People set goals every single day – every single minute of every single day, in fact. And of all the goals we set as a species, how many do you think are actually met? How many fall by the wayside?
Well, there is a lot of data on goal-setting success vs. goal-meeting failure. All of it seems to indicate that the majority of goals are abandoned – and there are many reasons why.
Here are the three reasons that have stood out most to me in my time reading and researching the art of accomplishing what we set out to do – and some well-sourced advice on how to overcome the odds and make your goals happen.
Failure 1: Letting the Wrong Motives Rule The Roost.
This may seem cliche, but alas, motives are not something most people have truly examined. We set our goals because we feel like they ought to be set – we have images in our heads of the results of our goals, the things we will accomplish and the value those things will add to our lives.
Motives go much deeper than that. Motives are not merely the endings you seek, but the compass by which you move toward those endings. And startlingly few of us allow the compass to be our guide – instead we look at milestones and measurable to help us find our way.
Tell me: if someone came up and said “if you do X, the thrill will last three days and then you will feel empty and disillusioned; if you aim for Y, you will never feel disillusioned about it, and it will in fact give you lasting energy, fulfillment, and joy,” which letter would you go for, X or Y?
Motives are the Y, milestones are the X. You don’t work toward your goals in order to claim some momentary prize – not really. You work toward goals because you have an image inside of your mind, a snapshot of your ideal self.
Who is that ideal self? Are they healthy, kind, balanced, free…? That self is based on your deeper values – the principles that you live your life by. When goals are based only upon the barest edge of those values, or worse, on someone else’s values, they don’t hold water. The goals based on your principles, however, can motivate you for a lifetime.
People often fail to meet their goals because they don’t stop and take the time to clarify their motives. They do not take apart the “why” of their goal, instead focusing on the “what” that it represents to them. The “what” simply does not sustain them enough to continue on their path; they give up, eventually, feeling disillusioned and disappointed.
Those who succeed overwhelmingly cultivate habits of self-reflection and introspection. This is an investment of time and effort that pays back dividends in the form of motivation, fulfillment, and personal integrity. If you want to succeed, you can’t neglect it.
Before setting a goal, write down three reasons why you want to accomplish it. Then, write down the three values that you feel define you as an individual. See where the reasons and the values match up – if they don’t seem to match at the outset, think a little deeper and see if you can find a connection. If they still don’t match, reassess if this is a goal you actually will – or want to – accomplish.
Know thyself: and know why you do the things you do.
Failure 2: Thinking in Terms of Milestones Instead of Strategies.
Let’s say that someone is asking you to invest in their big business idea. “I’m going to start X business,” they say – “I will do this, this, and that in order to succeed.”
“Okay, but how will you do this, this, and that?” you ask. “What’s the long-term strategy?”
If they don’t have an answer, you probably won’t be willing to invest your resources in their idea. So why do we insist on investing our own mental and physical resources in ideas that have no backbone?
A goal without a strategy is nearly always DOA – dead on arrival. We set our goals passionately and then assume that we will take opportunities as they come and accomplish it. Really, though – does that sound like a stable plan? No wonder so many of us fail!
If you are going to set a goal, be serious about it. If you aren’t going to lay out a strategy to accomplish the goal bit by bit and day by day, why are you bothering to set it in the first place? It obviously isn’t that important to you (which is fine – better to be honest and save yourself the time).
When engaging in goal-setting, don’t throw a list down on paper willy-nilly. Prioritize. Choose one goal at a time and lay out a series of long-term steps for its achievement – not milestones that may or may not sustain you.
I’ve felt the truth of the power of motives in my own life. After graduating college, my motives were to finally do something that would firmly label me as “adult” in the eyes of others. I was driven by concept of what I ought to do – at least by society’s standards – and images of what that looked like. My own deeper values were silenced out of a sense of duty toward my family and others.
The result was a job that was dishonest from the outset, stressful, demeaning, disillusioning, and at times traumatizing. It was a waste of my time and energy – it caused me to feel incredibly anxious and depressed at a time when I needed to find direction. By ignoring my own motives, I became deeply unhappy.
