Set an Incompatible Goal

One way to shift your character – and your life – in a new direction is to set a goal that’s incompatible with the limitations of your current character.

In other words, set a goal that you would never set. Then work diligently to pursue and achieve that goal.

Thinking you can’t do something because it’s out of character for you is still just a thought. You can change your thoughts, but sometimes it’s easier to change your actions and behaviours and let your thoughts play catch-up. Sometimes thoughts of who you are just get in your way and slow you down.

When you try to change yourself at the level of thought first, sometimes that works, but other times it will just lead you into a circular trap of thinking, thinking and more thinking – and never actually doing, exploring and experiencing.

Pay special attention to the desires you tend to quickly suppress, especially those with respect to ambitious goals and lifestyle experiences.

What experiences are other people having that you secretly envy?

What do you secretly daydream about doing or experiencing, but could never tell anyone about?

Have you ever thought about pulling one of those crazy ideas out of the “dream space” and setting it as a real goal to accomplish? Other people have already done that.

There’s something transformational about writing down a goal that doesn’t feel like you.

I encourage you to try this: write down some goals that you would never set as goals. If you have a system for tracking your goals and projects, add those new goals to that system. Create projects for them. Slot them right alongside your other goals. Notice how this feels. Does it seem unreal? A bit edgy perhaps? Realise that you could actually achieve those goals. You could make them real. They don’t have to just haunt you in the dream space.

One example is starting a business. Some people grow up believing that they aren’t cut out to run a business. Having been an entrepreneur since 1994 and having met hundreds of other entrepreneurs, I can tell you that a lot of people feel that way. Many still feel that way even after they’ve been entrepreneurs for years. Lots of people don’t think they’re cut out for it, even after doing entrepreneurial activities for 10 or 20 years. So if you have doubts about whether or not you can start your own business, join the club – you’re far more compatible with this goal than you think.

It’s odd that even after years of doing something regularly, a person’s self-image can still take a while to catch up. People think they need to meet some arbitrary standard of achievement before they can claim certain labels. But the labels don’t matter that much anyway. The actions and the results matter a lot more.

If you’d like to have a lifestyle experience that you haven’t had yet, it should be on your goals list, written down plain as day. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see yourself as “that kind of person”. Add it to your goals anyway. Take action and use your problem-solving skills to move the goal forward, just as you would with any other goal.

The notion that anything is beyond you is just a thought pattern. It’s not the actual truth. There are plenty of people who are less intelligent, competent and attractive than you are who regularly experience what you rule out. You’re probably putting some of them on a pedestal; if you met them in person, you might be far less impressed.

That’s what nudged me to set a lot of stretch goals. I met people who achieved some of my stretch experiences, and I realised that a lot of them aren’t the amazing people I assumed they were. They’re just people.

When I started adding in those kinds of experiences, at least at the level of goals that I could freely set, it made all the difference. That made my mind do a double take: Wait… we’re actually setting these as goals? Ummm… OK, why the hell not? This could get interesting!

When you set an incompatible goal as a real goal, it pushes your brain to start asking some really good questions that you should be asking, such as these:

  • Is this goal really impossible for me?
  • Is this goal really incompatible with who I am? Does it have to be?
  • Why can’t I pursue this goal now?
  • Could I become the kind of person who could have this experience?
  • If so-and-so can have this experience, why not me?
  • Do I want this? Can I admit that to myself?
  • Why am I so afraid of this goal?
  • Are there people who would regard my resistance and hesitation as silly, unnecessary or cowardly?
  • Are there people who’d encourage me to go for it if they knew the whole truth about my thoughts and feelings on this?
  • If I could be sure that this reality is a simulation, would I let myself have this experience?


That last one is a nice way to weave in the subjective perspective.

The goals you’ve ruled out will often be the most fun, the most growth-oriented and the most motivating. They’ll also be the scariest because you’ll have to stretch who you think you are to get there. That’s good. An empowering goal ought to stretch your self-image. It ought to challenge you. It ought to push your buttons.

Take a possibility you’ve been dismissing, and try setting it as a real goal. Put it on your goals list. Then let yourself feel the resistance and self-doubt. Call it ludicrous if you must. And then say: Yeah, OK, there’s some resistance, hesitation, self-doubt, shame, fear and so on. But I still kinda want it. It would still be an awesome experience to have. Then let the goal remain on your list. Just keep looking at it when you see your other goals and projects. Just keep leaning into the realisation that you could actually do it.

Written by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is a Personal Development Coach who runs one of the most popular personal development websites in the world. Steve has kindly contributed this fantastic article discussing the need to push your own boundaries when setting your goals.