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4 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

4 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

For many professionals, setting business goals is seen as much more serious than setting New Year’s resolutions for example, but do these goals really have a higher achievement rate than resolutions? While they may be taken more seriously, statistics show that they’re just as likely to be wanted badly enough to be worked on for a couple of weeks and then just as quickly given up on at the first obstacle!

No matter what string of events has apparently blocked you from achieving your goals, blaming fate, circumstance or misfortune for your inability to accomplish your aims isn’t going to get you anywhere! So what is it that keeps you wanting your goals so badly and yet at the same time holding you back from achieving them?

Working with hundreds of clients has allowed me to identify four categories of pitfalls among entrepreneurs who find themselves at a dead end in regard to their goals.

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1. You have conflicting goals

Humans are multifaceted beings; therefore, it isn’t entirely out of the question that we may find ourselves setting goals that either directly or indirectly conflict with each other. You might have a true commitment to achieve your goal, but you might simultaneously and unconsciously hold competing goals and so you don’t take consistent action forward and the result is that you don’t achieve those goals.

SOLUTION: 
Be honest with yourself and take the time to reflect on the goals you are setting. Ask yourself, by achieving this goal, am I compromising on other important goals? Are all your goals aligned, how much does achieving one goal affect the others? etc.
The second important question to ask is; is your goal in conflict with any belief? ie. I want to improve my sales skills, but I don’t want to self-promote and come across as arrogant. (Which is a belief you hold – self-promotion = arrogance). Your beliefs drive your behavior, not your goals.

2. You have insufficient belief in yourself

Taking an honest approach to evaluating your skills, abilities and resources is one thing, but having doubts about your ability to improve, learn and achieve your goals altogether is another.

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Do you believe you can achieve your goals and can you see yourself achieving them? Or do you actually hold a lot of doubt and uncertainty about what’s possible for you? If you have more doubt than belief in yourself, you’re probably unable to fully, 100%, commit to your goals.

SOLUTION:
There is no point in taking action, pushing yourself forward, if you don’t actually believe that it will bring you the results you want. Again, reflect and be honest with yourself, do you actually believe in yourself and your abilities to achieve what you want? If not, why? What needs to change so you do?

3. You are all talk and no action

If you’re quick to talk, make promises and set goals without properly turning them over in your mind or giving yourself time to process your desires and emotions, then you’re more likely to let yourself down when you’re unable to achieve what you said you would. When talking without taking action becomes the norm for you, your words will eventually carry as little weight to others as they do to yourself! You find you set goals and give up, set them again, and this actually becomes a habit.

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Too many people say they want X, but when they start to tell you what they are doing to achieve X, it’s immediately clear why they aren’t reaching their goals. It’s either very minimal action they are taking or the wrong action and often, no action at all.

SOLUTION:
Don’t commit to things you can’t take action on. Just because you speak a lot about what you want or you are going to do, unless it is backed up by action – it’s worse than not saying anything at all because you actually decrease your confidence. Every time you say you are going to do something and then you actually go and do it – you boost your self-confidence. Take one action every day towards achieving your goal, no matter how small, and let this be your habit.

4. You have an ambiguous vision

Vague goals result in vague plans that are usually never clearly outlined and are therefore typically either never embarked on to begin with (how would you even know where to start?!), or don’t have a well-defined end-goal so are never really ever completed! Abstract goals can leave professionals lost in trying to connect all the stepping stones towards dubious outcomes. Lack of motivation shows up immediately, accompanied by inaction when you have too vague a vision.

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SOLUTION:
It cannot be overstated that if you are not crystal clear on what you want, why, and how to move forward – you won’t reach your goals. You will know when you have articulated your goal well enough because it will be so clear and exciting that you might even find yourself welling up with tears of happiness at the thought of achieving it.

Self Check-in

Are you able to relate to any of the four categories above? If you are, then at this point you’re probably wondering what magic pill successful people are taking to overcome such obstacles and where you can get your hands on it! The reason that professionals looking for quick-fix, cookie-cutter solutions to their problems are rarely able to resolve their issues is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for matters relating to productivity or achievement.

Ask any successful person how they got to where they are today and they’ll tell you it’s all about working on your habits and mindset, and that contrary to popular belief, these pillars of achievement actually take significant time and effort – things that you absolutely cannot put a price tag on!

Developing the right techniques to using your time and resources productively can be a challenge, but if you’re ever feeling like the cards are stacked against you, think about this line: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” (Henry Ford)

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Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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