Sometimes it seems like you just cannot achieve your goals.
Sure, for a while there, it felt like you were getting somewhere, and things were going well… until they weren’t.
You had made significant steps towards your goal(s), but somehow, now you are in a position that feels like you’re back to square one. And suddenly, what you thought was just a hitch or a bump in the road turned into a months-long journey of feeling stuck.
You are no longer making progress, no longer moving forward and your life is not going anywhere. It actually feels like you are going backward.
What happened? Was the goal too big, or are you too small for your goals? Maybe you are the kind of person who will always struggle to accomplish their goals, or you don’t have what it takes to achieve them? Should you just accept that you will never be able to achieve your goals and stop dreaming?
Mmmhh… Not so fast.
Why you can’t reach your goals.
Achieving your goals is hard.
Defining a goal, picturing it, creating it in our mind can be scary depending on the goal, but it can also be exciting. And that excitement gives you a boost of energy and enthusiasm in the early stages, which is useful in getting you to move your butt.
Reaching a goal, on the other hand, is harder. It’s harder because it’s a different game. This one is a long-term commitment.
When you work to achieve a goal, the rewards are not immediate. Sometimes, you have to move blindly and without any return on your investment for weeks, months, or even years.
Achieving your goals involves “work”. It involves actually taking steps. You know, doing things that are new and uncomfortable? That’s why it’s a goal: it’s something that is not yet a reality/a habit for you.
Achieving your goal also involves faith. Faith in yourself, and faith in the world; faith in your ability to see the future, and to create it; and faith in your ability to create something greater or better.
Moreover, achieving your goal involves commitment. Commitment towards a future you don’t know for sure even exists.
None of these things are easy, or natural.
“A risk is the possibility of something bad happening”.
And so, working towards a goal often feels less exciting and way more difficult than just imagining it. It is a scary process that consists almost entirely of taking new steps in the dark. And this implies risk.
Risk of failing.
Risk of falling.
Reaching your goals is like walking on a tight rope to go from point A to point B. And that rope is hanging high above the ground.
At first, everything is going well: you start moving along with confidence and some excitement. You can still see the other side, where you are coming from; you can even touch it if you try! Heck, if anything goes wrong, you can just go back. It would be easy enough.
And so, you keep moving along with a bit more faith.
But then you reach the middle. And you suddenly realize that the other side is far, and going back would take time too.
You look around and find yourself surrounded by the unknown, aka risk aka danger. That’s because you can no longer see or hold on to what you knew, and you cannot see what is waiting for you; it’s still too far away.
Goodbye faith. You start to get scared… and you look down.
And, sure enough, you lose balance. You panic, you stumble.
Or maybe (most likely) you just crouched and stopped moving. Terrified.
This scenario is not something you do once in a blue moon. This is something you probably do all the time, every time you are doing something new and scary.
At first, you are okay(ish), but then you doubt yourself, you get scared, and you don’t finish the goal you set out to achieve.
So, here are a few reasons why you never actually reach your goals
1. You don’t see the goal
If you are to ever reach your goals without relying solely on luck, then it is important to visualize clearly where you are headed.
What exactly is the destination here?
Face your end goal. Look at it in the eye.
Right now, you probably can’t reach your goal because thinking about the end goal became a source of fear in your mind.
When you think about where you are headed, it feels scary, unattainable, too big, too high, or too hard for you. Right now, your goal seems like something you could never do.
And so now, you associate negative feelings to your goal(s): fear, anxiety, doubt.
You probably don’t even allow yourself to even think about the end goal. Every time you get a thought or an image of you achieving that goal, you probably dismiss it quickly.
So, first things first: if you’re ever going to get it, you have to know what it is, and see it. You must define the goal; look at it. Visualize it. Think about it over and over until you no longer fear it.
By the way, think of it this way: it’s not fear, it’s excitement!
Make it a habit. And quit dismissing the image of you reaching your goal in your head.
Make a vision board, do affirmations linked to that goal, journal about it, plan it. Define it. Imprint the destination in your mind.
2. You don’t make your goal about something that goes beyond just yourself
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote:
“Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself”.
If you can never achieve your goals, chances are, you either forgot or haven’t yet found a strong why. You know, a reason why you are doing all this and walking blindly in the dark?
And a good “why’, a strong “why” (as in one that will carry you through difficulties and self-doubt), is one that goes beyond yourself.
If you don’t have a strong reason for doing all this, you will inevitably give up on your goal when things get too hard or too scary. And guess what? Things will get hard and scary.
So not only should you find your Why, but you should regularly go back to it and remind yourself of it. Because our learning abilities greatly improve with repetition.
3. You don’t address all the reservations you have about your goal on paper BEFORE taking any steps toward that goal.
If you are failing at achieving your goals, chances are it has something to do with your own defeatist thoughts.
One way to ensure you move forward unphased (or not too much) by unhealthy self-doubt, is to address every single objection and self-defeatist thought you have beforehand.
It’s time to challenge your negative beliefs, calmly, seriously, and sensibly.
