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Goal Setting: Why It Usually Fails

man goal settingMany people think goal setting is the mainstay of of what Life Coaches do.

Or more accurately, it’s what most people think I do when I have conversations on social media or in a social setting.

They presume that people contact me with a plan of what they want to achieve with their life and I help them implement procedures that will allow them to achieve those goals.

Of course that can happen, but it probably makes up less than a quarter of my clients.

The other three quarters or more hire me because they feel stuck and actually don’t know what it is they want out of life (or they are other Life Coaches).

Goal Setting

Setting goals is easy and the book I give away to my newsletter subscribers goes into great detail explaining the step by step process.

I’d even go as far as to say you really don’t need to hire a Life Coach just to help you set goals, presuming that is, they’re the right goals and/or you’re not a chronic procrastinator.

Yesterday I was working with a client who had come to me to help implement a goal he had held for the better part of a decade.

He was frustrated with himself for not getting on with the job and his words, said:

“I need somebody to kick my ass so I can get this book finished”

If 8 years of coaching has taught me anything, it’s that people can be highly reluctant to let go of dreams they have held onto for a long time irrespective of changes that have happened in their life.

It’s also taught me the ass-kicking approach is way overblown and rarely facilitates lasting change, but that’s another matter altogether.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

There is a cognitive bias called the sunk cost fallacy that suggests when people are highly invested in something in either time, money, energy, (or a combination of all three), they become very reluctant to let go.

Some examples may be:

  • Pouring money and energy into a business that is obvious (to everybody else) failing
  • Spending thousands of dollars on medical treatment for a dog who is never going to pull through
  • Staying in a marriage that is to all intents and purposes over

Goals can also be driven by sunk cost fallacy and that was exactly the case with my client.

His driving force to write a book 10 years earlier was no longer present in his life, and as is almost always the case, he hadn’t noticed.

If Your Values Don’t Drive Your Goals, You’re Screwed

My client was single and in his early thirties when he started writing his book and now he was in his forties, married and had three kids.

It’s difficult to imagine two more different scenarios, isn’t it?

When we did the work on core values in the second session his top two values were ‘Family’ and ‘Significance’

Do you think family was top of his list 10 years ago?

Well it could have been I suppose, but in his case it wasn’t for reasons that are irrelevant to this post.

Maybe ‘significance’ was top?

If so (and he thought it was by the way), then wanting to write a book makes total sense and would be in total harmony with his values.

But guess what made him feel significant now?

Yep, his family.

There was no longer any need to search externally for something he already possessed.

When we talked about this it was like seeing a huge weight being lifted off his shoulders, because the reality is he didn’t need an ass-kicking, he needed permission to let it go.

He was delighted and so was I, although slightly less so when I had to PayPal half the money back that is!

Lightening Sale Of Aligning With Your Core Values

Values are crucial not just to setting goals, but to any self development endeavors, yet most people have no clue as to what theirs are.

If you want to know what yours are I’m going to do a 72 hour lightening sale and you can grab the book (which includes the Kindle, pdf and audio version as well as a video demonstrating the process) which normally retails for $45 for just $25.

Note: This offer does NOT include a free bonus copy of How To Be Rich and Happy.

Simply click here and use coupon code goalsetting at checkout.

This offer closes at Midnight on Saturday 16th March

29 comments to Goal Setting: Why It Usually Fails

  • I worked through the Core Values material when the book was first available but working with the results didn’t really sink in. The past few months I’ve been disenchanted and irritated with a relationship of about 3 years (I’d been single a while after a 25 year marriage). It finally dawned on me a few weeks ago that our CORE VALUES are completely different. One of my core values is “integrity” and he sees nothing wrong with little white lies, lies on job applications, cheating the government, lying to friends, sneaking in to concerts/theaters, etc … as no one gets hurt. I value family and relationships, he doesn’t care if he ever sees his family and chooses not to have friends. I look at someone different from me and ask myself “what can I learn” and he sees someone “not worth his time”. Now, I might add we are 50-ish and he also has Aspergers (which compounds things) … but this would have been a whole lot easier if I’d “understood” it a couple of years ago.

