6 things no one tells you about goals (and why you might not achieve them)

As I write this, it’s the beginning of the month, which means I’m in goal-setting mode. I’m creating a bunch of goals for the month (and, because it’s also a weekend, I’m creating a bunch of goals for the week).

So. Many. Goals.

I’m an avid goal-setter. I love setting goals and working toward them, and celebrating when I hit them and assessing when I don’t. Actually, I set too many goals for too many areas of my life but that’s a blog post for another time.

I love goals and I think we would all be a little more successful if we set more goals and applied some willpower to achieve them.

However, goals aren’t all rosey and nice. Here are 6 things that no one tells you about goals and why you might not achieve your goals.

1. Goals are fueled by desire

It’s easy to set goals. But you won’t achieve them if you don’t desire to achieve them. At this point in the year, most New Year’s resolutions are long-forgotten because they were formed out of “it would be nice if I…” thinking.

The only goals you’ll achieve are the “I need to do this now or else” kind. My book puttered along without any real end date until I decided that I had to publish it or else. Guess what, I’m a day or two behind in my schedule but I’ve done more on it this past month than I did in the six months prior. My desire changed, and thus my results.

The same thing happened with my health goals. And my sales goals.

And the same thing will happen with you. You shouldn’t just set goals. You MUST set “I have to do this now or else” goals. Those are the only ones that will get done.

2. Goals take a ridiculous amount of tenacity

Setting goals is the easy part. Actually achieving them is hard. It takes tenacity. It takes bull-headed, stubborn, I’m-going-to-do-this-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do force. You need to push, not just through the fun and easy starting point but through the hard and almost-hopeless ending point.

I think of times when I was basically ready to give up because it was overwhelmingly difficult. I did, at times, and regret it now. But when I didn’t, I felt such a rush of elation at achieving my goal. The best example in my life (and one I draw inspiration from frequently) is when I had to buy a house. Buying your first house is already complicated enough. But it was made more complicated by the fact that I was living in a different city, only had 2 weekends to find a house, negotiate the deal, and complete the transaction, and my bank was hundreds of miles away. And once we bought our house, we still have to move — made even more complicated by a tight schedule and the coldness of late winter/early spring. The cost and frustration was almost too much to bear throughout this process and if there hadn’t been so much riding on this purchase (I was moving for a job I had been offered) I would have given up.

Likewise, my current workout program is punishingly intense. It’s supposed to be a 3-circuit workout but I often can only do 2 of circuits. However, when I think about it afterward, I realize that I could have (and should have) done the 3rd circuit but I just let the difficulty of it overwhelm me. Frankly, I lack the tenacity to finish that workout. #personalfailingthatIneedtoworkon

3. Goals take a ridiculous amount of patience

I think of tenacity (the above point) as being the effort you need to expend. Patience is different. It’s the time you need to allow to tick by. Goals are rarely achieved immediately. They are achieved through days and weeks (and months and years) of constant, faithful work.

Water, on its own, is very pliant. But over time, consistent pressure can shape and crush rock. It takes patience to get there.

I used to set goals and build somewhat airy, uncertain plans around them. Now I set goals that are built around specific plans with the expectation that they will take a long time. (In my experience, they often take longer than you want them to). Only by constantly moving forward, little step by little step (even when those steps don’t feel like they are getting you to your goal) will you actually achieve your goal.

4. Goals are only achieved with habit

This was a massive turning point for me. It helped me start to achieve the goals I had been dreaming about for a while. In a way, it puts into action all of the things I’ve talked about so far. A habit is a way to be tenacious and patient at the same time.

I think this is why so many New Year’s resolutions end up failing. Because the goal is set but there is no habit that is built up or sustained.

You need to figure out what consistent actions you need to take day-in and day-out faithfully in order to achieve your goals and then you need to make those a habit. You need to do whatever it takes to make them a habit: Set a reminder on your phone, create an achievement chart that you check off every day, give yourself little rewards after completing your habit so many times. Whatever.

I actually think this is the most important piece of goal-setting.

5. New goals require that you give something up

I don’t know about you but my day is FILLED with stuff to do. From the moment I get up to the point when I reluctantly but exhaustedly fall into bed, I’m going full tilt. Yeah, I should probably get a bit more downtime than I do but it’s how I like to operate.

And in this lifestyle, I couldn’t figure out why my goals were not being achieved. Until I realized that part of the reason was because my new goals were taking time and effort, which is fine, except that I didn’t have any more time and effort to give.

Now, when I create a new goal, I consider what I need to give up. Sometimes it’s easy: Yes, I’ll give up an extra 45 minutes of sleep in order to workout in the morning. Sometimes it’s hard: Should I give up my marketing of this brand to perform my marketing of that brand? You’ll end up arguing with yourself over what is more important to you. But if you do this enough, you’ll also end up with the great benefit of removing all the non-essentials from your life and working only on the things that you find important and fulfilling.

6. You’ll feel a weird sense of accomplishment and sadness when you are done.

From setting goals to achieving them, it looks like this:

  1. You set your goal. It’s exciting.
  2. You jump on your goal because you’re highly motivated.
  3. Things get boring so you might quit or you might stay the course for now.
  4. Things get difficult (and you are tempted to do other things that seem more pressing or enjoyable) so you might quit or you might stay the course for now.
  5. Things get discouraging so you might quit or you might stay the course for now.
  6. Things get really, really, really difficult and you wonder if you’ll live to see the achievement of your goal so you might quit or you might stay the course for now.
  7. You achieve your goal. It feels awesome.
  8. You later feel a strange mix of accomplishment (well deserved!) and sadness (somewhat surprising).

I think this feeling comes because goal achievement is really only part of the reward. The bigger (but often unconscious) part of the reward is the goal setting and working toward the achievement. Once you achieve your goal, there’s a weird mix of accomplishment at achieving the goal but sadness that you now are no longer struggling to achieve it. I noticed this in my business, and I’ve noticed other entrepreneurs experience it too: When your business reaches a certain level of success, you celebrate it for a moment and then feel a strange mix of feelings because even though you’ve been working toward it for so long, you ultimately miss that hungry, scared-you’ll-fail, slightly desperate, edge-of-your-seat mindset you once ran your business with.

All goals are like that. I guess the cliche is true: It’s not the destination; it’s the journey.

GOALS ARE HARD. MAKE THEM ANYWAY.

Goals are hard. They reveal our weaknesses and flaws and failings as we struggle to do them. But the achievement is sweet (and, in retrospect, so is the journey). So set goals. A lot. And work hard to achieve them.

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