Goal setting has oftentimes been promoted as the best way to achieve one’s desires in our society. The new years resolution, for example, is still a popular method of kick-starting our path to achievement. There have been millions of books sold to us whose contents describe methods of goal setting as a way to get what we want out of life. The reality however, is that many of these goals do not get reached. Many of us who set New Year’s resolutions give up within weeks or months of starting. There are millions of self-help books that are in mint condition because the owners never made it past their first chapters. There are countless sheets of notebook paper with written lists of goals that now reside in trashcans. Here are a few reasons I think that goal setting may fail us; in addition I will go over some mental frameworks that may help us get what we want out of life.
1. You’re using unrealistic time frames (too short) – I believe that anything can be achieved, as long as you give it enough time. Many of us set goals that can be reached, but we use unrealistic timeframes. If you are flat broke, your goal should not be to become a millionaire by your next birthday; it’s probably not going to happen. If you’ve been out of shape and overweight for years, I wouldn’t suggest crash dieting to reach your desired weight. Even if you do drop those pounds, you will have done it in a way that is unsustainable over time and the weight will soon come back.
2. You’re using unrealistic time frames (too long) – On the other hand, some of us set our goals that are too far into the future. We are too patient when it comes to getting what we want. It may take you a while to go through the process of achievement, but you should start NOW. It may take you a year to get in shape, but you should start TODAY.
People will decide to start losing weight on new years during August, and then will proceed to live unhealthily for the next four months. These bad habits continually hardwire the brain for failure. This is a sure way to never reach a desired result.
3. You’re setting grandiose goals – There is common cliché saying that goes something along the lines of “reach for the stars and if you fall short you will land on a cloud”. Bullshit. You will land onto the pavement face first. The brain isn’t wired for you to move toward your goals like a Ferrari goes from 0 to 60 mph. A batter who swings at every pitch in the hopes of hitting home runs will probably end up with a low batting average. As a goal setter, you should focus more on “base hits”. Set short reachable goals that “gets you around the bases”. Your brain likes to win, so set goals that you can actually reach; your brain will re configure itself to believing that when goals are set, they will be attained.
4. You’re chasing mirages – Success always seems like something that is just over the horizon. One day, somehow, things will click instantaneously. The universe will contort itself and acquiesce to your desires for no apparent reason other than that you’re a really nice person. This is not how life works. Getting your shit together is a never-ending process. You can’t get something for nothing in this life. If your favorite phrases are “eventually” and “one day”, I have bad news for you. That day will never come. You don’t get a break. There is no day of culmination. The grind is every day. You’d better learn to love the grind, or get left behind.
5. You’re trying to use willpower – Practicing self-restraint at all times is nearly impossible. I’ve read in many books that your willpower is a resource that gets depleted quite easily. You can’t use sheer force of will to stave off temptation in an unhealthy environment. Put yourself in a position to succeed and don’t set yourself up for failure. If you are trying to lose weight, do not simply think that you can will yourself away from temptation. Throw all of your junk food out. The people you surround yourself with can be a part of the problem as well. If you’re trying to quit smoking cigarettes, you might have to quit hanging around your tar-puffing companions. People rub off on you and environmental factors have much more influence that you may think.
6. You’re not maintaining momentum – I talk about momentum often because it is a critical component to success. Go forward, and at minimum don’t go backwards. I like to use health often to illustrate my points: If you are overweight, at least don’t GAIN any weight. Lose half of a pound per week for the next 18 months. That’s a sustainable strategy. Learn everyday. Go to bed a little bit wiser than you were when you woke up. Success is exponential. Do the right things in succession and perhaps at some point it will culminate into something big.
7. You’re not structuring your goals around rewards – Rewards are a great way to motivate oneself to achieve whatever it is they hope to achieve. Use something tangible and specific to reward yourself for a job well done. Place a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow. Instead of focusing on the goal itself, focus on the reward you will allow yourself once the goal is reached. If your goal is to save money, reward yourself with a fancy dinner or a new outfit once you have saved up the desired amount. Use cheat meals in your diet. It can’t be all work and no play. You are going to need rewards to stick with it.
8. You’re not properly using incentives as a motivator – Human behavior is overwhelmingly based on incentive structures. The presence of incentives in everyday life is extremely pervasive. In order to become successful you must become a master of incentive structures. Instead of thinking about the goal in and of itself, think about the actual benefits that reaching the goal will afford you. Instead of thinking about the goal body weight you want to reach, think about what it will feel like to be living a healthy lifestyle, how it will affect your mood and your social life. Think about the reasons why you want to increase your income. Is your goal to have the money to travel, to have luxurious items, to increase your social status? Simply thinking about the goal alone will most likely prove to be an unsuccessful strategy. Ponder the reasons why you want to achieve something. Without truly knowing why you’re doing something, you will never do it.