For many of us on our self-help journey, goal-setting is an important part of our personal development plan.
It’s often the first step we take and the first piece of advice that we’re given. A goal will act as a road sign that can be looked back on, guiding you along your path and showing you the direction in which to go.
I’ve created content in the past covering why I actually think goal-setting shouldn’t be the first step (you can listen to that here) and why goal-setting doesn’t work but, for the right person, it’s definitely valuable.
So with all of this in mind, it’s important to spend some time thinking about why so many of us fail to achieve the goals we’ve set. This way, we can learn from the experience and improve going forward.
In this post, I outline 20 key reasons why your goal-setting may not work. If you’re currently struggling to set and achieve your goals, read on…
1. Your goals may be too big
If your goals are set at a level that is too high, it could mean that you don’t really have the necessary skills and knowledge to complete them. If this is the case, you’re likely to experience failure and de-motivation.
2. Your goals may be too small
If you set yourself a goal that’s just ‘sort out my tax return’ it’s not going to take much effort for you to achieve this and there’s little sense of achievement, or motivation to create a desired improvement in your life, from achieving such a task. If this is the case then you’re better off not setting specific goals at all and, instead just focus on taking tiny leaps towards more meaningful outcomes in your life.
3. Your goals are too vague
If you really want to achieve your goals, they need to be specific and measurable. If not, how can you tell if your goal has been reached?
How do you know if you’re successful or not?
Without a clear target, it’s impossible to measure progress and success. Goals that have unclear targets are often “wishy-washy”.
4. You lack a compelling reason to achieve your goals
The most important thing you can do is have a strong conviction that you want to succeed, and not just for its own sake but for the rewards it will bring you. It needs to be something that excites you and inspires you in some way. So ask yourself, why do you want to achieve your goals?
5. You may need to get more clarity around goal-setting
Who are you telling about your goals? Who do they serve and what are they trying to say? If the answers aren’t clear, then perhaps now’s the time to ask yourself some hard questions as well as think about how your goals might fit into your life vision? What makes sense right now? It’s worth spending some time thinking about these questions.
6. Your goals are just numbers and measurements that don’t really mean anything to you
One of the benefits of setting a goal is that it’ll help you measure your success towards achieving what you set out to do – but only if the goal means something to you! For example, losing 33lbs in 6 months makes sense for one person who wants to say fit into their wedding dress or tux but not for another person who just wants to have more energy or be healthier.
7. You have no idea how long it will take you to achieve your goals
You might want to lose 10lbs of body fat next month – but unless you’re planning on going on an extremely restrictive diet and avoiding all social activities, this might not be ideal for your body type. Put more thought into your goals, do a bit more research to learn what’s possible, and then start explaining how you will achieve them (and in what time frame).
8. Your goals are about instant gratification
We’re all guilty of this – we want everything NOW! But when you set a goal it’s important to think beyond the immediate effects… “I’ll make $10k in my business next month.” is a simple goal but there may be some work involved to get there – have you prepared for that? Can you see the steps needed to get there? If not, perhaps you should break down your short-term target into smaller steps or measures so you can see a path to achieving your goal.
9. You’re not enjoying the process of achieving your goals
When you achieve something, do you feel proud? Do you feel motivated or inspired? If so – then carry on! But if you just feel like this thing is hanging over your head and get stressed when thinking about it, perhaps find out why that’s the case before setting new goals? Your motivations may have shifted since setting that goal in particular.
10. You may need a bigger vision of what’s possible for yourself
Do you think too small about what’s possible for yourself? Is it worth trying to lose 5 lbs or would losing 10 or 15 be better for you? The answer to that question may depend on how your body reacts to losing weight and what your body requires. I’ve spoken about this in the past but personal development is personal, so for some people, it may be worth going bigger to keep yourself interested.
11. You’re not setting goals properly
Most people set their goals by focusing on WHAT they want rather than WHY they want it – so you’ll know when you achieve your goal, but not whether or not it will have any effect on your life. For example, “I want to earn $10k from my business next month” is not the same thing as “I want to have more time with my loved ones and earn an extra $10k per month so that I can give them the best of me without worrying about money or work-life balance”.
