The Real Reason We Don’t Set Goals

Note: To make 2017 your best year ever, sign up for a free webinar from Michael Hyatt by clicking here.

I used to dream of what my future would look like. I’d fantasize about becoming a writer or having the freedom to do what I wanted. And then life would drift by, indifferent to my dreams, and I’d find myself wondering, “Where did it all go?”

The Real Reason We Don't Set Goals

I was living but wasn’t fully alive. I had a job, but wasn’t really doing the work I was meant to do.

As is the case for many, my twenties were a period of feeling like I was clawing around in the dark, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing or even where I was headed. The experience taught me a lot, but I can’t help feeling like maybe it was wasted time.

During this decade of confusion, I’d occasionally think of what I wanted life to look like but then I’d never follow through on that vision. Something was missing, something important, something that was beyond difficult for me:

I needed a plan.

Why we don’t set goals

It’s hard for me to admit now that I spent so much time waiting for the right moment to take control of my life, but I did.

I am finding, though, that this isn’t so rare. A lot of people treat their lives as something that happens to them rather than a grand adventure in which they have a part to play.

When it comes to goals, many of us freeze. We get paralyzed. Sure, we have dreams, but to state them out loud or plot a course for achieving such things seems pointless.

Why do we do this? Why don’t we set goals?

There are a few reasons, I think:

  • We’re scared.
  • We’re lazy.
  • We don’t know what we really want.

When I interviewed Michael Hyatt on the subject of goal-setting, he shed some light on why so many seem to get stuck in dreaming that doesn’t lead to action. The secret to succeeding in your goals is, in fact, three things:

  1. Courage. You need to lean into the fear, not avoid it. Discomfort is a sign you’re on the right track. Don’t avoid the situations that feel challenging or audacious, because that’s where we tend to grow the most.
  2. Commitment. Yes, you actually have to do some work. Living the best year of your life won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be exciting – a grand adventure worth dedicating your life to. And it all begins with a decision to start.
  3. Clarity. Before you can set a goal, much less achieve one, you have to know what you want. You have to be clear about who you are and where you want to end up in life.

You need all three of these if you’re going to live the kind of life you dream of.

The life you’ve always dreamed of

A few years ago, I finally wrote down some goals. It felt scary and silly, but I did it anyway. These goals included:

  • Write and publish a book.
  • Make enough money to support my wife so she could stay home and be a full-time mom.
  • Quit my job and become a full-time author, speaker, and coach.

The target date for these goals was 2021. They were 10-year goals. I ended up accomplishing them in less than two years. In fact, I exceeded every single goal I set in one-fifth the time I thought it would take.

How did this happen?

I wrote my goals down in order to get clear about exactly what I wanted, and committed to a course of action to get me there. And in less than a quarter of the time I thought it would take, I achieved every goal.

What do you need to actually live the life you dream of? The best place to begin is to imagine what you want your life to look in a year, or even a decade, from now. Then ask yourself how you can begin to work backwards from there. It won’t be easy, necessarily, but at the same time this isn’t rocket science.

Achieving your goals is merely a matter of courage, commitment, and clarity.

Achieving your goals is merely a matter of courage, commitment, and clarity.

Jeff Goins

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So what does that mean for you?

It’s no coincidence that the year I finally wrote down those goals was in the context of a coaching group I had joined. I had a community to support me and people to hold me accountable to pursuing a dream.

When it comes to goal setting, we all need help. That’s why I’m thrilled to take part in Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever program. If you need some more help in this area, I highly recommend it. This is the fourth year he’s done it, and I intend to take it every year.

Spending five days in an action plan that leads to what could be your best year ever seems like a small investment. Doesn’t it? I would love for you to join me in reclaiming 2015 as the year when our wildest dreams come true.

I’m a proud affiliate of this course, which means if you sign up for it, I get a commission. But remember: I don’t endorse anything I don’t use and love myself. And you can download all kinds of free stuff without having to buy the course:

And once you do that, answer this question…

Have you ever written down your goals? What happened? Share in the comments.

54 thoughts on “The Real Reason We Don’t Set Goals

  1. motivational post as always. “People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals- that is, goals that do not inspire them”
    Our national poet Iqbal said “We have to set highest goals in our lives, struggle continuously to achieve them and when the goals are in grasping reach, do not rest there……set higher goals for yourself”
    It is always commitment, determination & positive approach to deal with a problem matter a lot to move on successfully.

