Achieve Your Goals


By Marshall Goldsmith

A key to developing yourself is setting — and achieving — meaningful goals for personal change. Often, however, you don’t set goals in a way that ensures the follow-through needed to turn great plans into successful outcomes.

What is required to produce positive, long-term change in behavior? Why do you often set great goals, yet lose the motivation to achieve them? How can you stick with the plan and ultimately reach your desired targets? Whether you set a behavioral goal, such as becoming a better listener, or health goal, such as losing weight, you face challenges in changing behavior. Why do goal-setters give up so soon? Why don’t most New Year’s resolutions last through January? What goes wrong?

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Six Explanations Six reasons explain why people give up on goals. Understanding these roadblocks can help you achieve your objectives.

1. Ownership: I wasn’t sure this would work in the first place. I tried it, and it didn’t do much good. This was a waste of time. One common mistake is starting a program that promises, “This will make you better”. The problem is that the emphasis is on this and not on you. Ultimately, only you can make you better. Successful people have a high need for self-determination. The more you commit to behavioral change because you believe in the process, the more likely the process is to work. The more you feel that the change is imposed on you — or that you are just trying it out — the less likely the process is to work. You need to ensure that the change objectives come from inside and are not externally imposed with no internal commitment. You are ultimately responsible for your own behavior.

2. Time: I had no idea this process would take so long. I’m not sure it is worth it. When you underestimate the time needed to reach your goal, you are tempted to give up on the goal. The optimism about time to meet goals is evident when you are trying to change while others seem to ignore your new behavior. You tend to be seen in a manner consistent with previous stereotypes; people look for behaviors that prove their stereotype is correct. In setting goals, you need to be realistic about the time required to produce a positive, long-term change in behavior. Know that others’ perceptions may seem unfair and that — as you change your behavior — others may not recognize the change for months. If you set realistic expectations, you won’t feel that something is wrong with you when you face a time challenge. Ultimately, changed behavior will lead to changed perceptions and more effective relationships.

3. Difficulty: This is harder than I thought it would be. Most achievement takes longer and requires more work! Don’t confuse simple with easy. You want to believe that once you set a simple goal, it will be easy to get results. If this were true, all people who know that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in shape. The challenge is in the doing! Long-term change requires real effort. It can be challenging for you to listen patiently while others say things you do not want to hear. While you may see the need to change — and desire to change — it is still hard to have the discipline to change. Real change requires real work. Buying into statements like “this will be easy for you” makes you feel good in the short term, but backfires in the long term; when you realize that change is not so easy and begin to face trade-offs and challenges. Knowing the price for success at the start prevents demoralization that occurs when challenges arise.

4. Distractions: I’d like to work toward my goal, but I’m facing a unique challenge right now. Perhaps I should stop and pursue this goal later! Goalsetters tend to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that appear. Be assured: some distraction or crisis will emerge! It may come from a problem or opportunity. It’s hard to focus on long-term development when you face a short-term crisis, or a “once in a lifetime” short-term opportunity. In planning, assume that distractions and competing goals will occur. Expect the unexpected, and build in time to deal with it. You’ll be less likely to give up when problems or opportunities appear.

5. Rewards: Why am I working so hard at change when, after all my effort, I’m not making any more money! You tend to be disappointed when achieving one goal doesn’t immediately translate into achieving other goals. For example, dieters who lose weight may give up on weight loss when prospective dates don’t soon become more attracted to them. You need to buy in to the value of a long-term investment in your development. If you mistakenly believe that improving your skills will quickly lead to short-term profits, promotions, or recognition, you may become disappointed and give up when these benefits don’t immediately occur. If you see personal change as a long-term investment in development — one that will help you become more effective over time — you’ll pay the short-term price.

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6. Maintenance: I improved when I was being coached, but I have let it slide since then. I can’t work on this stuff for the rest of my life! Once you achieve a goal, the work required to maintain changed behavior can be tough to face. For example, upon reaching your weight reduction goal, you might think, “This is great! Now I can eat again!” Of course, this mind-set leads to weight gain and the yo-yo effect. Change is a process: you never get there — you are always getting there. The only way exercise helps you stay in shape is when you face reality: “I have to work on this for the rest of my life!” Your development is an ongoing process, including your relationships. When you change, your relationships change. Maintaining positive relationships or results requires ongoing effort. There is no easy answer. Real change requires real effort. The quick fix is seldom the meaningful fix.

I encourage you to get a good coach to ensure that behavioral change becomes a reality and that your goals are met. Set challenging goals — just understand the commitment required to reach them. Clear and specific goals that produce a lot of challenge — when coupled with an assessment of roadblocks — produce strong long-term results. Coaching can make a big difference in your life. PE

ACTION: Don’t give up on your goals.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as the #1 Executive Coach in the World by, and one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement is published in his newest book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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