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The Hidden Factor in Failing to Reach your Goals

One of the things I learned fairly early on in life is that the fastest way to future rewards is by following present joy. Even when that doesn't seem to be true, acting from a centered, joyful place on a daily basis inside ensures that worst case, you are really enjoying your days
11/29/2014 03:15pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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What would you say are the core skills of successful goal creation?

Here's a shortlist based on the most common answers I hear from clients or in my workshops and seminars:

  • Identifying what it is that you want
  • Taking action in the direction of its creation
  • Noticing the results you are getting
  • Adapting your actions based on your results

So if you were doing all that, why might you still not reach your goals on schedule?

Recently, a friend was sharing his disappointment at failing to reach a career goal by a deadline he'd set when it dawned on me that he might be missing the point. He seemed to think the problem was either with him (he hadn't tried hard enough) or possibly the universe (it was out to get him that week). What hadn't occurred to him is that you can have a great strategy, take inspired, effective action, have all the stars aligned in your favor, and still fail to reach your goals in the time frame you've created because of one hidden factor.

I call it "hidden" because before I heard my mentor George Pransky talk about it in a coaching session, I had never once given it a moment's thought. And since that time, I've never heard anyone else talk about it either.

The reason a lot of people fail to reach their goals in the time frame they've set is simply this:

Most of us aren't very good at predicting how long things are going to take.

In other words, if you want to lose 30 pounds in three months and 90 days later you've only lost 15 pounds, did you "fail" because you didn't try hard enough, because your metabolism was working against you, or because it turns out that in this instance, 90 days wasn't a long enough time frame to reach that goal given your strategy and what you were willing and able to do?

Or say you want to earn an extra $5,000 this month, but at the end of the month you haven't earned a penny. Was it poor planning? Poor execution? Or if you look at it objectively, are you on track to earn your extra $5,000 but it's going to take three months instead of the one you made up it should take?

Once George pointed out this "hidden factor" to me, I began to see it everywhere. Actors who give up on their dreams after not becoming stars in their first few months in Hollywood. Coaches who can't understand why they're not making six figure incomes in their first two years in the business. Employees who aren't getting promoted on their time schedule and entrepreneurs who think if the world hasn't beaten a path to their door the day they opened it they must be doing something wrong.

Are their times where your lack of results in a time frame indicate that a change of strategy, direction, or even career might be in order?

Of course there are.

But if the people whose opinion you respect (you do have coaches and advisers and mentors don't you?) agree that you're on the right track, the only thing that might be holding you back is an inability to predict how long something is going to take.

And there are three ways to address that:

1. Stop turning your goals into ultimatums:
Here's how I put it in one of my early books:

"Some people have learned to live by keeping themselves under the constant threat of poverty, abandonment, and self-hatred if they don't perform up to whatever standard they have decided upon. The problem with this motivational strategy is simple: If you keep putting a gun to your head, at some point you're going to want to pull the trigger."

Your goals are not the answer to your prayers and they're not the things that will set you free. They're just targets to aim for and organizing principles for your actions, generally based on a best guess at what you'll enjoy doing, being, or having at some point in the future. Turning them into more than that just makes it harder to find out if you're as bad at predicting future happiness as you are at predicting time frames.

2. Set a completely unrealistic time frame:
This is one of the bases for the Creating the Impossible challenges that I run from time to time -- when you set a time frame so short for a goal so big that "success" would be almost completely impossible, people curiously feel more able to just go for it and get involved in creation without worrying so much about whether or not "It's going to work."

That's why one of my favorite "unsticking" moves when I can't make progress on a goal is to double my target and halve the time I have available. Because I know I'm almost certainly not going to make it, I take the false deadline pressure off my mind and free myself up for more fun and creative thinking. And because I'm now just playing a game (double the target in half the time), I often come up with unique strategies that would never have occurred to me while trying to reach my more "realistic" target.

3. Navigate by joy:
One of the things I learned fairly early on in life is that the fastest way to future rewards is by following present joy. Even when that doesn't seem to be true, acting from a centered, joyful place on a daily basis inside ensures that worst case, you are really enjoying your days. And if you're really enjoying each day, how long it takes to get somewhere becomes a point of interest rather than a point of contention.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!

with all my love,

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