Top 7 Reasons People Fail to Achieve Their Goals

goal setting mindset productivity success Jan 20, 2021
Top 7 Reasons People Fail to Achieve Their Goals Laura W. Miner
Have you ever set a goal that you were super excited about? So excited, in fact, that you told your friends and colleagues all about it? But then, over time, your goal setting efforts simply fell flat... and the goal never came to fruition?
Somehow, you either lost steam, got distracted, couldn’t get off the starting block, or maybe you’re not even sure where things went off the tracks. If this has ever happened to you, you’re not alone. 
Failing to achieve goals is an all too common practice. In fact, research conducted by the University of Scranton and published by Statistic Brain revealed that 92% of people FAIL to achieve the New Year’s resolutions and goals they set for themselves.
This begs the question... Why do so many people fail to achieve their goals?  

The Top 7 Reasons People Fail to Achieve Their Goals


#1 - Not Specific Enough

Vague goals yield vague results. When goals lack specificity and detail, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to create an actionable plan to support and achieve those goals.

But when goals are specific and detailed, it provides a level of clarity surrounding the steps required to bring those goals to fruition. 

Research has shown that having specific goals stimulates deeper levels of thought surrounding those goals, leading to the development of relevant, action-oriented plans for achievement. In other words, it takes your creative thinking and problem solving to a deeper level, setting you up for success in the process.

In addition, mountains of research have been conducted regarding the motivation behind goal achievement… and what the research has repeatedly found is that once this clarity is established and one knows what specific actions to take, doing so increases mastery and self-efficacy, which in turn acts as a catalyst that intrinsically drives the motivation to not only achieve those goals but to set additional goals as well. 

So, if you want to naturally spur your motivation while sparking creativity and problem-solving in the goal-setting process, then make sure your goals are specific. 


#2 - Too Big 

A quick point of clarification… this does not refer to the audacious nature of goals. Challenging, audacious goals have been proven to bolster goal achievement, not reduce it. However, goals can be TOO BIG when they're not broken down into their smallest component parts.

It’s like the old adage says... How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

As an example, let’s say you’re in sales and your big goal this year is to hit 120% of quota. Well, that’s great, but it’s not actionable. To make it actionable, you need to chunk it down into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals.  

In addition to chunking down the time frames, you'd also want to chunk down the tasks and activities. So maybe you keep drilling down further and further until you finally have daily goals that include the number of prospecting calls you’ll make, the number of client meetings you’ll hold, and the number of proposals you’ll generate.  

In doing so, the goal is no longer too big to take action on. In addition, research has shown that when we chunk our goals down, it plays two distinct roles. For one, it provides a measuring stick to gauge our progress. If we are failing to complete our daily “chunks”, which are essentially subgoals, then it helps us to course-correct and get back on track. 

Secondly, the research has shown that when we as humans perceive a discrepancy between our current performance and our desired goal, we are more motivated to close that gap. We are naturally wired to do this… but the only way we can make this innate psychological driver work for us is if we chunk those goals down and eat that elephant one small bite at a time.


#3 - No Written Plan

Does the process of physically writing your goals down really make a difference? It’s long been touted that this is the case, but now we have scientific evidence to back up the assumption.

Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, conducted a study on goal achievement in the workplace to better understand how different variables contributed to goal achievement. 

What Dr. Matthew's study revealed was that those who had written their goals down and created a written plan to achieve them saw a 70% achievement rate, versus those who just thought about their goals and who only had a 35% achievement rate. 

That’s right… those who wrote their goals down had DOUBLE the goal achievement rate over those without written goals. 

So if you want to take control of your goal-setting efforts and double your chances of success, be sure to write your goals down (and look at them often).


#4 - Lacking Deadlines

Research has shown that people are more likely to mobilize efforts toward the achievement of a goal when a deadline is approaching, versus, if they are lacking a deadline or the deadline is far away. As a result, chunking goals down into subgoals, and then setting deadlines for each of those subgoals have been proven to spur action, drive motivation, and increase achievement. 

In addition, multiple research experiments have also shown that when people pursue goals with different deadlines, they generally prioritize the goal with the shorter deadline. This makes sense logically, as the one we need to finish first, we work on first. Yet, most people don’t take this into consideration when intentionally designing systems and structures to achieve their larger goals.

We can leverage this knowledge to our advantage by stacking our goals. As an example, you have a big, overarching goal with a deadline that’s a year away, but then you have intentional subgoals that are stacked on top of one another, with individual deadlines for each subgoal. Each deadline leads you from one subgoal to the next, compounding your efforts and driving you consistently toward that larger goal.

When this approach is routinely put into practice, people report achieving their goals much more quickly than they ever had before. In addition, the goal failure rate is significantly diminished.

