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why do we fail in achieving goals?

Biggest Reasons Why We Hardly Achieve Our Goals

Isn’t it universally true that picking a goal is easy, but sticking to it is difficult? In this article we will discuss the three biggest reasons why we hardly achieve our goals and the steps we can take to overcome this problem.
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Why do we fail to achieve our goals? 

Many of us are quite serious while setting goals. We all have felt the rush of excitement when we carefully selected or designed a goal for ourselves. But the harsh reality is that all of us have in some time of our life given up on some of our goals, either because of changed circumstances, changed priorities, or changed mental focus. Some of us simply gave up out of the sheer frustration of not being able to achieve the goal. Sadly, some have even left off keeping goals. 

While it’s true that not all goals are achievable, we can all do our best to identify the reasons why our goals don’t work, and take corrective steps to work on it.  The basic problem is not that our goals are unattainable, but our own strategies can make them unattainable. Let’s discuss these reasons: 

#1 Because we didn’t translate goals into daily actions 

Setting goals is a roller-coaster ride for many of us. The excitement that it generates when we ambitiously set our goals pushed us up to the sky, only to zoom back down to nowhere. Where does the problem lie? 

Desmond Tutu made a statement that addresses the problem:

“There is only one way to eat an elephant – one bite at a time.”

Everything that we aim for, or desire, can be daunting like an elephant. The first impression of any activity that our mind develops is the sheer magnitude of the task. We all have untapped potential to achieve our goals, but one thing that keeps us away from it is our own perception of it. 

We fail to achieve our goals because we fail in our perception of it, which then mentally paralyzes us to the other positive aspects of it. In fact, many people get frozen at the first step itself. 

We fail to achieve our goals because we fail in our perception of it
Failure is just your perception | Illustration by Diana Stoyanova 

Whenever we design goals, we need to remember – we are capable of achieving more than we can imagine. But this can happen only with a properly executed strategy. Let’s learn what that is through the following simple steps. 

3 Steps for successful goal execution

STEP 1: A strategy can be executed only if the goals have been properly set. In this article, we had discussed how to set SMART goals. To set such a goal, it should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Once you have properly set a goal, your goal is effectively half-reached. 

STEP 2: Once your goals are set, you need to break them down into actionable steps. Depending on your goal, you can either break them down into yearly, monthly, weekly, or hourly goals. The objective here is not just to break your goals down, but to them in a doable manner. Also, each step shouldn’t just be actionable, but incremental as well. Let’s delve down deeper into this step.

Your mammoth goal can be learning to play a piano, completing a 6-month graduation project, or even paying off your personal loan. Let’s say you have a goal to complete your 6-month graduation project. As in step 1, you have verified that your goal meets the definition of SMART. Now, let’s break it down into quarterly goals. You can divide your project into two sections, which you need to complete in 3 months each. Now, craft a plan of action by what you will do daily, weekly, and monthly. 

David Allen, the author of the famous book Getting Things Done, calls each action step as ‘Next Action’. Each ‘next action’ item should be clear, specific and unambiguous. 

The best way to jot down your daily activities is to use the Habitify app. As a data-driven habit tracker, Habitify will let you set up daily habits, and stay accountable to it by getting multiple reminders. The best aspect is you can track your progress on the go.

STEP 3: All your daily goals can be achieved if you change your habits along the way. Actionable goals work well only if you have patience, self-discipline, courage, and reasonableness. With each and every passing day, you will see yourself developing into a better person – a person who didn’t give up, but gave his best! 

Recommended Read: Why habits are important for success 

The second biggest reason for failing in our goals is that we don’t track our progress. 

#2 Because we don’t track ourselves 

“What gets measured gets managed.”

said the famous management guru Peter Drucker.

In the previous point, we discussed that if our goals are measurable, they are easier to follow-through. This brings us to the next biggest challenge of why people fail to achieve their goals. It’s either their goals are not measurable, or they fail to track their progress. For any activity in life, tracking is important to understand how much we have moved ahead till that particular time. 

we fail to achieve goals because we don't track our progress
We fail because we fail in measuring goals and tracking progress | Illustration by tubik.arts 

In a research conducted by the American Psychological Association, the one crucial thing that comes between setting a goal and attaining it is monitoring its progress. People who publicly report to record their progress have more chances of attaining it. This aspect of goal tracking is also explained by the mere-measurement effect. What is it? 