  2. Over the next week, I had already planned on writing down my goals and charting my course. Thank you, Jeff, for the extra nudge confirming that I’m going in the right direction.

    My goals are very similar to what yours were: write and publish a book, create a community of support and inspiration through my blog, and make enough money to help my husband and ‘twenty-something’ son pursue their dreams as well.

    I’m a little older than you (in 2015 I’ll be turning 50), but I truly believe it’s never too late … and I’m going to prove it!

    1. Ditto that – I’ll also be turning 50 in 2015, and I feel like I’m just starting to live my life to its fullest. It’s all that wisdom we’ve accumulated over years. 😀

  3. Good points, Jeff. I was fearful of writing down my goals for years…heck…I was fearful of writing down ANYTHING for years. 😉 But,in the last few years I’ve stepped out and done it and it really has helped me to stay focused and to make more progress. I think a couple of things that kept me from goal setting was fearing I would not achieve them and feeling like a failure (can you say recovering perfectionist?) The other thing I batted with was a desire to live one day at a time. I’ve had to learn that you really can do both…set long term goals AND live one day at a time. In fact, I’m thinking this might even be the best way to approach long term goals because you need to know what specific steps you are going to take TODAY to reach them. Thanks for the continued reminders.

  4. Great post, Jeff! I’ve only recently started writing down my goals (it’s probably been a week, to be honest) and I can’t tell you how helpful this exercise is. I feel so much more energetic and determined now!
    Here are my goals for the next five years:
    1) Make my blog bigger and better.
    2) Complete all my unfinished novels and start focusing on only one at a time.
    3) Master French and get started with German.
    4) Do my best in college and get top-level grades.
    4) Stay focused and positive throughout.

    Happy New Year, Jeff. Looking forward to many more inspirational posts from you in the coming year. 🙂

    1. Those are good goals and they’re similar to mine, if you replace French with Russian and replace doing well in school with doing well in my job, as I’ve graduated from college already. 🙂 Good luck on achieving them! Especially completing the unfinished novels. I’m working on that… it’s so hard to resist the temptation to start on new exciting projects before finishing ones in progress.

  5. Another great post Jeff.

    Over the last few years I have written my goals down but I must say, at first it was difficult because they seemed outlandish and out of reach. But writing them down, clearly and as concisely as possible, allowed me to focus my energy and attention on them frequently. Those goals were never going to get accomplished if they just stayed in my brain. I HAD TO WRITE THEM DOWN!!

    I found once I put them down I was then able to set in motion a regular overview (weekly, daily, monthly etc) of those goals. This allowed me to get them accomplished much like you mentioned above – in record time. There is something about putting those goals down, pushing past the fear and going after it. It works when you work it.

    Here are a couple I wrote down that got accomplished:

    I wanted to publish a book – DONE (in fact I published 2)
    I wanted to start my motivational speaking business – DONE

    I really do not believe this would have happened if I had not put those goals down and spent time regularly focusing on them and putting them in front of me on a consistent basis.

    Appreciate all you do Jeff! You are an inspiration to many.
    ~DS

  6. I love goals. I’m addicted to goals. And every time I’ve failed to set goals, it’s been because I had problems defining my goals, or feeling that I was being impractical by setting goals too high (fear).

    However, I stopped writing down long term goals 6 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with dementia. I had to stop because, being a bit OCD (OK, I’m a lot OCD) I was becoming very resentful of how often her unpredictable needs interfered with every aspect of my life.

    Now I just want to stay sane while taking care of her, homeschooling three kids, maintaining a healthy relationship with my husband, acting as president of a local homeschool support group, and keeping my blog above water. Oh – and training puppies to become service dogs.

    But I’m not boohooing or asking for pats on the back – taking care of my mom in my home is something I chose to do, and we are fast approaching the day when she will have to be committed to long term nursing home care, so this season of my life was for a purpose, and my goal this year is to learn as much as I can from it and find ways to appreciate it instead of resent it.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Susan. I can relate. My young kids are often interfering with my goals and I get resentful too. I’m finding that this is a time of learning for me as well.

    2. Thank you for sharing, Susan. What a great way to look at it! I think it’s often our mindset that can shift the impact of something for the good, and you’re showing the way. Roadblocks become bridges and challenges become learning opportunities.

  7. I, too, decided to set goals this year instead of making New Year’s Resolutions. With resolutions, my resolve is always fizzling out by the beginning of February. I figured with goals, I have something absolute to obtain, and I could plan a way to get there. Perfect timing with your post, Jeff. It goes right along with mine for today, so I’ll be sharing … and I’ll be checking out Michael’s video series. Thanks!

