6 strange reasons why goal setting fails

On a cold night in November, I broke a 70-day HIIT work-out streak.

At that time, I couldn’t think of why I chose to break that streak. But now, in hindsight, it was just because I thought I could always pick it up tomorrow.

But I knew it in my bones that not only was I breaking my hard-won 70-day streak, I knew that was the end of my HIIT work-out goal.

I knew I wasn’t only missing out on that one day. I knew that goal was dead.

After that fateful night, I summoned all the motivation I could to work out the following day—but I missed the following two days.

And after that, I wouldn’t work out for two years.

why goal setting fails

What are the reasons why goal setting fails?

What are the reasons why I broke that streak which eventually led to the end of my goal?

On the surface, it seemed as if there wasn’t a real reason for abandoning that goal. But, appearances can be deceiving.

I’m no stranger to goal failures. As I’m sure you also aren’t.

I could fill a library shelf with the list of my failed goals.

The books I never wrote, the habits that were never more than just a thought, the money I failed to save, the startup that crumbled midway, the New Year resolutions that didn’t get to see February, and all the dreams left unfulfilled.

I told you. I’m no stranger to failures.

Dissecting failures: dissecting why goal setting fails

goal setting planner

It takes 66 days to form a habit around a goal.

This concept of goal setting and habit formation was popularized by Robin Sharma in the 5 am club. More on this later.

So, you’d think 70 days is enough to have formed a habit of doing a HIIT workout right?

So, how can 1 day ruin 70 days of pain and hard work?

The REAL reasons for failing to stick with a goal for the long haul are more mental and profound than the conventional reasons people will have you believe.

The conventional reasons people would give would be things like;

  • My goal lacked a plan of action.
    But it didn’t. I had a complete plan for my goal. Not only did I plan, but my goal was also a SMART goal.
  • My WHY for setting the goal wasn’t big enough. Or the purpose for achieving the goal wasn’t big enough.
    But if I didn’t have a profound reason for the goal, would I have lasted 70 days?
  • I had too many goals at once and I didn’t prioritize.
    No. That was my only (priority) goal at that time of the year.

So, let’s assume you already have an action plan for your goal, you have an important reason of why you MUST achieve that goal, the goal is a priority, and you have the time for the goal—here are 6 mental and profound reasons why goal setting fails regardless:

  1. Goal setting fails when you rely on motivation to achieve your goals

why goal setting fail

Motivation is a tricky mistress. It romances you for a short while.

But when you need it the most, when you’re in a mountain of what needs to get done, it deserts you.

I want you to know right from the start of your goal that motivation is nothing more than a fleeting emotion.

It might take 2 days or 70 days, the motivation you had for that goal will run out.

And as most people do, if motivation is all you’re basing the completion of your goal on, that goal is destined to fail.

  1. Failure in Identity shifting is a reason why goal setting fails

Another MAJOR reason why goal setting fails is the burden of the hard work the goal will require.

And this burden gets heavy to bear when you refuse to become the person that achieves the goal.

Let me explain: Most people focus on what they want to have, rather than who they need to become to achieve their goals.

For instance, when you set a weight loss goal, you might start going to the gym or start a low-carb diet.

But failure to ask yourself—who a fit person is—might result in the failure of the goal.

Because deep down, if you still believe you’re overweight, or you’re a person that has to avoid junk foods, then, you’re left with all the things you MUST AVOID to achieve your goal.

And you’ll soon find out that you’ll only see the hard work needed to achieve the goal.

But, if you can shift your identity to that of a fit person, who eats healthy, then you’re left with the diet and the workout routine—which you’ll see as a way of life.

So, logic is if you focus on becoming the person first, the hard work won’t seem like hard work.

  1. The pain-pleasure scale: Not choosing your pain wisely is a reason why goal setting fails

why goal setting fails

Most good and healthy goals require hard work. They’re mostly painful to achieve.

If achieving great goals was easy, we’d have thousands of Thomas Edisons and Warren Buffets running around.

Heck, I would have built six-packs and have toned muscles by now.

But I don’t! Because it was painful! The burden of the hard work got to me and I abandoned the goal.

So, instead of asking yourself what goals to set this New Year as a resolution, the better question should be; which pain will I (at least) enjoy throughout this year?

