Once you’ve set goals and decided what it is you want to pursue in your life, it’s easy to get distracted and fail. For whatever reason, things come up and prevent you from accomplishing the goals you’ve determined are meaningful for you. What most people do when this happens is blame external factors: the economy is bad, it was someone else’s fault, I didn’t actually care about that goal anyway, etc.
Instead of minimizing your disappointment when you fail to reach a goal, it is more important to focus on what responsibility you did play, and stop these common failure points from occurring in the future. Here are four of the biggest reasons why people don’t reach their goals.
1. You don’t understand the true purpose of goals
Goals are really just a means to an end. Happiness and fulfillment often don’t come from the achievement of a goal, but from what we gain in the process. Not in the sense of the cliche “it’s the journey that counts, not the destination”, but all of us have had experiences where the satisfaction of reaching a goal feels awesome…for a couple days. The satisfaction of achievement tends to be short lived, while the true gains we make are from the process of striving for a goal and expanding outside our comfort zone.
Goals are important, but they’re not enough. Goals should be linked to values to create actual lasting behavior change.
2. You haven’t identified the values behind your goals
Instead of focusing exclusively on goals, it’s important to recognize the values we hold behind our goals. For example, a goal could be to increase your income by 20%, and the values behind it would include persistence, entrepreneurship, learning, etc. Other examples of values are connection, flexibility, gratitude, self-awareness, and spirituality. These are all concepts you can shape your life around, and choose goals around them.
Once you’ve identified the values that are important to you, operationalize them and establish them in behavioral terms using goals, systems, and habits. What outcome do I want? What daily habit will put me closer to this outcome? What system of accountability can I use for my habits?
3. Your goals aren’t specific enough
When you decide what goals are worth your time and energy, you should be asking yourself “What do I want out of life, and what are the most efficient ways to get there?” Most people set their goals passively, and by doing so, avoid getting specific. This has the benefit of lessening the pain of failing to achieve a goal, because it’s never really clear when a goal is or isn’t reached. Someone who sets the goal of “getting in better shape” gets let off the hook when they fail and stay unhealthy because “getting in better shape” is a concept that isn’t clearly defined.
Your goals should be much more specific. For example, if your value is self-awareness, a specific goal that can result is “I want to meditate daily for 15 minutes.” If your value is social confidence, an effective goal is “I will start at least one conversation with someone every day.” Notice how different these goals are compared to “I want to get to know myself better” or “I want to get better at talking to people.” Being specific is crucial to reaching your goals and acting on your values.
4. You’ve chosen new habits without accountability
Motivation is overrated. Major positive life changes occur slowly over time as a result of small behavioral changes. It’s the idea that Justin and Robbie always emphasize: look for bunts, not home runs. Small wins adding up create a better effect than the rare big wins that are less easy to control. Remember that concrete actions and behavior are more important than abstract ideas like motivation.
Effective use of public accountability is specific and focused on behaviors, which is why it works. Accountability DOESN’T mean just announcing to everyone your intentions to get in shape; it’s setting a bet so you have to go to Crossfit daily, or will only eat a healthy diet, otherwise your bank account will be charged. It’s going out with a friend who physically won’t let you leave the bar until you approach a hot girl. These situations change the path of least resistance from failing at goals, to positively changing your behaviors.
It’s getting social support for reaching your goal, while also establishing negative consequences if you don’t reach it. Using money is a good way to increase the chance of reaching your goal, but anything that causes significant pain also works. The threat of social embarrassment can be a great way to hold you accountable to your goals.
Take a look back at some of the goals you wished you reached but were unsuccessful. Chances are, these four factors were at play, so you can take this information and apply it to future changes to increase your chances of success and living by the values you care about.