  8. I also joined a motivational group, a ten week course. We practiced
    mindfulness and explored our comfort zones, learning how to step out of
    them. I set myself some goals over a five year plan. One of them was to
    publish a novel. I hadn’t even written it at that time. Within a year I
    had published my first book and I am now on my sixth. So I totally agree
    with you about setting goals. Now my goal is to give up the ‘day job’
    and write full time. Fingers crossed. Thanks for the encouraging post,
    Jeff

  9. The thing is Jeff, not only are your tips dead on, the clarity one just pops out at me.

    I had a half year of clarity in 2014 – second half – and my online career was like night and day.

    I got super, super clear on my blog, why I was blogging, why I was blogging for my audience, and it seems at least – according to my audience – that my authenticity and genuine nature has shone through.

    At least according to these folks, but they’re biased lol 😉

    I’ll tell you what; if you set a goal and get clear on why you’re moving in that direction, because basically, you wish to be free in some way, you’ll reach your goals.

    You reached 10 year goals in 2 years because of being clear and I accomplished in 6 months what I couldn’t do in 5 and a half years because I got clear.

    Clarity!

    Thanks Jeff, so happy to have found your blog!

    Ryan

  10. I have created a list of To-Dos, but am going to break them down into: (a) WHat is my Goal for 2015; (b) WHY do I want to achieve it; (c) WHEN do I want to achieve it by – approximate deadlines ; (d) HOW do I want to achieve it

    Guess the rules of journalism work well while setting goals too 😉

  11. I, too, appreciated your point about clarity. Perhaps that’s why doing NaNoWriMo so often yields real success for getting out a rough draft—clear word count goal, clear story goal, clear deadline.

    I don’t know if anyone else mentioned this, but I also appreciate having an accountability partner when it comes to making goals. Having a friend and fellow writer who understands is so, so valuable.

  12. My goal is to get the hell out of my family business and make a living blogging, but I never achieve till now. It was goal I had set many years back and I had to honestly tell you… … … I never written those goals down anywhere, but after reading what you said, I guess it’s time to write it down, take a photo of it and upload to my computer and set it as my wallpaper. Hope 2015, would be a better year for me.

  13. I read the Law of Attraction and wrote a desire statement in April, 2014, and posted it on my bathroom mirror. This kept it in front of me. So far, my first novel is up to 8,500 words and I have also published 2 articles in the last 6 weeks. I truly believe the universe will grant my desires. I however would like to write at a faster clip so any ideas would be helpful.

  14. This is beautiful – I have done the same thing in the past…wrote 3 year goals and accomplished all (by accident) in 6 months. They were big goals too and felt out of reach. I am going to do this today with my business. On paper. In ink.
    I do truly believe that when you hit upon your true purpose, it should be scary – you just have to find the excitement in it too!

    1. By accident?! No Cher! You memorised your goals, made your system to repeat it inwardly, a million thousand times, an endless chant and you realised. No by chance, but by your efforts. Congrats.

      Cheers
      suren

  15. Great tips, Jeff. I would add that goals without supporting habits are really just dreams. James Clear writes about this, the importance of having a system to support your goals. For instance, your goal may be to win the Super Bowl, but the daily training is the system. To that end, writers and bloggers with big dreams need to get up earlier, craft a schedule and dial in a winning system. At least that’s what I’m working on. Thanks for the motivational post!

  16. Thanks, Jeff! Short, to the point and very practical. Definitely a post to “stir the pot” in my brain and get me thinking. I’m memorizing the 3 C’s. Taking your courses and thankful!

    1. Let us put it this way, Abbie,

      next year you will put up a blog saying what YOU achieved. you can do it. Then we all here can say,” Abbie, that is amazing”. Right?

      Cheers,
      Suren

  17. I’ve just recently discovered your page and I find you to be inspirational. You have a way of saying things in a clear and concise voice. Thank you .

  18. My 2015’s First Morning Manifesto

    This morning, First day of year 2015, I’m sure that Taman Titiwangsa and other crowded popular playgrounds are full of people running, sweating and suffering. I will probably see the most braves again tonight but the number will have shrinked … they will be wondering why they are not comfortably seated on their sofa watching a sports or well-being TV channel while eating junk; but tomorrow … finally, I will be running as I do every day in a peaceful place again, along with the regulars! Changes takes efforts and suffering, that’s why most people quit! it takes courage, guts and self-esteem, either for running, slimming down or anything else you wish to achieve. Your New Year 2015’ changes and challenges will require you to reset your mind in order to start achieving your goals, but it’s first all about to go out there and DO IT.

