Other than where external circumstances specifically get in the way, there are three major areas which can cause you to struggle with achieving your goals. These can be classified as:
- How your goal interacts with your mental processes
- How your personal behavioural characteristics affect you
- How your environment affects you
From these three classes, there are ten major reasons which can cause you to struggle to achieve your goals:
1. Poorly Defined Goals
The first major factor that causes people to struggle with achieving their goals is that their goals are too poorly defined. A lot of inexperienced goal-setters may set a goal to “lose some weight”, for example. The problem here is that the goal is not tightly defined enough. There is no measurability in the goal. Without that measurability, it is difficult for the goal-setter to really know what they are aiming for. There is no end-point. The goal-setter will not know exactly WHEN they have achieved this goal. Without that measurability it becomes really difficult for the goal-setter to judge their progress towards achieving their objective.
Another common aspect, which many goal-setters overlook, is they do not have a definite date by which time they want to have achieved their goal. The effect of not having a deadline, is again that it becomes much harder to judge progress towards their goal. Their psychology may then allow them to procrastinate on actions that would progress their goal as there is no sense of urgency. For example, if your goal is simply to “be fitter”, then when the weather turns bad and you don’t want to go on that run, it becomes much easier to put it off “until tomorrow” as there is no deadline for achieving the goal.
2. Goals Too Large or Too Small
I personally do not have a problem with setting almost ridiculously large goals. BIG BIG Goals can be a lot of fun, and the result of achieving such enormous goals is a phenomenal state of self-achievement – half the fun comes from trying to see how close to attaining them you can get. This can sometimes lead to a performance WAY in excess of where you might be with more realistic goals. This is because really outrageous goals can force you to think “out of the box”. You will have to approach the world in a whole new way to achieve really big goals – For example, if your goal is to “pay off your $150,000 mortgage within three months” then it will force you to be creative and start thinking in a totally different way. The solutions for big goals are often not immediately obvious, and can open up whole new vistas of knowledge or technology. For example, the goal to put man on the moon led to whole new technological developments. Such goals tend to lead to revolutionary leaps and advances, rather than evolutionary incremental steps.
The problem comes if you set yourself goals that are too large when you don’t have the support structures necessary to support yourself, or the psychological resilience to setbacks. Then, the goal can appear to be infeasibly large, or even impossible to achieve, which leads to your motivation waning. When a goal appears too large to achieve, people’s psychology often then prevents them even taking the first step – “because it won’t make any difference”. If the goal is too large and setback after setback appears, the average person will struggle with being persistent and maintaining their motivation in the face of such adversity.
An equal problem comes where your major goals are too small. When your major goals are too small, or not challenging enough, they become impotent. The problem here is often that your reason for achieving the goal is not desirable enough to provoke action. Consequently, it becomes difficult to build motivation. Small goals often struggle to be compelling enough to create that strong desire within you that launches you into action. We humans perform best when we have something worthwhile to aim at, or have something to react against for a greater purpose. A small goal doesn’t help here because it doesn’t stretch you enough. It isn’t significantly worthwhile enough. Thus, it doesn’t inspire action.
The best goals are goals that stretch you, challenge you, but are realistically achievable too.
3. Goals that are Incongruous with Your Values
It is really important that you create goals that are congruous with your values, and goals that do not act against your own sense of integrity. For example, if you’ve always wanted to start your own business, but you value security and stability in your life above all else, then you will undoubtedly struggle to achieve your aim. Starting your own business often involves an inherent amount of risk-taking, which directly opposes your values of security and stability. Consequently, you are pitting your desires against your very own psychological make-up: your desires do not reflect your values. You would have three choices: 1) save yourself the stress and find another goal that reflects your values instead, 2) continue to struggle with the goal, or 3) change your psychological constitution and alter the things you value.
If you know exactly what qualities you value – both those “pleasurable” values that motivate you in a positive way (eg. Respect, adventure, security, love, creativity), as well as the “pain” values that you specifically try to avoid (eg. Embarrassment, rejection, frustration) – then it becomes a lot easier to design goals that reflect those values, and it becomes easier to create a life you find fulfilling.