  • Karen

    Thanks, Tim. Bought it. I think I need to do mine again. I’m going nowhere, especially with regards to career. In fact, I thought of enlisting the help of coach who specializes in coaching people on finding new careers. She turned me down on the basis that she felt I needed to do more self-love/care and empowerment. That doesn’t feel right at all. So I’ll start with this, see where I go …

    I’m having trouble downloading the Audio though – it’s just failed for the second time.

    • Just tested it Karen and it’s working at my end, are you getting an error message?

      BTW, I shall be refunding your money, I don’t expect ex-clients to pay for it, in fact I thought I already gave you a copy, so my mistake for not doing so.

      • Karen

        Thank you, Tim. The audio finally downloaded. Not sure why it wouldn’t do so at 7:00am in the morning. I kept getting a message saying I should save it somewhere different. Various places came to mind, none possible or mentionable in polite company.

        Thank you for the refund. You had sent me “How to be Rich and Happy eBook” but not this one. Looking forward to getting stuck into it again and seeing what has changed. I am being more creative now – I write for at least a half hour everyday – so I suspect that one has shifted in importance.

        • You’re welcome Karen and delighted to hear you are doing more creative writing!

          • Wow! Really amazing doing this again and comparing. Creativity still rules but Self-expression didn’t even make an appearance. I can see how writing each day satisfies the latter. A few other things have changed position or dropped off the top eight and I can also see how my life at the moment may be driving that. One surprise – I changed Spirituality to Connection to source and it came out second. A bit of a surprise and food for thought.

  • Hi Tim, It’s interesting the way certain dreams circulate around in our system, on the periphery most of the time, and when we think back to childhood even, they were there. I think maybe those dreams deserve seeing the light of day. I’m not sure how others make these choices but when it feels like a burden, or the idea has lost its spark, then into the trash can it goes.

    • I agree Julie yet some people attach guilt to letting an old dream go, because even though it no longer inspires them they feel like it ‘should’ and to let it go is quitting.

  • edwin

    congratulation my dear pal, i love your articles ,keep it up.

  • One of the things that I find to work great for me in goal setting is to imagine the context in which the goal is already achieved. How will my life look if I would have run a marathon? What will be changed? Will I run more? Will running be a habit of mine already, instead of something that I have to focus on day in and day out? It’s interesting how this technique of projecting myself in the context of the achieved goal helped me go through some really tough times.

  • Tim, you and I shared a fantastic consultation call once, when you were helping me figure out my values and beliefs. I still remember that call today, years later, because it was so personally valuable to me – and because it was interesting as hell!

    What’s even more interesting is that I remember the three core values I absolutely clung to back then – and which three I uphold so strongly today.

    Guess what? They’re the same. Unchanged over time. That’s how deeply rooted our values can be.

    Know what else? (Actually, you probably DO know this, but your audience might not…) The very second I even lean away from any of these values, I FEEL AWFUL. They’re my guiding light in both business and in life, and when I stick with them firmly, I feel fantastic.

    And as you can see, they’ve served my success very well indeed! :)

  • Kristin Sjolie - LifeJourney

    Hello Tim,
    I recently discovered you when searching the web for some information for a coaching project I was working on. I have been enjoying your writings and site information ever since. I just wanted to say Thank You for your insights.

    I have been a Life Coach since 2007, but have been coaching 1-2 clients, and then spending the rest of my work time in the field support for caregivers of people with various types of dementias. Now my two favorite vocations have converged and I am a Caregiver Wellness Coach for a new company called CaringSource.
    Having the time and being able to digest and share your writings has been inspirational to me, and to jumpstarting my coaching brain again.
    Blessings to you in your work,

    • Thanks a lot for taking the time to say that Kristin, I appreciate it!

      And best of luck in your new role, that is amazing to be able to do what you have done and merge the two things you love most, inspiring stuff.

    • Rob

      Kristin, my wife is a Speech and Language Therapist specialising in mental health and particularly dementia. She works very hard to improve the lives of people with dementia, their families and care givers. Maybe you and her have some things in common and would like to have a friendly chat? If that’d be of interest, Tim can give you my email address.