According to this effect, you see improvement as soon as you measure your goals. In Psychological studies, merely measuring the intent of a person to behave in a particular way makes them do it. In our daily lives, we use this method daily to convince our family or friends to do a particular thing. If a person‘s intention for a bad thing is questioned, it will lead him away from that bad thing itself. The same rule works for goal measurements.

For e.g. when you learn that you have increased 5 pounds, you are nudged to control your eating habits. When you know that you have not achieved your weekly project deadline, you are motivated to work harder in the next week. If you see your monthly spending sheet and notice an increase in food spending, you cut down your expenses on it. That is the magic of goal tracking. 

Recommended read: Why Tracking Habits is the key to Building Habits

How does goal tracking help you achieve your goals?

1.     It constantly reminds you of your goals

2.     It stresses the importance of your deadline

3.     It gives you a reason to improve or a cause to celebrate

4.     It lets you know where your problem lies

5.     It lets you refocus your attention and resources. 

One important thing to note here is that goal-tracking is habit-focused. It needs to be cultivated with a focus on your habits. For e.g. if your goal is to reduce your weight, then you need to focus on your eating habits. If your goal is to complete your project on time, you need to focus on your time management habits. Similarly, if you need to improve your financial situation, you need to focus on your spending habits.

In short, when you monitor your goals, it also impacts your behavior, which in turn impacts your habits, and brings you to your desired outcome. 

Recommended read: Magical Compound Effect of Habit – Being 1% Better Everyday 

#3 Because we did not try to achieve our goals the strategic way

Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist who lived around 2,500 years ago, made a statement that is relevant even today, 

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.” 

Strategy and tactics have won wars, and in the twenty-first century, achieving goals can be a warlike struggle for some. However, this should not be true for you. With the right tactics and strategy, impossible goals can be made easily attainable. One of the most basic things to remember about a strategy is that it comes with trade-offs, i.e. you should be ready to sacrifice a lot of your time to make your strategy work. 

What if you are already working hard, but not reaching your goal? Could it be that you are in the wrong direction? Are you rowing harder, but headed in the wrong direction itself? If that’s the case, you need to stop and rethink your goals and develop a strategy accordingly. How can you ensure that you are reaching your goal? Once you have designed a SMART goal, you now need to invest time in designing a workable strategy.

strategy and tactics is important when setting goals
To achieve a goal, you need a strategy. To carry out your strategy, you need tactics

This can be done by the G’SOT method, explained by Mikal Belicove in this article that he wrote for Forbes. While he has used it primarily in the backdrop of social media marketing, we can implement it for framing strategies for our goals too. Let’s understand it. 

  • G: Goal – It is the broad primary outcome that you are looking for
  • S: Strategy – It is the basic approach that you are taking to achieve your goal
  • O: Objective – Basic steps that you take to achieve your strategy
  • T: Tactic – The tools that you use to pursue your objective 

Let’s take an example of how we can use this method with a practical goal. 

Goal: Complete the semester project (6 months)

Strategy: Divide the project into 2 sections of 3 months each, or 3 sections of 2 months each. Clearly mark the sections, allocate the content, and write a deadline besides it. 

Objective: Each day, plan to complete 2 chapters and at the end of the week revise the completed section. Write the objective for each day and mark it against the objective if you have completed it or not. 

Tactic: Use habit tracking tools like Habitify to write your daily tasks. To study peacefully, use distraction blocking apps life Brain.fm, Cold Turkey Blocker, Focus@Will, etc. 

If you strategize all your goals in an effective manner like above, you will find yourself achieving even the most impossible tasks in an effective manner. 

Read more: 10 Deadly Goal Setting Mistakes in Personal Development

It’s Your Chance Now 

What would you do now? As we have discussed, there is no shortcut to finish a goal. Instead, we need to design our way through the highway to success. When the going gets tough, don’t decrease or adjust your goals. Rather, increase your efforts, and tweak your strategy, and re-adjust your focus. 

If you judiciously follow through on our goals, the possibilities for success increases, and the chances for failure decrease. In the end, you will taste success, and will be happy that you didn’t give up!