4. Being Overwhelmed
A common experience is that people go through cycles. We reach a point where we want change in our life, and NOW! – but we don’t manage the implementation of that process realistically. Suddenly, we start an exercise program, undertake to read seven books per week, start two new hobbies, and work towards launching a new business all at once! The result is that two weeks later, the exercise program goes out the window, you’ve a pile of unread books on the shelf, you’ve stopped going to the evening classes, and the new business just isn’t going to happen. This is a classic case of overwhelm: you’ve tried to change too much, too quickly, all at once! You hit your comfort zones, and bounce straight back to where you came from! The typical example of this would be New Year where everyone sets their resolutions determined to improve their life, but by the end of January, their life is back where it was before. It can be very demoralising.
The answer is to concentrate on just two or three changes at a time – perhaps even less if it is a major life changing goal! Then, as your new habits embed themselves into your personality and habitual behaviours, then you slowly add the next change. It is a managed process of change.
5. Lack of Motivation
Merely having a goal does not create the motivation to achieve it. Motivation derives instead from the unbridled desire for achieving that goal being transmuted into the force which causes you to act towards achieving it – i.e. Motivation is only truly apparent when you actually do take action! There may be many multiple reasons for a lack of motivation, so we will only cover two principal ones: not being bothered, and procrastination.
If you can’t be bothered to achieve your goal, then basically your reasons for achieving this goal are not compelling enough! Without a strong enough “why” you don’t have the leverage upon yourself to take action – As there is too much inertia in your previous behavioural patterns, it is easier not to bother! The solution is to build really compelling reasons why you must achieve the goal, or change the goal to one which IS compelling if you can’t find a strong-enough motive. Compelling reasons can include realisations and knowledge of both the positive effects of achieving the goal, and negative consequences of what happens if you do not take any action towards achieving this goal. You can use both to re-associate the things you link pain and pleasure to, in order to spur yourself into action.
Procrastination – the act of putting off taking action – often results when the “pain” you mentally associate with taking action right now, is stronger than the “pleasure” you mentally associate with taking that action! Ie. You don’t want to do it now. The classic example of this might be preparing your tax return – you know it has to be done, but you procrastinate until the pain you associate with NOT doing it right now is greater than the pain of doing it right now! The solution here is to control what you focus upon in your mind, and re-associate what you link pain and pleasure to. You might need to think a bigger picture, find new ways of extracting pleasure from a situation, or minimise what “pain” you associate with any particular action or circumstance. You might actually need to increase the pain you associate with the negative consequences of not taking action. Either way, procrastination is a choice NOT to act right now. As it is a choice, it is something which you have the power to overcome – if you choose!
6. Lack of Commitment
Lack of commitment stems from not having a goal that is desirable enough to you. You do not want it badly enough to keep going. If you are 100% committed, you will do what it takes to achieve the goal – because achieving the goal is an expression of who you are at this point. It is no longer merely something you are interested in, or something you want to happen. Instead, when you are committed, you have the will to achieve it.
A periodic lack of commitment can be combated by improving the desirability of the goal – perhaps by rewording it, or alternatively changing your values to reflect who you would be in order to achieve it. A continual lack of commitment would imply that your motives for wanting the goal are suspect. Is it something you merely wish for, or feel that you should do? – Effective goals are about something that you truly desire to happen!
7. Lack of Discipline or Self-Control
Achieving your goals will take discipline and self-control. Life contains too many distractions and temptations, therefore having self-discipline is a necessity. When the weather turns unpleasant, it is then that your exercise plan requires mastery over yourself to maintain that discipline. When you fancy a snack, or choose to have an extra pint of beer in the pub – these are the moments when you need discipline to succeed with your goals. As Anthony Robbins says, “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped”.
Overcoming a periodic lack of discipline is about being able to concentrate on your longer term objective, in spite of attractive short term gains or pleasures. It is about changing how you represent the outcomes of the choices you have before you – to one where the longer term picture is by far the most attractive and desirable option to you, right NOW. It is about being aware of the choices you make, and being fully aware of the long-term consequences of your daily actions and behaviours way down the line of time.
