It’s been the halfmark point in the year this week and we are another 6 months away from Christmas. During this time I like to reflect on how far I have come since the beginning of the year, what achievements I have made, the learnings along my journey, review the uncomfortable experience and review my next steps to get closer to my goal.

What personal goals are you currently working towards? Do you want to quit smoking? Start cooking fresh food regularly? Be on time more often? And have you taken some time to sit down and review what you have achieved till today since the start of this new year?

Goal setting is the first step and finding the strategy to achieve the next following by the tactics. And sometimes, it is harder than it seems when we want to change a habit, learn a new skill or change a behavioural trait. It takes regular actions, reflection, review of the progress, accountability and also to sometimes cut yourself some slack (as the saying goes). And the end of the day, we are human and based on my experience there are a few common barriers to achieving our goals that many of us share.

Let’s have a closer look at some reasons why you might not hit the targets that you set yourself and want to achieve. 

1 Not enough time.

You simply don’t have the time, right? Not enough hours in the day, too much work to do and not sure where to start. When someone asks you “How are you” your typical response is “I am busy.” Time Management is one of the key skills to learn. It is about differentiation between what is urgent and what is important. The good news: we have time under control and how we allocate our time. If you feel you don’t have time for something, it is down how we prioritise it. If there is something that you truly want to do but haven’t been making time for it, it might be time to reassess your priorities and differentiate what is urgent and what is important.

Read on for some actual reasons. 

1 That is a problem for Future Me.

Humans are addicted to the now when it is about feeding an immediate need. And I have experienced this over and over again during my corporate life. Even though, there are the best intentions at first, we struggle to see the long-term benefit when we a constant sense of “immediacy”. We enjoy immediate pleasure so much more than the waiting and the endless work required to reach a goal at some point in the future to maybe achieve our goals without any guarantee. And the doubt in your mind that one could invest all this time, and then no return. As Ian Ayres explains in his book Carrots and Sticks rewards in the future are uncertain and we’d much rather have a bird in the hand.

2 Willingness to pay the price.

So, let’s demonstrate this one on an example; let’s say you try to quit smoking by promising to pay a two-dollar penalty for every cigarette you light. According to Ayres, this won’t work, because the punishment doesn’t outweigh the pleasure and simply adds a price tag to an action. You know smoking a cigarette would cost you two bucks anyways – but it’s still an option. So instead one needs to put a higher price tag on this pleasure to induce some discomfort.

3 Too many goals vs focus.

Not many of us confine ourselves to just one goal. It is more likely that you want to tackle a few. Let’s imagine you want to start cooking fresh food five days a week, begin working out and also work towards that promotion. If you divide your attention too much, you are less likely to achieve any of them. The key is to focus on specific goals and link strategies and actions to those and concentrate all your efforts on it. Do create a few goals and prioritise those as once you have goal completed you can move to the next. Make sure goals are in different areas of your life and not all in the same area so you diversify your achievements.

4 Unrealistic vs realistic goals

When you decide on the final goal you want to work towards, you need to make sure it’s small and therefore, realistic. And make sure it is realistic and achievable. Thus try to measure it with someone to understand by when you might be able to achieve it. For example: If your goal is to read two books each week, clock the time you need to read one page, multiply that by the pages of the books you want to read, and check whether you actually have that much time during the week. Don’t punish yourself as a result of not reaching a goal that was simply impossible in the first place. Be realistic what is actually achievable and set with yourself realistic expectations!

5 Your goal vs someone else’s goal.

Do you really want to reach that goal, after all? Is this what you desire and want to do? Or could it be someone else’s goal that they have about you? If so, this might spoil your motivation to reach it. While it’s nice that you care how other people feel, it’s not going to do any good to your own sense of achievement and motivation. Build your goals around your own dreams that makes it possible to achieve them while enjoying the journey. As it will be one hell of a ride and you want to be on that ride based on your interests.

Goals that are most likely to make you happy are those to do with social relationships, health and physical activity, generosity, learning, and mindfulness. Research shows that these are the factors most important to improving your wellbeing as Owain Service & Rory Gallagher make clear in Think Small

So where to go from here?

Set yourself one goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, reachable and timely. And ultimately, one that interests you and that will make you happy. If you want to change a certain behaviour, decide on something uncomfortable that really sticks, like donating $100 to political party you really don’t want to support for every cigarette you light. It’s more effective if you tell your colleagues, friends, or partner, and place the money in a stamped, addressed envelope that’s ready to post. Also, don’t think of your future self as a separate entity, but as someone you want to be good to, and think about that version of you whenever you feel the need to give in to instant gratification. Look up to and an idol that you want to work towards. You are a human and you evolve over time. And finally, don’t blame time; it’s not an excuse, and simply lack of prioritisation and learning to manage your tasks and making a difference between those based on your goals.  

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