Setting goals and failing to achieve them can be demoralizing and make us feel like failures. The same goes for constantly wondering why we’re not doing better in life.
That can change. Researchers say there are ways to set goals more effectively and achieve what we want. Here’s how to change your approach to heighten your chances of success.
You don’t believe you can actually get there
Believe in where you’re going.
Founder of Giant Steps Coaching Bradley Foster writes about what he thinks the first step is when you come up with a goal for yourself in a HuffPost article.
“The first step to goal setting is to have absolute belief and faith in the process. If you don’t believe you can absolutely transform your life and get what you want, then you might as well forget about goal setting and do something else. If you are in doubt, look around you. Everything you can see began as a thought. Make your thoughts turn into reality,” Foster writes.
There’s no relationship between your work goals and the company’s goals
In a work setting, having a link between the two could help you feel more connected to the company you work for.
Amy Gallo features advice from a Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, in a Harvard Business Review article about what managers can do to help their employees perform well.
“For goals to be meaningful and effective in motivating employees, they must be tied to larger organizational ambitions. Employees who don’t understand the roles they play in company success are more likely to become disengaged. ‘Achieving goals is often about making tradeoffs when things don’t go as planned. [Employees] need to understand the bigger picture to make those tradeoffs when things go wrong,’ says Hill. No matter what level the employee is at, he should be able to articulate exactly how his efforts feed into the broader company strategy,” Gallo writes.
You’re not setting the right goals
In a summary of 35 years of empirical research, researchers Edward A. Locke and Gary P. Latham write about findings on goal-setting theory.
But first, for some context— they define a performance goal as “the score one attains on the task (e.g., how many anagrams solved in three minutes or the proficiency level one attains in practice landings).”
They wrote specifically about where people can go wrong when faced with a challenging goal, and provide a solution, citing specific research.
“When people are confronted with a task that is complex for them, urging them to do their best sometimes leads to better strategies…than setting a specific difficult performance goal. This is because a performance goal can make people so anxious to succeed that they scramble to discover strategies in an unsystematic way and fail to learn what is effective.This can create evaluative pressure and performance anxiety. The antidote is to set specific challenging learning goals, such as to discover a certain number of different strategies to master the task…” the authors write.
You don’t ask for feedback
How else will you know where you’re going?
Locke and Latham also write about why this is necessary in the research summary.
“For goals to be effective, people need summary feedback that reveals progress in relation to their goals. If they do not know how they are doing, it is difficult or impossible for them to adjust the level or direction of their effort or to adjust their performance strategies to match what the goal requires,” they write.
Fine-tuning how you approach getting what you want is definitely a goal within reach— which could ultimately lead to more success.
You’re afraid of success
Yes, this one sounds strange — we all want success, so why would we be afraid of it? Surprisingly, there are subconscious reasons we may fight our own success without realizing it. Being successful may hurt or destabilize our relationships, for instance: a close colleague could resent us for getting that promotion, or a spouse may dislike the fact that we are making more money or spending less time at home. We could become afraid of the additional responsibility that success would bring, and wonder if we’re up to it.
One psychologist even suggests that the physical excitement of success is so strong that it can bring up other strong feelings we’d rather not confront, including anger, fear, pain or trauma.
There are several ways to overcome this fear, and they’re easy though they take practice. One is to visualize what success looks like to you — how you would structure your days and what you would wear — to get comfortable with it. Another is to create a “success library” of inspirational quotes, sayings, and good things that have happened in your own career and revisit it often. The success library has a dual purpose: to show you how to motivate yourself and to remind you that you have already experienced success, so that it’s not scary or intimidating.
You don’t prioritize success
Sure, everyone wants to be a millionaire and a CEO, but that level of achievement takes work. If you really want to rise, you have to put it on your schedule: whether it’s finishing projects early and under budget, or picking up new skills, or making contacts with smart people who know your industry, succeeding takes research and time. It may mean skipping some lunch breaks, staying late, or signing up for classes that take up money and time. It’s necessary, however, because even raw talent doesn’t succeed without effort. Every successful person talks about how hard they worked to get there, and it’s no exaggeration.
One caveat: don’t just clock hours hoping they will magically lead to promotions. Every additional effort you take, or every event you attend, should bring you one step closer to your goal.