Goals often have a tangible reward at the end, like a new job, a big purchase, or record-breaking mile time. But goals also reward us with intrinsic value like pride and improved confidence. Without goals, you may feel stagnant. Like you are working but for no significant reward. And like one day to the next is a dragging cycle.
How do you deal with not achieving your goals? To deal with not achieving your goals, you must address these ten common mistakes people make:
- Setting vague goals
- Being inconsistent
- Lacking the drive
- Following the influence of pessimistic people
- Setting too many goals
- Repeating past mistakes
- Being impatient
- Goals staying in the head
- Giving up during setbacks
Defining goals can be a vital part of feeling fulfilled in your life. The satisfaction of reaching a long-awaited goal feels excellent! With so much to gain, why do people so rarely follow through?
10 Common Mistakes Keeping You From Achieving Your Goals
Many things stand between you and any goal you set. People usually don’t understand why their efforts are short-lived or why they feel frustrated on the path to reaching their goals.
In familiarizing yourself with these ten common problems, you can better understand why you never reach your goals and learn how to adjust your approach for success on your next goal.
1. Setting Vague Goals
The first mistake many people make when setting up a new goal is not being specific enough and missing out on important details. The allure of setting up a vague goal is that it does not hold you accountable for specific action and allows you to slack.
For example, the vague goal of ‘Saving Money’ does not call for a particular change. The goal ‘put $1,000 in my savings each month’ calls for clear, concrete action to move you towards making progress. There is no kidding yourself about whether you are sticking to a clear goal or not.
That’s precisely why you want to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.
When you do have a clear goal, each step is a little success of its own. Following the example, every month you put away $1,000 is a clear achievement. The success of reaching each milestone along the way ensures that you are getting closer to your goal and will motivate you to keep it up.
In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
If reaching all your goals required effort just once, many more people would be living out their dreams, but that is far from the case. What makes reaching a goal so tricky is that it takes long-term, consistent effort. This can require sacrificing other things that take up your time, making lifestyle changes, or adjusting habits.
Consistency, even if it can be difficult to maintain, is a crucial component to reaching your goals.
Not being honest with yourself about how consistent you are can serve as a real roadblock for many people.
Are you truly devoted to your goals? Or are you only putting in effort when it is convenient? The difference between the two can be what determines whether you are progressing or stagnant.
You may find using a planner or calendar helpful. You can write down and check off or cross out each step you take. Looking at the work you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis will show you how consistent your effort is.
3. Lacking a Strong ‘Why’
Ask yourself honestly if your goals excite and motivate you. Commitment to your goal will be tested regularly during times when you are tired, face frustration and setbacks or have other areas of life competing for time and focus.
A firmly held, valuable reason “why” will be what roots you and keeps you on track towards your goal even during those difficult times.
If you find it hard to act on a goal, it may not be pure laziness. Instead, you may lack a meaningful and inspiring reason to reach that precise goal. That’s why you should rationalize precisely why your goal is worth all the work, time, and emotional investment.
A strong reason “why” associated with strong emotions and values will continue to drive and excite you when devoting yourself to a new goal.
Make sure to identify your reason why. This should be among the first steps you take so you can remind yourself of it in trying times.
4. The Influence of Pessimistic People
Pessimism from those around you can stifle your motivation and heighten your insecurities. Those who speak negatively about your goals can plant the seeds of doubt that eventually derail your success.
Often when goals take up much of our time and lives, they become apparent to the people around us. You will not have control over the opinions of others, but you must learn who to listen to and who is bringing you further away from your goals.
Be mindful of whose opinion you value and who you confide in throughout your journey towards your goal. Just as much as the wrong people can affect you, a strong support system can boost resilience and energize you while working towards your goal.
We become the average of the 5 people we spend most of our time with. So if your goals strongly differ from your friends’, and family’s colleagues’, you’d better learn to focus on yourself and not others.
Additionally, keep in mind that according to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit*, our chances at changing habits successfully strongly increase when we surround ourselves with people who share our new goals or, even better, have already implemented those changes in their life.
Many people find themselves pushing off work into an endless amount of tomorrows. By procrastinating, you put your goals and dreams on hold. A temporary hold due to procrastination very often slides in to never acting on or completing a goal.