It was only when I firmly took a stand and declared that I would not continue on a path ruled by other people’s motives, that I would not waste my life on a path that wasn’t aligned with my own principles, that I saw real, positive change in my life. I followed that stand with action, and now I am well on my way to living the fulfilling and deeply meaningful life I had wanted to pursue from the outset.
Let YOUR motives lead, and you’ll find yourself on a better path.
Failure 3: Giving In To Discouragement.
Discouragement is part of the process that comes with pursuing life goals. This is not an easy lesson to learn, I know – I have faced and will continue to face many discouragements as I pursue an unconventional lifestyle, and there have been times when the doubts arising from that discouragement have nearly gotten the best of me.
Life isn’t supposed to be easy. Goals are by definition fraught with challenges! What would be the point, otherwise? If every time you had a goal it simply happened on its own without any sort of challenge, do you think you could really be fulfilled by those accomplishments?
The most successful and graceful people are the ones who cultivate resilience. They know that they will be discouraged as they pursue their principle-oriented goals – they understand that this is par for the course. But they also know that the discouragement will pass, because those goals are based on deeper truths and values that define their life’s purpose.
Maybe you want to publish a book, but your queries are being consistently rejected. Maybe you want to completely de-clutter your house, but every time you make any progress something comes along to undo it. Perhaps your goal is to live a healthier and more active lifestyle, but you find that your energy levels are rarely up to the task. These discouragements stop a lot of people from pursuing their goals to the end – this is not a statement of judgment! It’s the reality of human nature.
If your goals are based on something deeper than the whims of the moment, however, they are more likely to endure and overcome your discouragement. Let’s say that your goal to de-clutter is based on your inherent desire to promote balance and peace within your home – the goal has grown naturally out of the value you place on making your home a refuge for yourself, your friends, and your family.
Discouragement will happen, but now you have a much firmer foundation for the goal. It will keep growing back. You will be far more likely to think of more creative solutions to your setbacks, because your motives and goals are in alignment and you are inspired by the things that matter most to you. The discouragement is not stronger than the principles that define your actions.
This is, more than anything, the key to meeting your goals effectively. Discouragement is overwhelming when we haven’t given enough energy or attention to the values and principles that define what is truly important to us. Without knowing the real reason we want something, the desire is just that – a desire. By focusing on the unchanging, deep-rooted things that drive us to do rather than merely to want, we give that desire more substance, more weight. It can withstand the winds of discouragement and come out stronger than before!
When discouragement comes knocking, these days I see it as an opportunity. It is a signal that this is my chance to re-examine my goal from the perspective of my values and principles, and see if it still holds up. Most of the time it does, and I feel reaffirmed and re-inspired. This has created significant, lasting, incredibly positive change in all areas of my life. My work is more inspired, my relationships are stronger, and my personal integrity has increased across the board. I am a happier and more creative person.
I, like many others, have given in to discouragement from time to time. We can’t blame ourselves for very human moments of weakness. Instead, I encourage you to learn from those moments when you were unable to withstand the discouragement – what was the goal? Why couldn’t it endure? How can you change the way you set your goals so that they are more deeply rooted, next time?
See the negatives as opportunities, and your whole life will tend toward the positive.
Conclusion – The Keys Are Hidden Inside the Failures.
As with most things in life, the solutions to our problems are often waiting inside of the problems themselves. In my experience, failure is one of the most challenging and enlivening things that can happen to a person. As many wise people have said, “failure makes the best teacher.”
When you base your goals on the things that define you as a human being – your values, principles, ideals, and integrity – you give them more power than you can ever imagine. The changes that arise naturally out of this process of deeper goal-setting are incredibly rewarding.
Reflecting on the reasons people fail (including the reasons that you, personally, have failed to reach certain goals) can be intimidating at first. Over time, if your goals and aspirations are based on the deeper process we’ve discussed here, that anxiety will transform into a firmer and longer-lasting form of motivation.
Thank you for taking the time to learn with me, and I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, or advice. Until next time, darlings!