  • Simon

    I feel more empowered than I ever have before because of this little goal-card thing I keep in my pocket, refer to repeatedly throughout the day, and edit and refine incessantly. I’d love to see anyone’s response on the following since I’m not aware of anyone I’ve ever known personally having the experience I’m about to describe.

    The idea has been recommended by multiple sources and I guess was augmented by reading How to Be Rich & Happy.

    I use the business card template on my computer to provide uniform little sections for things like Big 5 for Life (for the current year), My Dream/Purpose, True Stories (excellent reminders) of most awesomest testaments to my Personal Greatness, My Laugh List, My Key Habits/Renewing Rituals, Marriage Ground-rules, Assessment Checklist, Values/Anti-Values, and the “Anything is Possible” litany. I neatly fold the page into quarters, trim off the borders, and carry it with me always.

    I acknowledge myself as a champion of world-class greatness for surviving things that are too personal to share and not offing myself or being in the gutter today.

    This goal-card is novel but the funny thing is that the novelty is not wearing off but growing daily. “Goal-card” is worlds from an accurate name for it. It is “The Incredible Story of Me.” It is far more interesting than any other story I’m aware of and I look at it like 10 times a day.

    Every time I review it, I edit and refine it. I’m developing a belief in it that was not suggested to me in any book: It defines me in words. With each nuance I tweak in how it describes me, I feel empowered and anchored in that definition.

    It is magic. As it changes, I change. I even threw in an image of one of the many budda-types to remind me of the qualities I want to embody.

    • That’s a really cool idea mate, nice one!

      • Simon

        Thanks Tim. Checkit:

        My job is facilitating public community planning meetings including representatives from multiple governing councils, determining top priorities, and drafting implementation strategies for those projects, and publishing all of it in massive long-range planning documents.

        I find that many participants are reluctant about the process, let alone the ongoing application of the plans, and some only seem to be there because they are paid to attend.

        Knowing exactly how those hefty planning docs are created and used gives me tons of appreciation for the so-called “goal card.” It is FAR more potent in my personal development than those documents I help develop for communities. I’m asserting that because my “goal card” contains essentially the same features as a community development plan, but it is REALLY alive: I refer to it daily! I revise & tweak it most days! And it is no more than a single page in size!

        The communities I work with are encouraged to update their planning documents at least once a year to keep their priorities fresh. I don’t know if they even LOOK at them once a year, let alone meditate on their significance & necessary revisioning.

        The individuals who utilize “goal cards” inherit all the potential benefits that governments hope to gain from cumbersome, time-consuming, expensive documents. But goal cards are free, fast to make & edit, fit in a pocket, and virtually become part of you since they’re so quickly referenced and automatically memorized.

  • Kristin LifeJourney

    Hi Tim, I would be interested in connecting with Robs wife. If you could please give one of us the others email we could get started.
    Thanks for being our connector!

  • I strongly agree with your point about values having to add up with your goals. I’m currently still dabbling a lot and I find that when there are certain values that I believe in and love, the goals just form naturally and I want to achieve them. I haven’t connected the dots and realized this until now. Thanks for the eye-opener, Tim! Now I know what to look for to avoid failing in setting my goals.

  • Tim,

    Great post. It becomes a problem for goal achievement if we set goals that are contrary to your values. One thing I have learned as a business owner is that you have to learn when to let go of a shitty hand. The quicker I learned that the more I kept myself open to opportunities and was less attached to my assumptions about how my business would look. One thing that has maintained throughout? My values.

    • Yeh that’s true mate, although many people can be attached to that shitty goal and aren’t as wise as your good self to see if it aligns with their values.

      • Before you label me too wise perhaps I should mention how much I violated my values and stayed attached to things that weren’t working and wondering why things weren’t different? It’s a sad, sad story. The moral everyone? Tim’s advice is sound.

  • Thanks for sharing this. It is useful for my life. Setting goal is very important. It will guide you to meaningful of life. I like your article. It motivated me a lot.