If you slip, get back on the horse. If you only succeed 51% of the time, you are still making progress towards your goal. Don’t waste energy chastising or berating yourself about your past failures, instead concentrate on what you want to happen, and use your self-control to become who you want to be. Habitual behaviours are the most difficult to change. Still, all it takes is a decision to make, or become, that change – a solid, unwavering decision – and backing that decision up with the actions you know you need to take.
8. Lack of Persistence or being Impatient
Lots of people falter with their goals as a result of a lack of persistence, or by becoming impatient in the process. Goals can sometimes take a long time to show the results of your labour, and it is too easy to become despondent if there is a large time gap between you making an effort, and being able to see the visible effects of your efforts. A prime example is if you are trying to lose some weight, after several weeks of a new diet and regular exercise, it is a common experience to find your weight either not going down, or even going up. The fact that there is no weight loss could be caused by a whole host of factors, including actually turning excess fat into muscle. However, this is a crucial time when it is too easy to say that your efforts are not working – are not being rewarded – just at the time when you need to be resolved, persistent, and patient.
In such an instance, the best way of approaching such a goal is to concentrate on WHO you are, and upon those habitual behaviours which create your personality. For example, although your original goal might be to “lose 10 kgs”, a better goal might be “to become a person who exercises regularly three times per week, and eats and drinks healthily and in moderation”. The desired weight loss would be an effect of your improved lifestyle, rather than merely being the end-goal itself. Although we are introducing some elements which aren’t specific, it is much more focussed on who you are, much more positively phrased, and creates a really firm sense of who you wish to be. Can you see how you would approach each goal in a very different psychological manner? You would measure your success very differently! In the first goal, only the result is important – losing weight – whereas, with the latter goal, it is the process that is important – the journey – who you become by changing your habitual behaviour.
Everybody suffers setbacks when they strive for their goals. Things do get in the way. Obstacles do present themselves. The difference between success and failure is to never allow the setbacks to dampen your enthusiasm and motivation for your goal. Instead, see them as interesting events or situations on the journey to your achieving your goals, and continue to be persistent – even if that means rethinking your strategies on how to achieve success. Failure comes only when you give up or abandon your goal.
9. Unsupportive Environment
One mark of advanced goal-setters is that they design an environment that supports them to achieve their goals. They construct an environment that takes them halfway to achieving their goal without them putting in any extra effort. Using our weight loss example, an unsupportive environment might be living above a fast food restaurant, and having crisps, cookies, chocolate and candy stored in your kitchen, whereas a supportive environment would be living next to a gym with a pantry stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables and juice. Perhaps moving residence is a little extreme, but you could put the fattest, worst photos of you on the fridge door, and put posters of how you’d love to look over your exercise bike!
You can take control over many aspects of your environment to help you achieve your goals. Design an environment that supports you best. If you need peace and quiet to write that novel, check out the local libraries, churches, or parks. Find those things which help you to progress on your goals with the least effort, distraction, or temptation – so that your energies go directly into achieving your aims.
Nothing helps you fail quicker with your goals than being surrounded by naysayers, and people who don’t believe you can achieve your goals. Alternatively, if you surround yourself by people with similar aims, goals, and ambitions, you will find it much easier to help maintain motivation, momentum, and commitment.
Fear interacts with the way we represent the world to ourselves. It affects both how we automatically filter our perceptions of the world, and how we manage those perceptions. Humans react strongly to change, it pushes us out of our comfort zones, so fear is a naturally occurring reaction to the threat of change in our lives or circumstances.
Fears gain strength when you focus on the negative possibilities of a situation or event. Should such possibilities ever actually arise, fear generally dissipates and is negated because, once you are in the situation, you can react against it. You can take appropriate action to change the event, and deal with the situation.
Your ability to manage your thought processes gives you strength against fear. You can do this by various techniques, such as reframing situations, creative visualisations, and by controlling the scenarios you play in your mind. Worry is the complement of fear, resulting from indecision. It results from asking too many negative “what if” questions inside your mind, and concentrating on what you don’t want to happen. Thus, when you improve your ability to make firm, strong decisive choices, and focus on what you do want to happen instead, naturally your worries lose strength and subside.