12. Your goals are too close together in time
It can be difficult to achieve 5 goals in 2 months and at the same time, it’s just as hard to get excited about doing so. By setting your goals further apart in time, you’ll feel motivation building up on each occasion you review them and you’re less likely to give up because they’re spread out over a longer period of time.
13. You want something very different from what you’ve got now
You might not even realize it but perhaps you aren’t very happy with the way things are going – chances are that if things can change there’s at least one pretty significant thing wrong in your life! Thinking about goals too far away may make it harder to see how big of a change is necessary. But if you start with something closer to what you have now, then it should be easier. Obviously, the biggest changes are also the ones that take the most time – so do you still want these goals?
14. You don’t have a good enough plan of action to achieve your goals
You’ve worked out what you want and now it’s time for the details! How are you going to do this? Put some thought into it – spend an hour planning, a few days researching, a month trying things out or even just 5 minutes fleshing your ideas out. In any case, have a plan in place that matches your lifestyle and capabilities rather than just throwing ideas out and hoping for the best!
15. You’re not ready for the task or responsibility that comes with your goal
If there’s anything on this list that you can find common ground with, it’s probably this one! When we start out in life our ambitions may be bigger than our capabilities – having a long-term vision is great but there are many things between where you are and where you want to get to. Getting into these details is beyond the scope of this article but if any of your goals require significant changes in yourself or your lifestyle then maybe think about whether or not it’s actually a good idea?
16. Your goals are not unique to you
If your goal is about something that many people want (a new career, a move to another country etc) then there’s a higher risk of failure because those goals aren’t necessarily contextual to your or your life. Rather than setting the same goal everyone else is, go for something that makes sense for your life.
17. You haven’t thought about the steps required to achieve those goals
Do you know HOW you’ll reach your goals? Chances are if you don’t get this part right, there won’t be any point even starting. Goals without a plan are just wishes. You don’t need to have every single detail figured out, but you DO need to get a clear idea of what’s involved so that you can map out a route to the finish line.
18. You hadn’t thought about the consequences of not achieving your goals
Compare the goal that you have with the reality of what it will do to your life if it doesn’t work out. “I’d like to have more freedom in my life” means little when compared to “I want my partner and/or family to support me AND be happy for me, no matter what I choose”. Make sure that the expectations match up with how people affect you – both positively and negatively.
19. It will damage or end relationships
What will your goals do to you and the people around you? Goals shouldn’t come at a cost that you aren’t willing to pay, so if yours are putting stress on friends or family then think about how you can change things to make sure that everyone is happy – there’s no point in some loft ambition if it’ll wreck the relationships that matter most.
20. You’re not willing to do whatever it takes
If you’ve thought a goal over and realized that there’s some sort of sacrifice involved, then ask yourself how hard YOU are willing to work? Chances are this isn’t something that will come easily so if your goal requires real effort then make sure you’ve got the strength for it! It’s easy to say that you’re willing to do whatever it takes, but if the going gets tough then will you still be doing it in 6 months time?
Setting goals is a difficult task and one that can be even more challenging if you don’t take the proper steps to make it happen. The 20 reasons why goal-setting doesn’t work that we listed in this article all have common themes: not enough planning or thought put into what needs to happen; not understanding the consequences of your goal should you fail; having unrealistic expectations about how easy things will be once you’ve achieved your desired outcome.
The good news is that you can avoid these pitfalls by asking yourself some simple questions like whether you want others involved with your decision-making process, what sacrifices need to be made for success, and determining how hard YOU are willing to work towards achieving each goal – do that and you’ll turn goal-setting into a powerful tool to help your life.
This is a great (and comprehensive!) list. In my work, I’ve also noticed that there are a few different types of goal-setting personalities, Each has its advantages and pitfalls but knowing which type you are can help you avoid the pitfalls.