious goals, you’ll have to push the horizon further out.

Also read: Self-discipline finishes what motivation started.

On the other hand, if you push your goals too far out and they disappear over the horizon, they’ll lose their power to motivate you.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to set the time limit of your personal goals further out than one year, but no more than five years.

Personally, I tend to overestimate what I can achieve in one year and I underestimate what I can achieve in five years. Three years is the happy medium for me.

Combining all of the above, a good level of ambition when it comes to personal goals is to set the bar based on what you think is the maximum you can achieve in three years time.

Tip: You’ll likely gain new insights along the journey, so feel free to adjust the level of ambition of your goals as you go. Not the goal itself, the level of ambition.

As for Icarus, he ended up ignoring Daedalus’ instructions not to fly too close to the sun, causing the wax of his wings to melt. Shortly after escaping the Labyrinth he fall from the sky and drowned in the sea.

Despite what this story is trying to tell us, we should be more afraid of flying too low, than flying too high.

The most common traveled path to mediocracy is NOT that people set the bar too high and fail, but that people set the bar too low and settle.

Soar up into the sky and wherever you’ll eventually end up, make sure to enjoy the thrill of the flight.

Because this is where life happens.

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About the author

Wesley van der Hoop

Dutchman living in The Bahamas. I get excited about digital marketing, writing, traveling, surfing and learning new things.

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