“Tomorrow” and “later” are often more fleeting than one may realize, and you do not want to regret missing the opportunity to reach your goal once it has passed.
Procrastination can feel like a tough wall to break through but be assured that it is possible.
You must first acknowledge your procrastination and stop feeding into a thought pattern that justifies pushing off progress. Try scheduling when you work on your goal in advance. Pushing things off to a ‘better time’ or ‘tomorrow’ makes little sense when you have time devoted to it today.
Also, try to focus on taking at least one step towards your goal each day or week. Even starting small is better than not starting at all! Wayne Gretzky said, “Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases, and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.”
6. Too Many Goals Spreading You Thin
Serious goals require sufficient time and focus. When you divide your time and focus between too many goals at once, their results often all suffer because of it. In trying to have or do it all, you may compile long lists of goals, but if you have little to put into each, you will also get little out.
Overestimating what you can handle can be discouraging and make you doubt your ability to succeed at anything. The problem, however, isn’t your ability to reach individual goals, but your limited ability to balance goals.
This is not to say you can only do one thing at a time. Instead, you need to weigh your commitments. Here are some questions to consider:
- What goals align or support each other?
- What objectives must come before others?
- Which are more urgent or more valuable?
If you have many goals that you value, they can all play a role in your bigger picture, but you will promote your success quicker by prioritizing and reaching them strategically.
If having too many goals is one of your main reasons for not ever reaching them, I highly recommend two of my favorite books:
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less* by Greg McKeown
- The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results* by Gary Keller
And if that’s not motivating enough to focus on just ONE important goal at a time, I highly recommend you read this other article of mine.
7. Repeating the Same Old Mistakes
You have likely heard the expression “old habits die hard”. And it certainly applies to many people who are looking for excuses when the same behaviors repeatedly get in the way of them reaching their goals.
Do you know someone who is notoriously late? No matter how many times it has caused an interpersonal conflict or gotten them in trouble at work, they make excuses as to why it’s not their fault or why those around them are overreacting. Or, worst of all, they accept it as one of their shortcomings and never bother to address it.
You need self-awareness and self-discipline to reach your goals. Objectively look at where you are holding yourself back and break the pattern. Doing so will not only help you progress towards your goals but increase your self-confidence.
Once you kick the bad habit, you will have proven to yourself that you oversee your progress and can do whatever it takes. Any small win is a win nonetheless! And accumulating small wins sets up for success, as Charles Duhigg explains in his book, The Power of Habit*.
Goals, by nature, take time to complete, and so, require plenty of patience. To reach your desired result, you must work hard in the present and wait for the pay-off down the road. Some goals take more time than others, but while putting in the work and anticipating what’s to come, it can be easy to grow discouraged by impatience.
If you feel your efforts are not being rewarded quickly enough, you may come to question, “Why even bother?” or think “I will never get there!”
You can beat impatience by shifting your focus from solely the result and on to the agents of change in the here and now.
For example, if your goal is to get an old car up and running but you cannot find the issue, this will wear down on your drive to keep working. Before you leave the garage each week, step back, and think about what you did to get closer to your goal. For instance, maybe you have checked a few potential issues already and found out that those were actually not at fault. This means you have reduced the list of problems to check. Do not sell your successes short along the way to your end goal!
Journals, planners, habit or goal trackers can really help you account for your small daily wins. They make it easier to track your progress and reinforce your positive behaviors in the long run.
Also, think ahead about what you want to do next week. Acknowledging your progress and looking forward to what is in front of you will help to keep you eager throughout the pursuit of your long-term goal and thwart impatience.
9. Leaving Your Goals in Your Head
When we do not claim our goals in any way outside of our thoughts, they are much easier to push aside and neglect. Making your goals visible can keep them in the forefront of your attention and hold you accountable. Claiming goals in writing or verbally is a way of initially acting on them. It’s a way to get the ball rolling and say to yourself, “I am doing this!”
It may not be what you are used to but, research done at Dominican University found that, by simply writing down your goals, you become 42% more likely to reach them! Whether you save a list on your phone, create a vision board, use a journal, or share your plans with someone close to you, it is a first step to letting them exist outside of your mind.
10. Giving Up After Setbacks
You have a clear goal in mind, and an effective plan to get there. What can go wrong?
