8 Surprising Reasons You Are Not As Successful As You Want to Be
The ultimate guide to moving past what is holding you back and finally achieving your goals
When I first started coaching clients, I was convinced that achieving goals is a straightforward process: Set a goal, create an action plan, and do it.
I saw my primary role as a coach to hold my clients accountable for doing the things they said they would do.
And it definitely worked.
For most people, having a scheduled call with someone who will ask them about their progress on something pushes them to take the necessary action before the call — many times, literally in the hour before the call.
They just don’t want to be embarrassed.
It’s very simple and highly effective.
But soon, I began to question my approach. First, because it got boring very quickly and I felt stupid getting paid $250 per hour for pure accountability.
Secondly, I knew it was not a sustainable solution — not everyone can afford to hire a coach and even if they did, do you really want to be reliable on someone else to achieve your goals?
So I began to get obsessed with the question: What really holds us back from achieving the things we want?
I read countless books, analyzed my coaching sessions, and experimented on myself.
What I found are these 8 surprising reasons we don’t achieve our goals and what we can do to fix it:
1. You Are Not Invested Enough
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain to change.”
— Tony Robbins
You want to build a side business to make passive income, but you don’t really need it because you earn a comfortable salary in your job and are quite happy with your lifestyle.
You kind of want to lose weight, but deep down you know you don’t have a big enough reason to change. After all, you’re in a happy relationship and your health is okay.
In short: You kind of want to achieve this goal but there are literally no negative consequences if you don’t.
But the truth is: We only change if the pain of staying the same is bigger than the pain to change.
Thus, trying to motivate yourself with the vision of an even better you might not work because you are pretty comfortable where you are right now.
Artificially create negative consequences if you don’t achieve your goal.
Here are a few examples:
- Publicly announce that you will do something (e.g. run a marathon) — works best if you respond well to social pressure.
- Make a big financial investment in your goal like hiring a coach. This will force you into action because you don’t want to waste the money you spent. A variation of this is spending or investing all your money so you are forced to make more (e.g. automatically invest most of your salary so you have no other choice but to start a side business).
Make sure you have skin in the game when setting your goals and you’ll be surprised about how fast it will get you moving.
2. You Are Constantly Fighting With Yourself
“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
— Sydney J. Harris
You want to publish a blog post every day to build your business on the side, but you don’t want to get up an hour early every day to write.
You want to lose weight, but you don’t want to give up your daily after-dinner dessert in front of the TV.
You want to acquire 10 new coaching clients, but you don’t want to do sales calls.
You want to grow your business with paid ads, but you are not ready to invest the money it takes to experiment.
Somewhere there is an internal conflict.
And it’s holding you back.
You can’t want two opposite things.
If you don’t have 100% internal clarity about what you really want, you are standing in your own way. Big time.
It’s like walking through mud. All the internal resistance slows down your progress.
First, get clear on your internal resistance. What about achieving this goal do you actually NOT want? Is it something about the goal itself? Is it something about the way to get there? Can you find another way?
Then, make a decision.
Setting a goal is very different from making a decision. If you just set the goal to lose weight, you will think: “I shouldn’t be having dessert…”. But if you decide you are not gonna have dessert (or only once a week), you won’t have dessert.
When you are struggling to stick with your decision, remind yourself that this is a commitment you made to yourself. You want to honor your own promises, don’t you? Remind yourself that this is about self-respect. You deserve to achieve this goal and this is why you will stick to your decision.
If that doesn’t work, implement a punishment system for yourself. For example: If you fail to get up at 6:00 a.m. you are not allowed to watch Netflix at night.
When I hired my health coach, I told her I will pay her $100 each week I don’t go to the gym at least three times. It was not about her but the commitment I made to myself and it had to hurt to break it!
Make achieving your goals about keeping the promises you made to yourself and watch how you will approach your goals completely differently.
3. You Are Subconsciously Self-Sabotaging Your Progress
“When the subconscious mind must choose between deeply rooted emotions and logic, emotions will almost always win.”
— T. Harv Eker
It doesn’t matter if your rational mind wants to lose weight if subconsciously you don’t believe you can do it.
It doesn’t matter if you say you want to acquire 10 coaching clients if you subconsciously don’t believe you are a good enough coach.
It doesn’t matter if your New Year’s resolution is to build a passive income side business if deep down you don’t actually believe it is even possible to make passive income on the side.
If your subconscious belief system is not aligned with your goals, you will always self-sabotage your own progress.
Thus, you need to make sure that you are free from limiting beliefs around what you are trying to achieve.
Some of the most common limiting beliefs are:
- It can’t be done.
- I am not good enough (to do this).
- I don’t deserve this (the result).
It can’t be done: Look for expanders (people that have already achieved what you want to achieve).
