We’ve all heard it, and most of us have probably said it at some point. Something along the lines of:
“Why can’t I ever accomplish my goals?”
“I tried not doing _____, but it didn’t last very long.”
“I know I should, but I just don’t think I can.”
“I’m supposed to be ______, but I just don’t think that’s for me.”
“Everybody else is able to _____. Why is it so hard for me?”
And so on.
So what’s going on? Why is it so hard to stick to our guns when it comes to goals? It seems so simple to fix – and the advice that we often get from the people around us seems to amount to DO IT or STOP IT, depending on the situation. But neither of those are very helpful when we are struggling to accomplish our goals are they?
The dangerous part about this is when we start to think that it’s US who is broken. When we fail enough times at achieving our goals, it has to be that we simply aren’t capable of accomplishing things, right? WRONG!
Let’s take a look at the most common reasons that we don’t nail our new years resolutions (or any other goals we set)
is a big one. It’s easy to forget just how hectic of a world we live in. Our alarms go off at 6AM, we have to get a run or our meditation in before the kids wake up, make a healthy breakfast for everybody, get everybody ready to leave the house, drive across town, show up to work, be a go getter and expert in numerous topics at work, respond the the never-ending parade of incoming messages across numerous platforms, pick up the kids, drive back across town, try not to think about work once we get home, have meaningful conversation with our family and friends, ‘be social’, clean the house, and somehow relax and wind down before going to bed – only to repeat it all again tomorrow.
Now – to top it off we want to (insert weight loss, smoking habit, yoga habit, etc goal here). Do we actually have time for it? The answer might be yes, but how often do we actually think about it in this way? What if we stated our goals in more realistic terms? “I am going to lose weight by working out four days a week and I’m going to stop cooking dinner for my family on those nights.” or “I’m going to get my master’s degree, and I’m going to gain weight and lose my desire to socialize at the same time.” or “I’m going to stop smoking, but I’m probably going to be unable to concentrate at work for a few weeks while I do it.”? Not quite as romantic, but they sound more like real life.
Recognizing the obstacles that our existing lifestyle put in our way is hugely important to creating change that is realistic in our lives.
is the often unseen destroyer of accomplishing our goals. What is a secondary gain? It’s all the payoffs we get from engaging in a certain behavior (good or bad). We often don’t realize what these things are until we decide to change that behavior. Here’s an example; I decide to ‘get healthy’ and go on some crazy diet to see if it will work (anybody who knows me knows that this happens often). Two months into the diet I’ve lost weight (hooray me!), but I realize that I never see my friends anymore because I can’t eat at any of the restaurants they like, I feel bad asking them to cook around my new diet constraints, and I definitely can’t grab a drink with them because alcohol is the diet-killer. My social life is the secondary gain of my poor eating behavior.
Maybe you smoke as a way to escape the anxiety you get when you are in a crowded space. If you stop smoking then what happens to your anxiety?
These secondary gains aren’t a good reason to avoid change, but we do need to take them into consideration and plan for them. If I know I’m going on a crazy diet, then I need to know that my social life will be impacted and create other means of connecting with the people I care about. Maybe I make it a point to invite people out for (decaf) coffee at night instead of to a bar, or I invite them hiking instead of out to dinner. Whatever it is – it is imperative that I understand myself well enough to make sure I’m not creating an environment where I will be unhappy even if I do accomplish my goal.
Congruence (or lack thereof)
is another reason we don’t accomplish our goals. Congruence in this regard refers to our “action’s harmony with our sense of identity.” Being congruent isn’t about being the you that ‘you are supposed to be’, it is about being the you that you truly are. I might feel like I’m supposed to be a better worker, when deep down I don’t put a high importance on my career and would rather be an amazing artist. In this example making a goal to increase your work productivity and get a promotion isn’t a very congruent goal.
Congruence is important because it is a main part of what motivates us. If you love art, and deep down you really want to become a better artist, you won’t be very motivated to get that promotion. But if you were to make a goal around art, you might find that you are super motivated to accomplish it, but might not understand why.
If you want to make sure that you are making congruent goals you might consider taking a little time to step back and reflect. Reflecting on what your big life priorities are, who you want to be as a person, what your core values are, maybe even what your personal mission in life is right now, are all topics that will start to set the stage to create truly congruent goals.
Patience is a regular roadblock that people experience. We are so used to living in a world where we can get the things we want quickly. I can check out pictures of my nieces and nephews while I’m sitting at a stop light, I can find a million recipes to fit any diet in moments, I can communicate with anybody I love at the drop of a hat. It’s an amazing world that I cherish – but it doesn’t help me develop patience for the things that can’t happen in an instant. This sets us up to struggle when an important goal does come around. Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight, becoming financially independent takes years, creating a congruent business that is profitable might take a decade.
Are you ready to not just wait for it to happen, but to struggle and fight for your goal for that whole time-line? Are you ready to find yourself questioning everything about it, are you ready to have everybody else around you questioning it, and still spend the time and energy to pursue it? The simple answer for most of the goals that I used to set was: NO. I wasn’t willing to take three years to build the body I wanted. I wasn’t willing to spend years delaying dinners and amazon purchases, cancelling TV service and driving a beater, in order to build my financial stability.
Waiting is hard. Patience is hard. Not knowing if what you are doing is working is hard. Looking at it all as an experiment. If we haven’t taken care of the other items in this list, why would we bother having the patience for these goals?
To wrap up
Goals can be super important, especially for people trying to change something really important towards who they want to become. All too often though we make our goals in a ‘moment of brilliance’ without much thought about where they come from, what they mean, and what they will take to accomplish.
What would happen if we took the time to consider who we want to be in the biggest sense, then worked through which goals would be most meaningful to work towards that person? What if we understood at the outset what the challenges would be and why it was worth being patient for that change? How would your world change?
Lastly – for those of you looking for additional reading material here is some food for thought:
- Goal setting frameworks – for when you’ve done the work above and are truly ready to start making it happen.
- Another person’s thoughts on why we don’t accomplish our goals.
- Great mindfulness techniques for working towards a goal.
- When goals are important and when they aren’t. This is one of my favorite posts and metaphors for when to let go of goals. The crater is definitely where you need goals