    Be prepared! by making changes in your own life, you will also have to face unexpected challenges as people who surrounds you do not like changes because it’s out of their comfort zone and because they cannot do it themselves.

    Remember: You are not doing and changing things to make people love you but to make your dreams come true and eventually theirs.

    Frederic.

  19. I think you are right on with these reasons, Jeff. #2 and #3, I have down. It’s #1 I need to master and I am working on that at this moment. I hope and pray that 2015 will be my year. I began my courage journey just recently by starting my blog, writing my first ebook, and my goal for 2015 is to begin the publishing process for my first full-length book. Congratulations on reaching your goals so early, and thank you for encouraging us to do the same!

  20. That courage one really spoke to me. It made me think about how going after a dream requires risking failure – hence the fear and the need to be courageous. It also made me think about how I risked only when I had nothing to lose. And reading this post made me realize I never want to have so much that I’m too afraid to risk. I don’t want to protect what I’ve got and play it safe. I want to keep risking as if I had nothing to lose. Thanks for the indirect insight!

    1. You have nothing to lose except your fears, Juni. Remember, only the bold live and we all want to live. It is the moment of decision. All you need to do is to translate that “want to keep risking” to an action.

      As Lao Tsu said in Tao Te Ching
      The Way is the goal
      Cheers
      suren

  21. I’m sixty-seven next week. I’m tired and find it very hard to set goals when I have to fight everyone for peace and quiet to do any writing. I haven’t written anything since the week before Christmas. I sometimes think, “What’s the point, someone is only going to interrupt me” and as a result, I’ve been sitting doing nothing, waiting for them to interrupt me. I’m seriously thinking of ditching FB and Twitter or maybe just “unfriend” or “unfollow” anyone who isn’t helping me achieve/advance. Am I a bad person for thinking of doing that?
    I always think of that line in the movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” where this guy is writing an editorial for Meg Ryan’s character and calls her “a lone read.” I feel a bit like this, only I’m what you might call “a lone write.” There are no other writers nearby I can get together with for mutual encouragement. Actually, I tell a lie. I do know two another writers in the same local area, but it’s a case of “can you read/proofread this for me Anna?” Yet, if I ask the same of them, it’s always, “Oh sorry, I really don’t have time.”
    Okay, I’ve had my whinge, Now I’ll go back to my box in the corner.

    1. NO! Anna. One of the principles that kept me alive through all the continual set backs I suffered in life was

      BEND, but NEVER BREAK

      Go for it, DO it, do not give up. The past cannot be changed, the future is not born. you have THE MOMENT. take it, mould it, implement it, live it, stand up and say I HAVE DONE IT. That is how I did it.

      If “they” don’t have the time, they are poor. You have the time. You are richer. Use it.

      Cheers
      Suren

      1. Well said, Suren.

        Anna, don’t feel that your writing friends have to be people who live near you. I am part of a mastermind group of four ladies, and we give each other encouragement, are there as accountability partners, and give feedback when asked. I live in New Zealand. Another lives in Denmark. Another in USA. Another in Switzerland. You could start asking around in some writing communities to create your own group. It might be just what you need to feel like you aren’t alone. Plus people who are already active in a writing community will be more motivated and have the mindset to reciprocate any help you offer.

        All the best with finding time to write, and – as Suren so eloquently said – bending but not breaking.

    2. I totally understand the “What’s the point, someone is only going to interrupt me”! when i read that sentence i could connect immediately! and i used to think the same thing too – what’s the point, etc.

      Just wanted you to know you aren’t the only who feels this way sometimes.

      cheers
      mal

    3. You are NOT a bad person for wanting peace. I unfriend, block and unfollow people on Facebook all the time who interrupt me, disturb my peace, or are just angry. You have every right to create, not only a distraction free environment, but a peaceful one. YOU do YOU! And you know what? Those people who truly care about you will give you your space and respect your new boundaries. I promise!

