Why do you keep missing your target?
There is a lot of psychology at play in goal setting and in this short article I will unpack why so many people set themselves goals and fail to meet them and how to break the cycle and start setting targets and goals that you will feel motivated by and ultimately hit if not exceed.
Let me start by asking you some challenging questions…
Are you scared of failing?
So nestled between our ears is the powerhouse that determines whether we succeed or fail at our goals. Your brain. But you’re in control of that, right? Umm…not quite. A huge proportion of our cognitive activity goes on at a subconscious level. We may aim to smash our goals and have every intention of doing what it takes, but at a subconscious level we can sabotage our success.
The limbic brain system is a super sensitive risk detector, it keeps us alive but can also quash our dreams by pulling us back into the safe zone. So, say you want to go for a promotion within 6 months, the fear of failing in front of your peers may subconsciously keep you playing safe, putting off that application until next year when you’ll have more experience, or opting for a safer sideways move.
Are you just coasting?
What? Easy goals are surely a walk in the park to achieve, right? Wrong! Research shows us that to engage and maintain focused motivation to achieve a goal, it needs to stretch us, just slightly, beyond our comfort zone.
Again, it may be that pesky part of the brain trying to keep us safe, but I see this all the time where people seek to set goals that they know they will achieve, because they always do or already have!
It ticks a box, but where’s the growth or satisfaction in that?
Do you actually give a toss?
Is it your goal, or someone else’s? Has your boss set the goal and you have gone along with it? Are you setting yourself a goal because you see others doing it or you feel you “should”?
Or perhaps you are trying to avoid feeling guilt or shame?
It is argued that we have two systems at play when we are working toward goals. The approach system “I want to improve my health and well-being by starting bootcamp” and the avoid system “I’m sick of feeling fat and frumpy, I’m going to start bootcamp”.
If a goal isn’t meaningful to YOU, maintaining the motivation needed to achieve it is going to be hard work!!
Do you know where you’re going?
How clear are you on what you are trying to achieve and why? Has your boss told you that you need to improve your performance and improve your collaboration with other departments, but you aren’t totally clear on what’s expected? Or perhaps you want to start a business of your own and have an idea but the overwhelm of where to start has you stuck in procrastination?
Our brains like certainty and being in control, so the next time you catch yourself procrastinating and feeling stuck, ask yourself are you in fear (often of failure) or unclear of what the next step is.
Admit it, you’d just rather be doing something else wouldn’t you?
Find that you are pulled to the shiny things, the tasks you like doing and missing your goals in other areas? Ok, so firstly let me say, this is totally normal!
Your shiny areas probably play to your strengths, things that you enjoy doing, feel energised when you do them, you do them with ease. The other tasks, the ones that feel depleting and zap your mood and energy and feel a bit trickier…they are probably not in your zone of genius!! But they often still need doing, right?
How can I start achieving and exceeding my goals and targets?
- Reflect on your failures with curiosity.
So, the first step is being honest with yourself and thinking about why you have missed your goals. Perhaps some of the above questions help.
Apply self-compassion here, not always easy but be kind to yourself and look through the lens of curiosity rather than self-bashing! Bring awareness to where you are holding yourself back and also where you are chasing someone else’s goals!
- Get super clear on what you want to achieve and WHY.
What do you want to achieve and why is it important to you? Like, really…why does it matter? What is achieving it going to mean to you?
- Push yourself out of the safe zone.
What could you achieve here if you weren’t afraid to fail? How about challenging yourself. What is the line of success, the result that you would be happy with achieving? Now, what do you think you could achieve if you really wanted to? What result would make you feel like a freaking superhero?
- Now for the HOW.
How are you going to achieve this? How can you break the overall goal, target, or task down? What could go wrong? What obstacles will you face and how will you overcome them?
- Write it down, tell someone and seek out feedback on your progress.
Research shows that we commit to goals when we write them down and commit them to others. We also need real time feedback to understand if we are on track, to review and re-adjust course if necessary.
Working towards meaningful goals can create a huge amount of satisfaction and has strong links to improving subjective well-being (happiness to you and me!). Strangely, it is not the achieving of goals that gives us these boosts of happiness, it is the journey, the progress towards the goal and feeling that we are on the right path and moving forward!
If you lead people and are keen to help them set and achieve their goals and want to know more about science informed ways of doing so, click the link and learn more about how I support leaders to Engage, Enable & Empower their people to work happy!