Unfortunately, no matter how well you plan, goals will often be met with unforeseen obstacles. At this point, you have the choice to claim a setback as defeat or find a solution and work your way around it. Many people stop pursuing their goals in the face of unexpected difficulties or problems.
Do not expect everything to go entirely according to plan. Being prepared to face challenges and willing to adapt is a standout trait among those who succeed. Do not make the mistake of giving up when your goal is challenged. In the end, addressing the problems that come to your attention along the way will make the end result better.
If giving up after setbacks is one of your natural tendencies, I highly recommend you think about all potential obstacles that can get in the way of you reaching your goals. Then, either visualize or write down how you work your way around those challenges and succeed. In his book The Power of Habit*, Charles Duhigg explains how this precise method was one of the major factors for Michael Phelps’ repeated successes.
Habits vs. Goals: The Answer To Achieving Your Goals?
James Clear, author of the best-selling book Atomic Habits* said that
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”.
And by “systems”, James Clear is referring to your HABITS.
This means that, if you want to achieve a certain goal, the cleverest way to go about it is to translate it into daily or weekly habits. Habits allow your brain to work on autopilot. Hence, what was once difficult and required tremendous willpower becomes easy. And you set yourself up for consistency.
When you find yourself never reaching your goals, consider focusing on small habits instead.
Remember, small habits lead to small wins. And small wins lead to great successes.
How Do You Deal With Not Achieving Your Goals?
Hopefully, this list has helped you identify a handful of new ways to approach your next goal with success. Still, the possibility of failure scares many people who set out to reach a new goal, especially those who have experienced failure in the past.
By changing how you think about failure, you can use your past failures to empower you towards your current goals, not draw you away from them.
Define What a Failure is for Yourself
Failure is often thought of as an objective condition; you either succeeded or failed. As you likely know firsthand, this is not necessarily the case in practice. Let’s say your goal was to save $5,000 by June, but you only ended up saving $4,000 by the time June rolls around. You did not meet the specified criteria of your goal, so you call it a failure.
In many ways, however, you made significant progress from your starting point so that it’s wrong to discredit your efforts completely. You saved $4,000 more than if you had not started at all, and along the way, likely gained some financial habits you had not had before.
Looking at the situation this way, you gained a lot from your goal and succeeded in some of your efforts. Before deciding if something was a complete fail or not, look for progress and any type of gain. Failure is not as objective as you may think. What constitutes failure comes from the value you derived from your experience.
Find Feedback in Failure
If nothing else, failure always provides valuable feedback as to where you can improve next time you are setting up a goal. Failure is often regarded as an endpoint for our goals. You failed, so it’s time to pack up and go home, but not so fast! By reflecting on what caused your failure, you can find the key to starting over or starting something different.
In this way, failure is not the end of your goals, but part of the process. Without failure, you would never learn how to change for the better.
When you recognize mistakes and find helpful feedback from experience, you can avoid failure for the same reason in the future. When examining why you failed, some brutal honesty with yourself is required. Take responsibility for your shortcomings, so you can improve next time around.
Sifting through the experience of failing for insight about yourself and your goal setting can be difficult, especially if the disappointment is recent. You want to be able to look at things objectively and thoroughly, so if you need some time to process your failure beforehand, take the time you need to come back and see the situation with clarity.
Make Peace with Your Results
We will not achieve every goal we set, and there is a good reason for this. While trying new things we learn about ourselves, what is important to us, and what we are good at. Do not let past failures be an anchor holding you down with fear and self-doubt.
Instead, accept your mistakes, learn your lesson, and feel more confident with what you have learned in your back pocket.
You may set a goal of going to the gym and running a mile each day but find yourself drawn in to try out the weight room. By laying your goals for running to rest, you allow yourself the freedom to explore a new thing that can be just as beneficial for your health and more rewarding if it brings you more enjoyment. The excitement in learning is that it is unpredictable, and we will discover new things. By accepting, “I am going to let go of this goal and shift my focus to a new goal that better suits me,” you are giving yourself the support you need to explore and learn.
Go Forth and Achieve Your Goals
Zig Ziglar said, “Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” So, with an awareness of how to avoid common goal-setting mistakes and how to move on from past failures, nothing is holding you back from your next success!