So if you want to achieve your goals quickly and consistently, be sure to set deadlines for every goal and subgoal you create. 


#5 - No Accountability Systems

In addition to Dr. Gail Matthews findings regarding those who wrote down their goals, she also found that goal achievement increased to 76% when people also had accountability systems in place. 

This is in line with other research in the field which has shown that when accountability systems are incorporated into our goal-setting practices, we are more likely to achieve those goals. 

Accountability can come in different shapes and sizes, from self-accountability where we use agendas, goal planning, and gamification to hold ourselves to task... to external accountability where we share our goals with others, be it a coach or mentor, a colleague, a partner, or a mastermind group, as examples.

As the research has shown, we become more focused on achieving the goal when accountability systems are in place. In addition, we are less likely to become distracted, overwhelmed, or worse… to give up.

So if you want to see goal-setting success, then be sure to build accountability into your regular routine.


#6 - No Goal Habits

Who we are, and what we achieve, is a direct reflection of the habits we practice day in and day out.

I can claim to be a goal-setter, but if I don’t have a habit of taking intentional, goal-directed action every single day, then am I really a goal-setter?

However, if I build a system of habits that actively support my goal getting efforts, then achieving my goals becomes a natural process... and now, I’m a true goal setter.  

So what type of supportive goal habits should one have? Well, some of this depends on the goals themselves, but let’s look at a few examples. 

Regardless of one’s goals, one of the most important habits is to have a strong morning routine that jumpstarts your day. Starting the day with small wins and positive momentum sets the tone for the entire day.

In fact, this success habit is so important that I’ve created an entire video tutorial on morning routines alone, which is part of a free course I offer on How To Develop an Achiever’s Mindset. (You can get free access here.)

Another strong goal habit is reading your goals daily. When we do this, it primes our activation energy and spurs us to take consistent action toward our goals. However, when we don't read our goals daily, we can get distracted by the everyday busyness of life and lose track of those goals. Suddenly, a week or a month goes by with no intentional action taken towards our goals, and suddenly we’ve lost all the traction we originally made. 

And one last goal habit is to prioritize daily focus blocks. This is time blocked out in your calendar to intentionally work on activities that drive you toward the achievement of your goals. It’s focused and intentional and is treated with the same priority you would give to a doctor’s appointment or a client meeting. Don’t let it slide and don’t let others impede on it. 

If you prioritize time each day devoted to the achievement of your goals, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they come to fruition.


#7 - Not in Line with Their Values

Goals don’t exist in a vacuum; they're built on a foundation of core values, and this is true whether someone realizes they’ve adopted certain core values or not. 

Values are the common thread that links and defines everything we do - from who we date and marry, to the jobs we accept or stay in, to the personal and professional goals we strive to achieve.

And because values are foundational, it’s important to realize that a strong foundation of values will support the weight placed upon it, but a weak foundation will develop cracks over time until it finally crumbles. 

If our values are misaligned, or if we never truly identify or introspect on them, it can have severe consequences on our health, our relationships, our careers, and our general ability to achieve our goals.

As the research has shown, when someone pursues goals that are not in line with their values, they’re more likely to experience negative emotions; have a higher failure rate on achieving their goals; and are more likely to experience cognitive dissonance, where their thoughts and beliefs are in conflict with their actions and behaviors. 

Think of it this way… let’s say you’re a sales rep for a large company, and you personally value honesty and integrity. Your company goal is to achieve a certain quota each month, and by working as a sales rep for this company, their goals inherently become YOUR goals. 

But let’s say you start to realize that the product is faulty and that the company's practices may not be fully in good faith. Suddenly you’re in a situation where your goals and values are misaligned, and success with your goal achievement efforts becomes increasingly difficult.

So, if you want to avoid being among the 92% who fail to achieve their goals, then be sure that your goals are in alignment with, and support of, your values.

Those are the top 7 reasons people fail to achieve their goals. BUT, I want to share a bonus reason, because really, it helps to explain the seven reasons we just went through. And it’s this… 


Many of the reasons people fail to achieve their goals are because they seek to achieve goals BEFORE they’ve actually developed a goal achiever’s mindset. 

It’s like deciding to run a marathon without first training. Can you imagine entering to run the Boston Marathon, without first getting the gear you need, training for months in all weather conditions, and building up to the demands that such a feat presents?
After studying and researching goal-setting theory at length for years, I can tell you that those who take the time to understand, embrace, and practice developing a goal achiever’s mindset see success faster and more consistently than their peers. 
Those with a goal achievers mindset are among the 8% who achieve their goals, versus the 92% who don’t.
So, if you’d like to learn more about how to develop a goal achiever’s mindset, then click here to get access to a free, 10-part video-based course that will provide you with science-backed insights to help you take your goal setting efforts to the next level. 

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