If I had enjoyed the pain of working out, I wouldn’t have stopped.

Or if I had tried to work in a form of pleasure into the pain of working out, I wouldn’t have stopped.

The solution: We don’t need motivation for the things we enjoy doing. I don’t need motivation to watch the next marvel avengers’ flick that’s released.

So, next time you’re setting a goal that you don’t naturally enjoy, hack the goal to work in a little bit of pleasure.

For instance;

  • I write consistently—not because I enjoy writing, but because I enjoy listening to music and I always listen to music when I write.
  • I take a walk every evening—not because I enjoy walking for miles, but because I enjoy listening to music while I walk. I’m sorry. I’m a music buff!
  • I work for seven hours every morning—not because I enjoy the work (who does?) I do it because, in the evening, I get to reward myself with any marvel avengers’ flick I choose. If I don’t work, I don’t watch.
  1. A conflict of Process vs. outcome.

goal setting

One other thing you should know about good and healthy goals is that the rewards of achieving those goals are always so far away in the future.

You don’t get to see the outcome of the process immediately.

If you get too invested in the outcome of your goal, you may have a crisis of expectation and this can cause the failure of the goal.

Focusing on the process rather than the outcome is the best approach to setting goals.

This was shown firsthand in a study where students that focused on the process of achieving a good grade outperformed those that focused on the outcome.1

  1. Misconception on how long it takes to form a habit

The endgame of all goal-setting is habit formation.

When you can really mark a goal as completed is when you’ve formed habit(s) around the goal.

At this stage, it’s more painful for you NOT to work on the goal, than to work on it.

So, how long does it take to form a habit?

Back then, Tony Robbins popularized the concept of habits taking 21 days to form.

So, people would work on a goal for 21 days, and on the 22nd day, if they don’t feel a compulsion to do it anymore, they abandon the goal.

I went on the assumption that habits take 66 days to form based on what I read in the 5 am club.2

After doing the HIIT workout for 70 days, I subconsciously concluded I’m never forming the habit of working out. So, I abandoned the goal.

The solution: I tracked down the research that Robin Sharma was quoting in the 5 am club. Turned out the 66-day marker is an average figure.3

Researchers in the study had participants that took 254 days to form a habit. And there were participants that it took as low as 18 days to form a habit.

The researchers found that these variations were based on factors ranging from personality differences to the difficulty level of the habits participants were trying to form.

Equipped with this new knowledge, you should have the mindset that you won’t fall within the average category.

So, next time you want to set a goal, be prepared to work on the goal for a minimum of 254 days.

And if by the 255th day of working on the goal, if you haven’t formed the habit needed to achieve the goal, come back to this post and cuss me up in the comment section.

  1. Your goal measurement yardstick can influence the outcome of your goals

goal measurement

On their own, events have no meaning.

It’s your interpretation of events that matter.

So, how do you measure an outcome to determine if a goal has failed?

Do you factor in the process and efforts you put in to determine if a goal has failed?

Does your goal measurement yardstick have a breathing space?

If you answer no to these questions, you’re probably fixated on a rigid outcome and you’ll be quick to label most goals you set as a failure.

For instance;

  • You set a goal of making $10,000 this month. And at the end of the month, you made $0. But, you did all due diligence. You learned new things and you pushed yourself past your limit. You grew.

On the surface, a rigid outcome of $10,000 would make you think you’ve failed.

But with a little bit of perspective, you’d find that you won in more ways than you thought.

Finally on why goal setting fails

Can one day ruin a perfectly planned goal?

Regardless of what your answer is, it shouldn’t!

At the end of the day, regardless of why goal setting fails, it’s the consistent effort that counts.

Because working on a goal for 2 minutes is better than not working on it at all.

No matter how long it’s been since you worked on a goal, you can start again right now.

It may take longer than you expected, but you’ll achieve that goal.

Hope that helped!!

Share this post with others. You’ll help somebody out.

If you’ve got a question to ask or something to add, use the comment section below.

  1. From Thought to Action: Effects of Process-Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance
  2. Apart from my misunderstanding of how long it takes to form a habit, the 5 am club is a good book and it changed my life in a profound way. I recommend you check it out here
  3. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world