Why You Aren’t Achieving Your Goals
… and what you can do about it
Few people will argue the idea that goal setting is good. But if goals are so good, why don’t we do them more often? The truth is, while most of us have been trained to set goals — most of us have not been trained to achieve goals.
As CEO of PlanPlus Online, I’ve spent a fair amount of time examining the most effective goal setting methods and, as a result, has developed some insights on goal planning, goal setting, and goal getting.
Step 1: Set an attainable (relatively) short-term goal
Any achievable goal set today is better than the promise of something greater tomorrow!
If you have any doubt about the viability of annual or longer-term goals, first break them down into smaller and shorter-term goals. If you have any doubt about these subsequent goals, break them down further into even smaller and more near-term objectives. Ultimately, you can break down your goals into weekly or daily objectives.
Also, reduce the timing and magnitude of your goals to the smallest increments necessary — to have confidence in both the direction of your activities and their intended outcome. If you find yourself with doubts about the attainability of your goals, or uncertainty about how to achieve them, or you face any sort of goal-setting crisis, focus on something that you CAN be successful in achieving in the near term.
Start with a simple question like, “What is the most important thing I can do today?”
The answer to this question can be the basis for a daily goal. You can use daily goals to pursue and build confidence in larger and longer-term goals with greater meaning and more impact. But never lose sight of the importance of daily goals and making a daily contribution. This can help cultivate attentiveness as you pursue your objectives.
Step 2: Focus on frequency: flex your goal muscles
The ability to set and achieve goals is a skill not unlike hitting a golf ball or making a free throw in basketball. If you are going to become good at it, you have to practice and use the skill frequently.
An instructive parallel can be found in the phenomenon of muscle memory, as defined here:
Muscle memory, also known as motor learning, is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding a bicycle or typing on a keyboard. (Source: Wikipedia)
While goal setting is a mental exercise and does not involve a motor task like riding a bicycle, it’s a skill that can be honed in much the same way through repetition and practice. And it can deliver invaluable benefits by helping you travel from point A to point B, taking you from planning to achievement and success.
Step 3: Measure for Mastery
Measurement is critically important, and it matters especially if you take your effort seriously. If you want to get really good at something, you must do it repeatedly. If you want to become the best at something, you must do it repeatedly and measure your results.
In most situations, success in even the most ambitious goals comes down to executing on the simple things, or a mastery of the basics. Measuring those simple things and keeping score is essential to tracking your progress toward mastery.
To demonstrate the concept of measuring for mastery, there are many good examples in the world of sports. Take basketball, for example. Have you ever watched a game of pickup basketball where the teams are not keeping score? The game is certainly less organized, and there are often inconsistencies in effort. There are some good moves and occasional bursts of hard play, but it’s rare to see everyone on both teams playing at a vigorous pace and with maximum effort.
Now, compare that with an organized basketball game where the score is being kept. There’s a completely different level of participation from the athletes. Competition might be there in all games, but when the score is being kept, the participants step up their game. They exhibit greater attention and make greater efforts to work together and execute the simple things that are needed to win.
Similar examples can be found in virtually any sport — just as they can be found in business or personal development. When you’re keeping score, there’s a big difference in the level of attention, effort, and ultimately, in the end results. Keep in mind, however, that there is a difference between measurement and accountability.
For many people, the term “accountability” has a negative connotation. It’s often associated with punitive or negative consequences for failing to achieve a result. In business and personal settings, this association can lead to tendencies to avoid goal setting because of the implied risk of failure. For example, in a corporate setting, there may be fear of termination or other punishment if you fail to achieve a goal.
The purpose of measuring is not to judge a person or an effort as a failure or a success. It should simply be used as a way to measure whether the goal that was set was attainable and was accomplished. The results gathered in the measurement step should have a positive bias toward the affirmative.
Stated another way, if you’re successfully measuring and therefore getting better at setting and achieving your goals, you should have a higher percentage of goals achieved vs. not achieved. Ultimately, it is this performance in goal setting and achievement that “measuring for mastery” is designed to evaluate.
Step 4: Review and reset to correct your course: Evaluate new possibilities
As you pursue your goals, it’s critical to review your performance. Evaluate how you’ve done and consider the impact of your achieved goals and how they affect your new possibilities. When you consider your successes as well as your missed targets, you can gain valuable perspectives to help you revise your goals or define your next objectives.
This step of the process is also helpful for identifying goals that may have created unintended consequences. Sometimes reward mechanisms encourage behavior not in alignment with your strategic objectives — even manipulations of a valid goal-reward system. By incorporating this review stage into your process, you build a safety mechanism into your goal setting and achievement process.
At this point, look to previous successes for new opportunities that may have presented, and look for insights on how to pursue them. Review any missed targets. Learn why these goals were not attained and where you may have deviated from your intended course.
An important part of course correction is seeing how you can benefit from your earlier experience of goal setting and pursuing. As you review your past performance, you may discover that your perspective has changed. A new direction may be in order. If you find yourself getting closer to your stated goal but further away from what “feels” like the right objective or path, dig deeper into those feelings. Look for potential insights and course changes.
The purpose of goal setting should be to accelerate your achievement toward your strategic objectives. By reviewing and resetting your course, you assure you’re not following your goals blindly into a course that will take you off track.
Note: Much of what I shared in this article comes from our Progressive Goal Planning™ process of planning sequential goals that each build upon previously attained goals — ultimately toward the achievement of a greater, overarching goal. Learn more about Progressive Goal Planning in this video or download the Progressive Goal Planning white paper.
About Keith Norris
Keith C. Norris is an advocate of process improvement, goal planning and a leader of the ‘culture of productivity’ tribe. An author, lifelong entrepreneur, proud husband and father, tandem road cyclist, and ice hockey player, Keith’s day job is CEO of Complete XRM, Inc. (PlanPlus Online). Connect with Keith on LinkedIn.
PlanPlus Online (www.planplusonline.com) formerly owned by FranklinCovey, is a personal productivity system plus customer relationship management (CRM) software tool. Use this link for a free trial of PlanPlusOnline.com