    4. Don’t give up Lyn.
      Believe it or not it was the response of Facebook page followers that sparked the explosion for me to publish my journal form 47 years ago.
      Over 1,200 have already committed to first edition.
      I am getting the story out, on top of publishing and weekly Newspaper in our town

    5. No, you’re not a bad person. You (like I) never learned to say no. And we were not born with a spam filter. I saw a good solution to e-mail problem at my friend’s. He had a line under every mail he sent (automatic signiture), telling everyone he answers emails twice a day, at 8 and 15o’clock. It can be done fot FB too. Appoint some (not too much) time for social media.
      Perhaps you should set a different goal first. Like get 30 min per day free of interruption, just for yourself. Can it be done? And at first you don’t have to use it for anything “useful”. Just use it for loving yourself – allowing yourself this time.
      And as for writers to help you – I have started (and put on hold) a writers group to regulary meet in my hometown, but there were never the same people, never an agreement what to do, so… now i’m considering one of online groups (www.scribophile.com, http://www.inkedvoices.com, http://www.wattpad.com...)

  22. There are three people I regularly read, you, Chris Guillebeau, Glen (viperchilli) . After a lot of thought and after reading this I have realised the importance of writing the goads down. In fact, about three months back I DECIDED to earn IN 2015 by writing. The writing started IMMEDIATELY. I implemented it ON THE SPOT. I bought my domain (www.supath.net) AND set to writing. Writing what I had learned and practise, that is air freight (freight forwarding).

    That writing made me realise that I can also tell others of my own experiences, of what my life had taught me. Nothing beats experiences. my NEXT GOAL was to SHARE. The implementation was on the spot. Keyword research and purchase! That was the birth of my second blog http://www.mintyourfortune.com

    The last domain has a lot to do with personally. The full text of that part has not yet been published, as I have to tone it down. let my emotions ebb. Today, when I look back, I can tell all here, what that single spark was (there was another spark but I shall not relate it here!!). The turning point was a book The Outsider (L’estranger) by Albert Camus. (not a book for those who do not like existentialism). That book saw the full-blown birth of the rebel in me and to this day I have remained a rebel. http://www.mintyourfortune.com is the translation of that inner rebel into reality. My goal was set and born. I need to nurture it, let it grow and earn my independence in 2017. Two years.

    Writing was a dream, a dream that I brought into reality long back. However, only in writing for myself, to keep my sanity. Then about two years back I thought, I need to publish my writing because I love writing but everywhere I read EXPENSIVE, IMPOSSIBLE, and many other terms. That only kept me pushing forward and I decided to publish, if not as a book, in some other form, but I did not know in which form. It was then I was hit by the word BLOG and the dream was born, the goal was translated finally into my real foray into the world of internet publishing. However, I realised that I was not entirely true to myself in that blog. I was NOT doing justice to my goal.

    As a rebel, I need to remain a rebel, to portray myself in my true light and so my hidden goal had to realised. Well, I did not write down that on a piece of paper, but I included the word REBEL in almost every communication I had. It was my way of translating my goals (or as in SEO “conversion”). I was writing my goal in almost every personal email, in every possible personal conversation I had, I spoke, I wrote, I read, I head (it was all “I”) .

    Finally my goal as a published writer became a reality when I started https://therebelliousvoice.wordpress.com

    And now, Jeff, looking at back my experiences (no shame in admitting: no family, no homeland, two “bouts” of unemployment, a dear daughter who left for ever, divorce, swindle…) I have written down my goals AND my implementation has already started.

    Thank you for the motivation in your writings.

  23. “As is the case for many, my twenties were a period of feeling like I was clawing around in the dark, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing or even where I was headed.” I love everything about this sentence. It accurately describes the first two years of my 20s.

    I think the second secret to setting goals is marrying the right person (or surrounding yourself with the right people). The right partner changes everything.

  24. I also floundered a lot in my twenties, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t good at setting goals, having courage or following through. I had cancer as a teenager, and the facing of my own mortality at that age really imprinted on me that I had limited time on this earth and I wanted to make it count. Unfortunately, it took me a decade or so to figure out what I wanted my legacy to be, but in the meantime, I had practice following through on other things, and I guess that was useful. Maybe my (and your) twenties weren’t a total waste, if our failures led to success in our thirties.

  25. I have set goals most of my adult life. I have found it very helpful. The REAL fruit is when you set goals that are aligned with your values. I wanted to bachelors degree. It took me a while, but I got it. I wanted my Masters in History. It took me a while, but I got it. I wanted to be a home owner, a husband, and a published writer. I achieved all of those goals. NOW I want to be an author. I am getting there.

  26. Long range and short range need different parameters.
    Talk about long range, I was encouraged to print my Vietnam Journal 46 years ago by my, then new boss now “partner.
    Had the goal…BUT finally publishing in January.
    Along the way, all of the short term goals were fulfilled.

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