Volume 105: Why So Many Goals Fail

A large portion of the population makes New Year’s Resolutions. Some have to do with weight or health, some have to do with attitudes or language, some are even professional!

Unfortunately, a sizeable group has already abandoned their goals.

Yes, less than three weeks in, and many people have already long forgotten about the resolutions they set for 2021. Some were pushed off their resolutions by big life events, some by world or societal events, and some because it just wasn’t that important to them.

Regardless of the reason, (I’m not here to judge anyone,) I think it’s a shame that so many have already given up on these goals for the year, and I want to talk about some of the main reasons resolutions and goals fail, and how we can do better. (For the sake of keeping this relevant to professional goals, I’m going to use the word “goal” instead of “resolution” the rest of the way.)

  1. The Goal was too vague.

A lot of people want to save more money or lose weight in 2021. Many want to use profanity less. In the case of wanting to save more, if I save one penny more than last year, technically I have hit this goal, but is that really what I wanted? 2020 plus one penny? If you wanted to curse less, do you know how much you curse now? How do you judge a goal that you don’t, or can’t, track?

In essence, we should avoid the words “more” or “less” when we set goals because they are too vague to be helpful. Pick a number! If saving is your goal, how can you know how much you need/want to set aside if you don’t have a number in mind? If you want to lose weight, is it five pounds or 40? The first step to being successful in your goals is to make them specific and trackable.

A good way to do that is to think about why you want to achieve whatever goal. Is the saving for a rainy day fund? How much will it cost if you’re out of work for six months? Is it for a vacation or specific purchase? How much does that item cost? Is there upkeep? Are you losing weight to be more healthy or to look better? Is there a specific BMI or deadlift number you want to get to?

  1. The Goal was made without a specific action plan.

Another big challenge when setting a goal is that even if it’s specific, there often isn’t a plan, or the plan itself is very vague.

Once you’ve set a specific goal that you want to target, you must make a specific plan. The quote I use often from my father, that an idiot with a plan with beat a genius without one any day, fits here. Hitting goals and making plans isn’t about being smart enough, and it doesn’t have to be about discipline, it’s about making the right plan.

If your goal is to learn a new skill, you need to plan that out! Do you need to take classes? Can you watch videos on YouTube? How much do you need to practice each week to get better? How much time are you going to commit to learning that new skill? And what won’t you be doing that you were using that time for before?

If you want to build savings, where can you cut expenses? Is it one less meal at a restaurant per week or month? Is it buying the generic brand stuff at the grocery store instead of the name brand? Can you keep your expenses the same, but find a way to generate more income?

Once you’ve set up your specific goal and decided WHAT you want to accomplish, you must put a plan together and figure out HOW you are going to accomplish it.

Just like your goal, though, the plan also must be very specific. If you plan to “save a little of each paycheck” what does that mean? Is it a percentage or a flat number? If you’re going to “go to the gym more” as your plan to get healthier, is that once a week? Twice? Every day?

  1. The Goal lacked accountability.

An area that I tend to struggle is setting up the accountabilities around those goals. What are the consequences if I hit the goal or not? If I stick to the plan or not?

And to be clear, consequences aren’t always negative. Every action has consequences, some good and some bad, so what will the consequences be if you do or don’t hit your goal?

Within my company, I tend to get very caught up in my interactions with the industry, and sometimes miss out on the report-writing and other documentation that I expect of all my teammates. When I miss these things, the consequence is that it negatively impacts my teammates and their time is wasted. A positive consequence if I do my documentation is that my team might be able to make more money because they have more knowledge available to make good decisions. (Also, I won’t get yelled at.)

In addition, I’ve added a second positive consequence if I complete my documentation: I get to take myself for some Spring Creek Barbecue.

The carrot tends to work better than the stick, and so setting up a positive reinforcement for me to complete my goals helps me be successful.

If there are no consequences to keeping on track with your goal, a lot of us don’t have the discipline to stay on track without it. Finding the motivator, either positive or negative, to make you get up and achieve your goals is a good way to stay on track. You can focus less on beating yourself up for not being disciplined, and more on doing whatever required to reach that positive consequence.

In addition, an accountability buddy can often help. If you’re trying to lose weight, find a friend, coworker, or family member with a similar goal that can help you. Having someone to struggle alongside you, to help push you when you feel like you’re out of gas, can be a big-time boost and help ensure you reach the finish line. A spouse or friend can help you keep your savings goal on track or help you track your cursing if you’re trying to do that less. You can turn it into a competition, if that’s the kind of thing that helps you.

  1. Positive Goals vs Negative Goals.

Finally, in addition to recognizing the positive and negative consequences, also consider making sure your goals themselves are positive.

A lot of us set goals that sound like “I’m going to stop drinking soda” or “I’m going to stop spending so much money at restaurants.” These are valid goals, but because they are negative goals that ask you to stop doing something, they’re MUCH harder to maintain.

My suggestion is always to set a positive goal instead. Instead of drinking less soda, you want to drink more water! If you’re drinking 80 oz of water each day, you don’t really have time to drink sodas, and positive goal, like trying to clear 80 oz of water each day, is a challenge you can work toward, instead focusing on denying yourself something.

As I mentioned with the carrot and the stick earlier, a positive goal will almost always be easier to follow and accomplish than a negative one.

You might find a way to be successful without being specific in terms of both what goal you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish your goal. You might find a way to be successful, even if there’s no accountability tied to the goal, or your goals are all negative. But the bottom line is that you’re not setting yourself up for success, and you’re giving yourself a much harder road for no reason.

If you want to be successful with your goals, figure out EXACTLY what you want, EXACTLY what it will take to get there, EXACTLY how you can keep yourself on track, and EXACTLY what positive thing you can drive toward, and you’ll be on your way to a success.

As always…


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