The Darker Side of Goal Setting — Roadblocks to Achievement

Let’s be honest, we’ve all set goals that have failed. In fact, research says that 90% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the end of January!

Goal setting is supposed to be a positive, powerful practice that ignites enthusiasm and provides clear direction. To be successful, we’re supposed to set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. However, when practiced poorly, goal-setting has a serious dark side that can undermine our success, making us cynical and fostering confusion about where to concentrate actions and energy.

So, why do so many people today set goals but fall short of achieving them on a regular basis? Following are 9 ways goals can fail – and some suggestions on combating these pitfalls:

1) No authentic purpose. For every goal, there must be a deeper motivation that fulfills our sense of purpose. This is because taking purposeful action appeals to the emotional side of our brain, which feels good and fuels our desire toward accomplishment. The easiest goals to accomplish are the ones that we desire the most and make us almost leap for joy at the thought of achieving them. According to Johann Wolfgang Von-Goethe, “Desire is the pre-sentiment of our inner ability, and the forerunner of our ultimate accomplishments.”

2) Not specific. If we set a goal to “lose 10 pounds by spring break,” for example, there isn’t enough detail for the rational side of our brain, which can encourage excuses that get us off track. Setting very clear, detailed goals will help the rational side of the brain follow through. You’ve heard the old adage, “failing to plan means planning to fail.” It’s really true! So, determine your action plan with specifics on exactly how you’re going to lose weight – such as type of workouts, days and the times, classes, diet adjustments, etc.


3) Lack of measuring. In addition to being specific and inspiring, our goals must be measurable. This enhances our ability to create feedback mechanisms that monitor, control and correct the process of achieving our goals. The same goes for business plans. If we can develop specific tactics, a timeline, and a way to measure our progress, then we provide a successful road map for achieving business goals.

4) Too big. If our goals are too large and overwhelming, they may be hard to accomplish. Goals that are subconsciously unachievable or outside our mental boundaries of reality, are much less likely to be accomplished.

Current research on goals suggests that we will go through three phases:

  • Phase I: We come out strong with enthusiasm and determination.
  • Phase II: The “Brick Wall.” We start to have a sense of failing at our goals or losing motivation. This is especially true if we have longer-term goals, which tend to make it easier to hit a valley. This could show up as lack of money, a lack of support for an idea from family or friends, or simply a loss of interest in trudging ahead toward a seemingly unreachable goal.

Now is a critical point to re-adjust our goals and timelines, possibly simplifying them or having more short-term goals that give us a sense of accomplishment that fuels our long-term goals.

  • Phase III: Completion!

So, does Phase II sound familiar? Another related tip to prevent burn-out in Phase II is using the 80/20 rule. Try to be dedicated to achieving your goals 80% of the time, and lighten up on yourself 20% of the time, within reason. Staying “on goal” 100% of the time will eventually burn you out.

5) Too complicated. If we spend too much time upfront on designing elaborate goals and tracking systems, we may find that our best efforts may not be sustainable over time. If creating and tracking goals takes too much time away from accomplishing the goals, then it’s time to prioritize and simplify goals.

6) Too many. Along with complicated goals, we may create too many goals, making it impossible to complete anything. People with too many goals feel that they never can accomplish a complete task. They may also be confused about what is most important to accomplish or fall prey to the “check it off the list” syndrome, in which they check tasks off their list half way before accomplishing the goal due to lack of motivation or simply being willing to “settle” for less.

7) No accountability. When we talk about our ambitions, we feel accountable to other people. Find a mentor, co-worker or coach to share your goals with and to hold you accountable. There is strength in numbers!

8) Not written. Writing down goals is critical to making them happen. And, regular review and follow-up of your goals make them LIVE. Post your goals in two visible places, such as by your computer and on your personal bathroom mirror, and review them twice daily – first thing in the morning and before bed if possible. Anchor your goals by visualizing what it’s like to accomplish them. Refine your goals monthly as needed. Last, make sure your shorter-term goals and action steps continue to support your longer-term goals, which are the guideposts to accomplishing your dreams!

9) Focus on failure. If we ignore celebrating the goals we’ve accomplished in the past, we lose sight of our innate ability of great achievement. Our minds are too busy focusing on our “failures” versus our “successes” – and we inadvertently encourage more of the same. Essentially, the subconscious slinks away with its tail tucked between its legs, resigned to failure!

To combat this focus on failure, list all the goals you’ve achieved in the past and celebrate your successes. Acknowledge yourself for work well done. Then moving forward, every time you achieve a goal – no matter how small – reward yourself in some way. Our subconscious needs this kind of subtle, but extremely important, fine-tuning to set us up for success!

Your challenge: (1) Review or define goals. (2) Link goals to a deeper purpose. (3) Make them clear, well-defined, and measurable. (4) Implement the 80/20 Rule. (5) Find people to hold you accountable and review your goals daily.


Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap