What percentage of people who set goals actually achieve them?
A study by Professor Richard Wiseman set out to find out the answer to that question.
He interviewed 5000 people who had set themselves goals they wanted to achieve. All said these goals were realistic for them and really wanted to achieve them.
However, when he followed up a year later, only 10% of those people had actually achieved them.
The other 90% had great excuses as to why they hadn’t achieved their goals. They’d decided the time wasn’t right, they’d changed their minds, they’d decided they didn’t have the resources they needed, or other things had got in the way…
The reality was though, that the 90% who did not achieve their goals had set them differently to the way the 10% who achieved them did.
The way we set our goals, and prepare ourselves to set about achieving them is therefore paramount to whether or not those goals become a reality.
To help you get it right, here are three key reasons why people who set goals don’t achieve them.
Reason #1: Your goal is not a goal
Often people’s goals are not actually goals.
Take the following examples:
- “I don’t want to be in the same job in 6 month’s time.”
- “I want to stop struggling with money this year.”
- “I want to lose weight.”
None of these are goals.
The first two clearly describe what the person doesn’t want. They say very little about what they do want.
Number 3 is vague and lacks detail. Technically, the person could lose half a pound then put on 2 and they would still have met this goal, yet experience tells us that’s not what the person is really intending with this statement.
To become goals, all 3 examples need detail and need to be stated in terms of what they person wants, not what they don’t want. It may also be appropriate to add a timeframe to it, or give it a context, depending on the goal. The goal also needs to be something you are in control of, rather than something that is dependent on others.
So let’s look at those examples again, this time stated as goals:
- “I want to be promoted to senior manager within the next 6 months.”
- “I want to create and stick to a budget this year, and save a minimum of £200 each month.”
- “I want to lose 5kg within the next 3 months.”
Reason #2: You don’t have a solid plan to get what you want
Having a goal without a plan to achieve it is pretty much useless.
Knowing what you want is great, but the reality is that if you don’t take any specific action towards achieving that goal it’s unlikely to happen by itself unless you’re already doing specific things which will naturally lead you towards that goal.
Sometimes it’s easy to define the steps needed to achieve what you want. As an example, if we look at goal number 1 above, a conversation with a key decision maker about your aspirations and what is needed in order to get that promotion would be a great idea, and that would tell you what else you need to focus on in order to achieve your goal.
Sometimes, the plan of action is less clear though. Let’s look at goal number 3 as an example.
What exactly does the person intend to do in order to lose those 5kg? Are they planning to eat differently? Do they need to get rid of the chocolate biscuits after dinner? Do they have an issue with comfort eating? Are they intending to exercise more? Or do they want to hire a personal trainer?
There are lots of different possibilities about how that goal could be achieved, so knowing exactly what their plan is, and making sure that plan is realistic and a fit for their circumstances really matters.
It would also be a good idea for them to plan for tricky situations - pot luck dinners, visits to cafes with friends, dinners at restaurants, or appropriate exercise for rainy days or when they’re on holiday for example.
Reason #3 : You have internal blocks stopping you from getting what you want
Sometimes our goals seem like a great idea, but there’s something inside us that’s stopping us going for what we want.
Sometimes this takes the form of limiting beliefs.
Perhaps we have a belief that says ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I don’t deserve to be successful,’ ‘I’m bad with money,’ or ‘I can’t lose weight and keep it off." Beliefs like this will operate at an unconscious level and cause us to move away from our goals or sabotage ourselves at key moments.
Or perhaps we have objections to getting what we want. For example, “If I get promoted, I won’t be able to hang out with my workmates at the pub on a Friday night anymore.”, or “If I want to lose weight I can’t meet my friend for coffee and cake each week anymore.” These objections can get in the way and cause us to hesitate in taking the actions towards our goals.
Or maybe our mindset is simply not supporting us in what we want. For example, we’ve been struggling with money for so long that it seems impossible to change the situation. Yes, we want to change it, but when we think of it, it just seems so big and we’re filled with despair before we even start.
Things like these operate at an unconscious level, and hold us back from what we want until they are resolved. Sometimes it’s possible to resolve these consciously, and sometimes it’s best to get help from someone who specialises in mindset coaching and therapy work to help you identify what’s happening at root cause and transform it so that it’s no longer an issue for you.
If you really want to achieve your goals, the way you set them is really important.
True goals need detail and need to be stated in terms of what they person wants, not what they don’t want. Timeframe and context are important too, as is making sure the goal is something you are in control of, rather than something that is dependent on others.
Planning is important too. Knowing the steps you need to take and making sure you have strategies in place to deal with tricky situations is essential to your success.
And where you find yourself getting in your own way, it’s good to consider why, and find a way around that objection.
With all of these things in place, you then drastically increase your chances of achieving your goal, which means you get to be one of the 10% who is able to achieve what they set out to.