If you are trying to create a passive income business, surround yourself with people who are already making passive incomes.
This does not mean you need to hang out with them in real life — following them on Instagram, listening to their podcast interviews and analyzing their business can work just as well.
However, it is crucial that you can somehow see yourself in that person, meaning they are somehow similar to you (background, experience, etc.).
Your subconscious beliefs will only change if you can look at them and think: “If they can do it, so can I!”.
I am not good enough: Make a list of all the reasons why you are able to achieve your goal. Collect evidence from past challenges you’ve overcome, write down the feedback you got from others, and keep the list in your face.
Every time you feel you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goal, pull out your list and read it!
I don’t deserve this: Make a list of all the reasons why you do! If it’s about money, write down all the ways other people will benefit from you having more money.
Also, if there is anything you are still holding on to from your past, forgive yourself. We are all human, we all make mistakes. The only thing you can do is to forgive yourself and promise yourself you will act differently next time.
To help release deeply rooted limiting beliefs you can:
- Work with a mindset coach. It’s perfectly possible to overcome your limiting beliefs all by yourself, but working with a coach is usually a lot faster and more effective. We usually can’t see through our patterns clearly because they are such an integral part of who we are and just run on autopilot — but someone else, especially a qualified coach, might see these things instantly and can challenge you by asking the right questions and giving a few pointers.
- Rephrase your limiting belief into an empowering belief and use it as an affirmation every day to reprogram your brain.
- Use tapping or energy editing to release limiting beliefs from your energy system.
Reprogram your subconscious for success and watch your world transform. As within, so without.
4. You Are Using the Wrong Strategy
“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
— Will Rogers
It’s a funny thing. When we don’t see the results we want, we tend to do more of the same.
I just need to put in more hours.
I just need to work out more.
That’s our default approach when something is not working.
But usually, that’s the wrong strategy.
If you want to be successful at anything, you need to find the most effective strategy to get there.
Most of us don’t spend enough time researching, experimenting, and learning about how to do things the right way. We are too impatient to get started and terrified to admit to ourselves that we made a wrong decision.
Stop what you are doing. Take a break, get some space and distance. Then, evaluate: What is working, what isn’t? Is there a better way?
There are usually two things that can go wrong with your approach:
1. You are simply not using the right strategy
For example, you are trying to acquire coaching clients by driving paid ad traffic to your website and want people to pay for an expensive coaching program while they are browsing your site without having had any prior contact with you.
But what every experienced coach would tell you is that no client has ever been acquired outside of a conversation.
Coaching is an experience, not a product. It can’t be sold from a website, it can only be sold on a sales call.
Whatever you are trying to achieve, you want to make sure you are doing your research beforehand.
How are the experts in the industry doing it? Have you read enough books, taken courses and picked the brain of experts before you’ve created your strategy? If not, now is the time.
2. You are not using the right strategy for you
Just because your friend lost weight with the Keto diet and HIIT workouts doesn’t mean you will too. Your body is different. Your life is different. Your preferences are different. Try out different things and find what works for you.
The way to success is not a straight line. Trying something, failing, taking a step back and analyzing — these are all part of the natural process to achieve goals. Research, experiment, evaluate, repeat.
5. You Are Not Actually Prioritizing Your Goals
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
— Greg McKeown
When my coaching clients tell me: “I have tried everything, it’s just not working,” the first thing I ask them is to show me their calendar.
Show me the time you have spent on achieving this goal and how much of your day is dedicated to working on it.
That exercise usually puts them on the spot.
The truth is, most people simply don’t put in the hours it takes to achieve their goal. They simply don’t prioritize the actions it will take to get them there.
I have met coaches that complain about not having any clients but spend all their time organizing their website and writing blog posts instead of doing sales calls and working their network.
Sometimes it’s that simple. If you are not prioritizing the daily actions to achieve your goals, it won’t work.
Every Sunday, write down your top three goals. Define the actions you need to take to achieve them. Then, block out time for these actions in your calendar.
How you spend your time should be a reflection of what is important to you. Thus, if you want to make progress on your goals, you need to plan for your priorities first. Treat your time-blocks as non-negotiable, just like a meeting.
Be proactive about spending your time, not reactive. Don’t let other commitments decide whether you’ll be able to fit in your workout. Let your workout decide whether you’ll be able to fit in other commitments.
Bonus tip: Block out the first three hours of your day for your top priorities. Whatever is most important to you, do it first thing in the morning.
If you work out at 6:00 a.m., nothing that happens during the day can impact whether you’ll be able to work out or not. It’s already done by the time you get to the office.
For your work, this might mean blocking two hours in the morning for deep work on your top priority project.
In your free time, this might mean blocking untouchable time for your workouts in your calendar or making sure your kid’s soccer game is on your radar.
