6 Questions to Ask When You Don’t Reach Your Goals

why didn't I reach my goal?This week I taught a class on goal-setting.

Somebody raised a question that I hear so often, I was inspired to write about it today.

The question was this:

“What happens if I give myself a deadline to achieve my goal, and the deadline comes and goes, and I didn’t achieve it?”

When that happens, it’s time to dig in and find out what went wrong. NICELY.

Don’t brow-beat yourself; assume you did the best you could in the circumstances, and that whatever went wrong, did so for a reason.

Ask yourself the following questions, in this order:

1. Did I set a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goal?

If you didn’t set a conscious intention toward a specific goal, providing measurable, achievable, realistic (for you) steps to get there by a particular date, you didn’t have the support and structure of a plan.

If you had a good plan to reach your goal but it just didn’t happen for some reason, go to the next question.

2. Did I have the resources, time and energy I needed to make it happen?

If not, then no wonder it didn’t happen. Either gear up or re-size your goal to make it doable.

If you *did* have the resources but just didn’t do it, go on to the next question.

3. Did something happen that took precedence over this particular goal?

A death, separation, major loss, job change, move or other crisis can easily push non-essential activities to the back burner. If you experienced one of these, cut yourself some slack; you’re human. Start over when the seas are calmer.

If you didn’t have a major upset that could explain why you abandoned your goal, move on to the next question.

4. How much did the goal itself matter to me?

I’m not talking about how much it matters to you to be a good goal-setter and achiever, but how much the actual thing you were striving for mattered.

Was it more important to someone else than to you? More important on paper than in reality? Did you set the goal on principle, with your head instead of your heart?

When you set goals that don’t truly matter to you, there’s no intrinsic motivation to get them done. If your goal DID matter to you, very much, then ask yourself…

5. Would I still be me if I achieved this goal?

Let’s say your goal is to attain a certain position in an organization. If you got that position, what would that mean?

In addition to all the cool things it could mean, here are a few other things it might mean (I’m just making these up to illustrate the concept):

  • You’re a leader
  • You have to deal with people more often, and/or in groups
  • You might have to solve difficult problems you’re not sure you know how to solve
  • You’ll feel like an impostor and/or make mistakes publicly instead of privately
  • It will take up a chunk of your free time that you’re not sure you’re ready to give up

When you set a goal of being/doing/having something you can’t quite see your current self being/doing/having, you’re all set up for self-sabotage. Part of you fears losing something, not least of which might be your very identity.

Can you blame yourself for dragging your feet in that case?

If you *can* see yourself perfectly well achieving your goal and still being YOU, but it still didn’t happen, there’s only one more question to ask:

6. What am I not being honest with myself about?

Whatever it is, it’s okay. You don’t need to keep secrets from yourself. You can’t afford to. Not if you want to get to where you belong.

Let yourself in on the secret, and know that whatever got between you and your goal, you’re not alone and you’re not unworthy because of it.

The more you can accept yourself as you are, the more you will set appropriate goals.

The key? Go gently, with baby steps.

Good luck to everyone who has a goal, especially the Americorps members at Confluence Environmental Center.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

0 thoughts on “6 Questions to Ask When You Don’t Reach Your Goals”

  1. I have always written down my goals in a note book and tracked my progress when I was younger.
    Seeking my personal goals is much easier than seeking goals related with family issues. Our daughters gold is to be a single mom. She wants to be pregnant via IVF ( a trendy thing in Europe ) only then she will start speak to us. Goals I feel need to be realistic or accepted by society …. I personally feel you are in for a long heart ache fighting what ever normal is. How can I convince my daughter who has not spoke to us all in 4 years that her goals are not attached to me or how we as a family feel or think about the whole thing of bring a child into the world with our a father ( or even a girl friend)

    • Amina, thank you for your comment. You said you feel that goals need to be realistic or accepted by society, and this is a popular view. Since goals come from inside ourselves (if it comes from outside, it’s a task, not a goal), this doesn’t always end up being the case.

      When a goal pits you against society’s norms, you do face a very hard choice; either society or your own soul has to be renounced to some degree. I won’t presume to know which is the right way to go for your daughter. We each make choices based on our own priorities and values.

      Many thanks for visiting, and best wishes to you and your family.


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