Two Reasons You’re Struggling to Achieve Your Goals

This is not Goal Setting 101

If you’ve ever read or been taught how to set goals, you’ve undoubtedly heard the trite advice to set “S.M.A.R.T.” goals.

If you haven’t, Google it and read one of the 28,300,000 articles on the topic.

You’ve also been told that you need a PLAN, and at some point you’ve likely been reminded that you need to actually TAKE ACTION to have any chance of achieving your goals.

Basic goal setting strategy is not the topic of this post. This post is about the two most important keys to achieving your goals.

The Two Keys to Success

Assuming you have all the basic components of effective goal setting in place, whether or not you achieve your goal boils down to the following factors: 1) DESIRE, and 2) HABITS.

  1. You need a fierce desire to achieve the goal in question.
  2. You need to form new habits to make sustained progress toward the goal.

Goals are hard. That’s why they’re called goals.

Setting a goal is easy. Achieving a goal is hard. Let’s face it, if it were easy, you’d already have the thing or the situation you desire!

Why are goals so difficult to achieve?

Well, typically, achieving a goal means doing something different. Doing a LOT more of what you’re already doing. Working smarter. Working harder. Stepping out of your comfort zone. Doing things you dislike. Doing things you’re not very good at. Doing things that are unnatural to you.

All of the above. It’s very hard.

Success Factor #1: Desire

If you don’t have a fierce desire to reach a particular goal, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve it anytime soon.

Desire is not necessarily synonymous with passion. Desire is deeper than passion. Being passionate about something certainly means you’ll “want” it badly, but desire is more gutteral. How badly do you “need” the thing you’re striving toward?

Your level of desire for the goal in question determines whether you’ll actually do enough of the difficult or uncomfortable tasks you need to do, or whether you’ll procrastinate and avoid those tasks.

Where does desire come from?

This is a very complex question. I am not a trained psychologist, but I will offer two theories I think are relevant.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can provide some context to the source and level of human desire or motivation. Abraham Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs such as “self-esteem”, “friendship and love”, “security”, and “physical needs” must be met before the individual will strongly desire the secondary or higher level needs.


Image source: Wikipedia

Your desire (or lack thereof) to achieve a goal depends on its priority in the context of your innate hierarchy of needs.

Pain vs. Pleasure

Another way that I like to look at human motivation is in the context of “pain” vs. “pleasure”. I was taught this concept many years ago in my Sandler Sales Training days.

In a nutshell, there are 4 main reasons people decide to do something, listed here in order of priority:

  1. To avoid current PAIN.
  2. To avoid future PAIN.
  3. To achieve PLEASURE now.
  4. To achieve PLEASURE in the future.

Your level of desire to achieve a particular goal is related to “why” you want the outcome.

Are you setting the goal to avoid pain you’re currently experiencing, or are you setting the goal to achieve pleasure down the road? If it’s the former, your desire will be MUCH higher than it will be for the latter.

Success Factor #2: Habits

So, what if you’re lacking the desire or motivation to do the work and strive toward a goal?

For example, what if the goal in question with provide you with PLEASURE in the future, which is priority #4 on the pain versus pleasure scale?

Right now, you can probably think of several goals that fit into that category. Do you find yourself procrastinating on those tasks? Yeah, I know. Me too.

I’ve read advice recently from a few productivity experts who say that simply “doing the work” consistently, or putting the blinders on and pushing yourself to build a new habit can trump the lack of motivation.

In my opinion, building a new productive habit has the potential to overcome a lack of motivation. However, it takes a long time form a new habit. Some experts say it takes 21 days of consistent behaviour to form a new habit. Others say it’s more like 66 days.

Either way, in the absence of strong desire, doing something unusual and unnatural every single day, or every single hour, for weeks and weeks, takes a herculean amount of discipline, will power, and commitment.

Do you have that kind of discipline for ALL the habits you’re trying to build? I know I don’t!

A habit alone, without a fierce desire to go along with it, is unsustainable.

Without the fierce desire in place, there’s a high probability you’ll fall out of the habit and you’ll start to procrastinate on the tasks you’d rather not do, until the point at which you avoid them altogether.

So, how do you create the desire?

Well, if achieving your goal won’t alleviate PAIN you’re experiencing today or you’re likely to experience in the future, you may think sometimes that you’re trying to go upstream without a paddle.

As I said above, if achieving your goal will provide some level of PLEASURE in the future, your desire may waver at times.

Create a sense of urgency

One way to overcome this challenge and to move the goal up the psychological priority list is to create a sense of urgency for the goal. Decide that you want to achieve the goal NOW (or sooner than you originally planned), rather than way off in the future. That will move the goal from #4 to #3 in the pain vs. pleasure priority list.

While your goals that will alleviate pain will still tend to take priority, at least the desire to achieve something pleasurable really soon (and by a specific date) rather than a long time from now will give you the drive you need to step out of your comfort zone every day and keep up those habits that are critical to success.

Pain in the Future vs. Minor “Annoyance” Today

Convince yourself, or come to the realization that, NOT achieving your goal will result in much more acute pain in the future than the “minor annoyance” the necessary habit will cause today.

For example, what pain will being 25 pounds overweight cause you in the future, compared to the minor annoyance of eating smarter today?

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