Whatever it is that is most important to you, make sure it’s the first thing you plan into your day before anything else.
6. You Are Simply Too Busy
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
— Henry David Thoreau
Even if you wanted to prioritize your goals, you simply can’t. You just don’t have any time. You are too busy with everything else.
Maybe you are trying to build a side business while working full-time, keeping up a busy social life, and doing an MBA.
Maybe you are trying to get fit while working 100 hrs a week at a top tier consultancy and spending every week in a different city.
Maybe you are trying to write a book while raising four kids, taking care of your elderly parents, and being the head of almost every social club in town.
Whatever it is that keeps you so busy, it is taking a toll on your dreams.
If you keep living your life for your commitments and can’t decide what really matters to you, you’ll be in the exact same place five years from now. Nothing will change. You won’t be an inch closer to your goal.
Adopt the Essentialist mindset and completely streamline your life. In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, Greg McKeown writes:
”…only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
The secret to more joy, fulfillment, calm and success in life is adopting the mindset of the Essentialist: Do less, but better.
If reading this phrase triggers an internal resistance, you know you are stuck in the outdated mindset of the Non-Essentialist and your beliefs are the source of your frustration, stress, frazzledness, and dissatisfaction. In this case, I highly recommend reading “Essentialism”.
But in a nutshell, here are the mindset shifts you will need to make in order to become an Essentialist and finally make progress on the goals that truly matter to you (loosely adapted from the book):
- From believing that everything is important, to knowing that only a few things truly matter.
- From thinking that we can fit it all in, to accepting that there are real trade-offs we need to make.
- From thinking that we “have” to do something, to realizing that we have a choice. We always do. When we change our language to “I choose to do this,” we suddenly realize how we really feel about something.
- From saying “Yes” per default to saying “No” to almost everything because we know that when we say “Yes,” we actually say “No” to everything else we could be doing instead.
- From making it a priority to keep it all running, to taking the time out to evaluate what is truly important and take the necessary action steps to eliminate and streamline everything else.
- From doing what’s most urgent and what’s asked of us, to getting the right things done.
- From letting everyone else prioritize our life, to taking control of our own choices.
Don’t try to get it all done, define the few things that matter most to you and ignore everything else.
7. You Are Relying On Willpower
“We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”
— Robert Brault
In his book, “Willpower Doesn’t Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success”, Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D. writes:
“According to psychological research, your willpower is like a muscle. It’s a finite resource that depletes with use. As a result, by the end of your strenuous days, your willpower muscles are exhausted, and you are left to your naked and defenseless self — with zero control to stop the nighttime munchies and time wasters.”
Here are some examples:
1. You are trying to get yourself to write a blog post for your side project after a long day at work.
2. You have been trying to go for a run for 2 days but you keep pushing it to later or the next day.
3. You want to lose weight but when you come home at 9:00 p.m. after a hard day, you just can’t be asked to prepare a healthy meal and end up getting take-out.
All of these examples rely on willpower to get something done. But that strategy is bound to fail.
The key to stop relying on willpower is to outsource your goal achievement.
Here are three effective ways you can accomplish this:
1. Outsource it to your brain by building powerful habits
I like to think of habits as powerful tools to automate the goal achievement process: motivation is what gets you started, but habits are what keep you going.
If you do something regularly for a certain period of time, your brain will make a habit out of it which means it will get significantly easier to do it consistently.
What if you could make working out, writing a blog post, and eating healthy a natural part of your day like brushing your teeth? Research shows us a few things we can do to increase our chances of sticking to our habits — and thus, sticking to our goals:
- Stick to the same date and time: Don’t just say you want to go running three times a week. Pick a date and time for it and mark it in your calendar — for instance, every Tuesday morning. The key here is to be extremely consistent so your brain can get used to the new part of your routine and can actually form a habit. This works even better if you choose a daily habit: if something is part of every single day, it will become like second nature to you extremely fast.
- Set a trigger: Increase your chances of sticking to your habit by creating a powerful trigger that kicks off your habit. This could be your alarm clock, a timely reminder on your phone, or an event in your day like arriving at home, getting on the train, or waking up.
- Stick to it for at least 3 weeks: Research shows that this is how long it takes to form a new habit loop in your brain. Do everything you can NOT to break your habit streak in the first 3 weeks. Show up every day — even if you don’t feel like it, even if your tasks became boring and repetitive, even if you see shiny objects and more interesting things to do, even if you are discouraged by the lack of progress. Show up every day until your habit is part of who you are.
2. Outsource it to your environment by creating conditions that will make it inevitable to achieve your goals
Your environment can make or break your goal achievement efforts. The people around you, your fridge, your workplace, and your bedroom — they all have the potential to accelerate your success or hold you back from it.
So the question is: How can you optimize your environment in a way that makes achieving your goals easy?