This is not about lying to yourself: it’s about looking at things with a practical eye and not giving in to the drama happening in your head every time it arises.
Once you’ve decided on a goal, take a pen and paper and write down every single defeatist thought, fear, and objection you have about you and that goal, and challenge your negative beliefs about yourself once and for all.
Become your own plaintiff and defendant.
Or you can also use the Four Questions to challenge each one of your beliefs:
- Is this true?
- Can you absolutely know this is true?
- What happens/how do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
Yes, this process might take time, but probably much less than you think.
If you do that in the early stages of reaching your goals, you will already have your arguments prepared, and won’t be so easily thrown off course when self-doubt comes knocking at your door.
Note that you will have to go through the process of facing your self-doubt and fears again from time to time.
Just because you challenge your negative beliefs about yourself once does not mean you will forever be free of negative thoughts. You might be okay for a few months, but as you move forward on your goals, new fears (and old ones) will keep coming back.
4. You haven’t created a plan and a list of steps you will need to take to achieve your goals
How will you get from point A to point B? What roads will you need to take and what skills do you need to increase your chances of successfully reaching your goal? Will you need resources, support, specific abilities, teachers…? How will you find them?
The reason why you need a plan and need to break down your path into smaller steps is so that you won’t have to constantly keep your eye on the goal.
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. After all, the saying “always keep your eyes on the ball” exists for a reason, doesn’t it?
Yeah…. But. There’s a “but”.
More on that in the next point.
So, take the time to elaborate a clear strategy for how you are planning to reach your goal. You will have to take small steps EVERY DAY if you are to ever reach that goal.
5. You keep looking around and staring at the horizon instead of focusing on your steps
You may have stumbled and failed to reach your goals because you were not paying attention to where you were placing your feet.
If you let yourself get phased by the big mountain on the horizon, and don’t pay enough attention to the road, you will most likely lose your way.
You do need a clear vision of the destination, but you also need to pay attention to the road. Sometimes, you need to put your blinders on and keep a narrow focus on just the next best step and let go of what’s far ahead. Just for a moment.
It’s a balance.
6. You haven’t adopted a growth mindset and don’t believe you can become better
Reaching a goal implies becoming good at things you are not good at right now. If you can never achieve your goals, it could be because you are not good enough.
Hear me out. I don’t mean that you are “not good-enough-there-is-nothing-you-can-do-about-it-so-give-up-everything-and-go-jump-off-a-bridge”.
I mean, you might not be good enough yet, so go get some skills and IMPROVE.
Successfully reaching your goals means being committed to continuous improvement. It means becoming better each day, better than you were the day before. Constantly learning, improving yourself, until you get to the point where you want to be.
What do you need to learn to get closer to your goal? Define it, dedicate time to it, and get better.
7. You haven’t dealt with your fears
Remember the tightrope from earlier?
Do you know why you suddenly stumbled and fell on your way to your goal? Because you got scared and started doubting yourself and your ability to get to the other side.
Goals work in kind of the same way. When you start getting scared, you start to panic and fall (or stumble), thus reinforcing your belief that you are incapable of reaching your goals (or this goal, specifically).
Fear is insidious as it can take many forms. It can manifest itself as worry or doubt, but even as logic or rationality.
Fear also seeks approval. Your fear makes you desperate to feel validated by others.
Fear also manifests itself through compulsive, negative thoughts like: “I can’t do this”, “this is too hard”, “I will fail”, “what if people think I’m stupid for doing this?”, “I was so crazy to think that I could do that”, “I should just quit and find a real job”.
This is why you must address most of these objections in the early stages of your journey towards your goal so that you don’t get too rattled every time one of these negative thoughts or beliefs manifests itself.
When you know you’ve already done your best to address an issue, once it arises again, it becomes easier to dismiss it (at least temporarily) until the time comes for another (healthy) reassessment.
8. You don’t dedicate time for “healthy/controlled self-doubt”.
Yes, there is such a thing as healthy self-doubt.
Successfully reaching your goals does not mean you must transform into a careless bastard who never questions your actions.
But, on the one hand, you simply cannot walk through life doubting your every move, questioning your end goals and your plans every single minute of every day, and give in to self-doubt. That would be utterly counter-productive and you would not get anywhere. Ever.
Healthy self-questioning is good; obsessively doubting yourself every hour of the day, that is plain self-sabotage.
And it’s probably why you are not achieving or getting any closer to your goals.
The key to finding balance is to consciously dedicate time for retroaction, self-assessment, and self-doubt.
Do evaluate your actions and progress in the light of your values and the values of a very small list of people you respect (like mentors, wise passers-by, or true friends?). You could do that once a month or once every 3-4 months?
Take this time to look up, look around, and assess if you are getting closer to the mountain or not, if you are acting like a jerk or not, and if you are on the right path overall.
But in the meantime, and while you wait for your next “retroaction day”, you should dismiss repetitive negative thoughts, focus on the next best step and keep moving forward.