Seven Reasons People Don’t Set Goals and How to Overcome Each of Them

Talk to ten people and nine of them will tell you they believe in goal setting. These nine people will tell you that goals are important, that they can help you be happier and healthier, and that they are the best and fastest way to achieve more in life.

I would agree with those nine people.

Unfortunately eight of the nine, when pressed, will tell you they don’t set many (or any) goals; that they really want to, but . . .

Actually, I’m being a bit optimistic here. I’ve read several times (though I can’t corroborate it with specific research right now) that only about 3% of people ever set and write down any goals.

If most everyone thinks goals are important; and most everyone would like to be happier, healthier, achieve more, etc., etc., etc.; why don’t they set goals?

There are seven reasons that I have observed.

The Seven Reasons

1. People don’t know how to set goals.

2. People are searching for the perfect way to set goals.

3. People are afraid to set goals.

4. People are afraid to succeed.

5. People are afraid they won’t succeed.

6. People don’t want to set the goal too high.

7. People don’t want to set the goal too low.

After looking at and thinking more about this list, I believe they really are excuses for not setting goals, not reasons. Let’s look at each excuse, and then explore how to solve the problem and erase the excuse.

As you read the list this time, read them all with a whine in your voice, and look for which on list is your personal excuse (there may be none – good for you; there may be more than one – good for you for being honest – now you have the opportunity to change your habit).

Excuse #1 – “But I don’t know how . . .”

This makes sense in a way. How can we do anything if we don’t know how to do it? Maybe you really don’t know how, but to be honest the resources to help you learn are plentiful, and we aren’t talking rocket science here. There are thousands of books about goal setting and hundreds of free resources on the internet. (Actually an search on goal setting nets more than 30,000 results, and a Google search on the same phrase yields more than 23 million results.)

Solution #1 – Find a resource, read it and get started.

Excuse #2 – “But I want to set them the right way . . .”

This excuse is the opposite of Excuse #1. There are some people that collect goal setting books, tools and techniques like others collect baseball cards. Yes, there are many approaches; and yes, some may be better than others or work better for you. But none of them will work until you do.

Solution #2 – Enough collecting! Pick an approach and get started.

Excuse #3 – “But I’m afraid . . .”

Afraid of what? The unknown? There is nothing to be afraid of, except the unknown of trying. Recognizing your fear is a great first step, but setting goals isn’t like the unknown climbing Mt. Everest or swimming with sharks. There really is nothing to be afraid of (although there are two more excuses related to fear).

Solution #3 – The best way to conquer a fear is to do the thing you fear. Set a goal. Start with a small, short-term one if you must, but just try it!

Excuse #4 – “But I’m afraid I’ll succeed . . .”

Actually, this excuse falls into a special category because people typically won’t really say it and might not even think it. But in reality, it may be the biggest and most powerful excuse of all. If you set a goal, you might achieve it, and in a paradoxical way, some people are afraid of the change that might come with that achievement. Or, in some other cases they don’t feel worthy of achieving it.

Solution #4 – Start with a small goal, one that will help you build your confidence and show you some success that you can manage. (If you have significant self-esteem issues that are preventing you from feeling worthy, I encourage you to get help.)

Excuse #5 – “But I’m afraid I’ll fail . . .”

OK, so you may fail. If you set a goal to lose 20 pounds and you only lose 10 is that so bad? How many pounds would you have lost if you hadn’t set a goal at all? Repeat after me: “There is nothing wrong with failing. Failing is just a chance to make corrections before trying again.”

Solution #5 – Let go of your fear; just a little bit, just this once. Just set a goal.

Excuse #6 – “But if I set the goal too high, I might not reach it . . .”

You hopefully can see that this is a combo-pack of Excuses 3 and 5 (and maybe a bit of #2 as well). If the goal is motivating to you, you will make progress. Maybe the goal is massive, and maybe you won’t reach it; but if you set it you will move in the right direction. Plus, imagine the big satisfaction of meeting – or even exceeding – that big goal.

Solution #6 – Set a big goal, and go for it!

Excuse #7 – “But if I set the goal too low, it might not be worth the effort.”

How can this be? If you set a goal and reach it, great! Then you can set another one, big or small. Just like anything else, with practice comes greater skill. Some of your goals may be easy to reach, and that is OK. Over time you will learn to calibrate the goals you set to be just right for you.

Solution # 7- Set a small goal and get started.

Have you noticed a theme in these solutions?

Since you know goals can make your life better, set some.

Set one or set fifty, but just get started. The best way to get where you want to go is to decide what that destination is.

The best way to start setting goals is to set one. (Yes, it is just that simple.)

Get started. Set a goal, even if it isn’t perfect. Set a goal, even if it’s too big or too small. Set a goal, and I’m guessing you already will have achieved one of your biggest goals – “You know, I really ought to set some goals this year…”

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