What Type of Goal-Setter Are You?

I’ve explored goal-setting and planning with small business owners, creatives, and independent workers for over 12 years now. That means I’ve observed many different types of goal-setters. Some confidently choose a new goal and get to work. Others rebel against goal-setting entirely—opting to go with the flow and trust their guts. Still others are always juggling multiple goals at once, hesitant to wait on any good idea. And some research and analyze until they feel ready to choose their next target.

I don’t believe there is one right way to set goals (which is a cornerstone of my book). But I have noticed that for every goal-setting style out there, each is accompanied by predictable challenges. Even when we find what works for us, we’ll inevitably run into friction due to the particulars of the strategies we use.

Luckily, no matter what type of goal-setter one might be, there is a way to ease up on the friction and overcome challenges that doesn’t entail dramatically changing the way one works.

5 Common Types of Goal-Setters

While there really is a different type of goal-setter for each person out there setting (or not setting) goals, I’ve noticed five core types:

🥇 The Overachiever

The Overachiever is the type of goal-setter who sets a goal and pursues it with relentless focus. They’re prolific, high-energy, and talented. They’re hyper-focused. ​They might be a “work hard, play hard” kind of person—or they might just work hard. Regardless, they’re almost always balancing the fine line between extreme productivity and burnout.

🧜🏽‍♀️ The Rebel

The Rebel sets goals ​their​ way—if they set goals at all. In fact, they might even pick out things everyone else is doing and… do the opposite. They value self-direction and get a bit itchy when it comes to rules or best practices. They’re creative, independent, and maybe even a bit idealistic. That said, they’re always open to experimenting—and that includes experimenting with routines and structure.

🗓 The Multi-Tasker

The Multi-Tasker is a master juggler as a goal-setter. They’re a parent, a volunteer, a caregiver, maybe even an employee, ​and​ an entrepreneur. They fit more responsibilities into a single day than many people do in a whole month. They’re tireless, caring, and selfless. They tend to be overcommitted and under-resourced, which both reinforces their identity and frustrates them.

🧠 The Diligent Deliberator

The Diligent Deliberator moves slowly and intentionally as a goal-setter. They want to get it right. They’re meticulous, earnest, and dedicated to quality. Their thoroughness can often lead to missing deadlines or leaving projects unfinished. They research, gather resources, and often rework what they’ve already done to make it better. They’re ​so close​ to a breakthrough but they might breakdown first.

🚀 The Vigilant Go-Getter

The Vigilant Go-Getter is the type of goal-setter who is always on to the next thing. Unlike The Overachiever, they’re unlikely to focus on a particular target for very long. But what they might lack in focus and intentional planning, they gain in flexibility. They’re not afraid to try new things, adjust their plans, or make a big pivot. Of course, that creates its own challenges for Vigilant Go-Getters, as being flexible can quickly turn into being reactive when that go-getter spirit isn’t tempered by a strong intrinsic motivation.

Each of these types of goal-setters have incredible strengths. 

Over-Achievers have focus. Rebels have creativity. Multi-Taskers have the ability to balance multiple priorities. Diligent Deliberators have their dedication to quality. Vigilant Go-Getters have their adaptability.

And, of course, they each have weaknesses. 

Over-Achievers get caught up in their goals and lose track of relationships, priorities, and long-term planning. Rebels become chaotic and disrupt their own progress. Multi-Taskers don’t let themselves go all-in for fear of having to give something else up. Diligent Deliberators put off shipping their best work. And Vigilant Go-Getters can get so caught up in watching what everyone else is doing that they forget to check in with themselves.

Each of these types of goal-setters can benefit from focusing on practice over achievement.

In the fantasy of meritocracy, there are those who succeed and those who don’t. There are those who achieve great things because they’re uniquely qualified and those who don’t. Our approach to goal-setting over the last century has mirrored this fantasy. It’s rigidly focused on achievement at all costs and perpetuated the fiction that if we just work hard enough to attain the right goal, we’ll be okay.

But the focus on achievement is exactly what brings out the most harmful tendencies of each type of goal-setting. What if, instead, we focused on practice instead of achievement?

Here’s what that might look like for each type of goal-setter:

With just a bit of time and attention in the morning or at the end of the day, Over-Achievers, Rebels, Multi-Taskers, Diligent Deliberators, and Vigilant Go-Getters alike can lean into their strengths and avoid the pitfalls that are probably all too familiar.

  • Over-Achievers can check in with their true priorities, make smart decisions about what goal to tackle next, and stay more consistent with implementation over time so they avoid burnout
  • Rebels can experiment with a small amount of structure to support and enhance their creativity without succumbing to someone else’s idea of how things should work
  • Multi-Taskers can take some time for themselves, measure up their responsibilities, and choose what to move forward on without it feeling like it’s always chosen for them
  • Diligent Deliberators can examine what’s ready to ship, what’s been stalled out for too long, and what truly needs more time to marinate so they can build momentum
  • Vigilant Go-Getters can slow down and notice not only what’s happening around them, but what’s happening inside their own experience in order to know when to flex and when to stick with the plan

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about doing remarkable work, it’s that remarkable work is the product of practice much more than it is the product of striving. The thing about achievement is that there is always something else to achieve on the other side. No matter how much one might love accomplishing goals, goal-setting and goal-achieving breeds dissatisfaction. It’s exhausting!

But taking a step back to think, feel, and embody each day is a practice that nurtures satisfaction. No matter where one is in the plan or on the path to a particular target, practice creates a sense of being in the right place at the right time.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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