Here are a few ideas:
- Arrange the things you need to be able to perform your habits and prepare them the day before (get a gym membership, buy running shoes, arrange a meditation corner in your apartment, stock up your fridge with healthy food, etc.).
- Surround yourself with people that reflect the goals you want to achieve. Join the healthy lunch group at work and share your goals with your family so they can support you.
- Remove your temptations and triggers. For instance, don’t keep sweets around the house and stop hanging out with people who make you drink and smoke.
3. Outsource it to somebody else by finding an accountability partner
This could be a friend or a professional like a personal trainer or life coach. The mobile app Coach.Me is a great and inexpensive way to hire a coach to hold you accountable for reaching your goals and support you on your journey.
The app offers free habit tracking tools, an engaging community, and professional coaches for different areas of your life like getting healthy, getting up early, becoming a great leader etc.
Stop relying on your willpower muscle to achieve your goals — instead, outsource your goal achievement to your habits, environment, and other people.
8. You Are Impatient
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
— Greg Anderson
Patience is highly underrated when it comes to achieving goals. In today’s world we are used to getting things fast: from on-demand food delivery to researching information on the internet — the convenience in our day-to-day life makes us a slave to instant gratification.
But anything worth achieving takes time. A long time.
A common mistake is to expect results too fast and get discouraged quickly if it doesn’t happen.
With all these goal setting techniques, habit tracking apps, and all the effort you are putting in every day, we often forget about a very important thing: The journey is the destination.
Effort and deliberate practice can be wonderful experiences — if you let go of the outcome and fall in love with the process.
Here are a few ways you can enjoy the ride:
- Track your results, but focus on your inputs: It’s crucial to measure the effectiveness of your work by analyzing the results you get. However, overfocusing on results can discourage you quickly. The compound effect shows us that progress is usually slow in the beginning and later on kicks in fast. You won’t get hundreds of people to read your first blog post, but if you stick to it, you will reach thousands of people each time you hit publish. That’s why it’s so important to track your efforts. Track your habit of writing every day with a habit tracking app, record what you eat in a journal, or track your workouts in your Fitbit — these are all ways to make you feel good about the work you put in, even if you can’t see results yet.
- Celebrate small wins along the way: Don’t wait for the big milestones to give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved. Regularly honor the progress you’ve made — give yourself a day off, treat yourself to something nice, or simply compliment yourself and marinate in that feeling for a bit.
- Stop comparing yourself to others: The worst part about benchmarking ourselves is that we tend to compare our beginning to someone else’s middle. Everyone is on their own journey and the fastest way to go forward is to focus on what is right in front of us — not on what is to the left or right.
- Enjoy your life in the now: It’s so easy to tell ourselves: “Once I’ve lost weight, I will be happy,” or “When I have my own business, I will go and travel.” The truth is our life is happening right here, right now. Don’t make your happiness dependent on achieving a goal in the future — live your best life now.
Always remember: it is not really about the goal, it is about the person you become while achieving it.
If achieving goals was as simple as setting a goal, making an action plan, and doing the work, we’d all be our best selves in every area of our lives.
But unfortunately, getting what we want in life is much more complex than that. There are major forces that hold us back and keep derailing our progress.
Here are 8 surprising reasons we don’t achieve our goals and what we can do to fix it:
- We are not invested enough in our own goals because there are no negative consequences if we don’t achieve them. Solution: Artificially create negative consequences to create skin in the game (e.g. invest in your goals financially or announce them in pubic).
- We are constantly fighting with ourselves because we want two opposite things (e.g. eating a cupcake and losing weight). Solution: Get clear on your internal resistance and make a decision once and for all.
- We are subconsciously self-sabotaging our goals by holding on to limiting beliefs like, It can’t be done, I am not good enough or I don’t deserve it. Solution: Journal on your beliefs to find out where they come from, reframe them, and act according to your new empowering belief.
- We are using a goal-achievement strategy that is ineffective or not right for us. Solution: Do your research, learn from the experts, and experiment with what works for you.
- We prioritize everything else, but not our goals. Solution: How you spend your time should be a reflection of what is important to you. Make sure your priorities and goals have non-negotiable time slots in your calendar.
- You are too busy to focus on your goals. Solution: Radically streamline your life by adopting the mindset of, “less, but better.” Eliminate, optimize, automate and outsource the non-essentials in your life so you can focus on what actually matters.
- You are relying on willpower and are thus playing a game you can’t win. Solution: Make your goal achievement inevitable by creating powerful habits, designing your environment, and creating external accountability.
- You are impatient and give up too quickly when you don’t see results. Solution: Focus on your progress and enjoy the journey by tracking your inputs, celebrating small wins, not comparing yourself to others, and enjoying your life in the now.