Here’s why you’re afraid to set goals

Admit it, we’ve all been guilty of ghosting our goals.

Buena Vista Images/Getty Images
Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

Everyone procrastinates. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most disciplined, productive person around. We all have something we keep putting off. It could be cleaning up your desktop. Or updating your CV. (Or cleaning up your desktop so you can actually find your CV.)

A more destructive, self-sustaining form of procrastination happens when we refuse to admit we’re procrastinating.

Think about it. We’d readily admit how we spent all weekend on Netflix when we should be hitting the gym. Yet we’re far less forthcoming in announcing how we’re putting our plans to start a small business on hold because the proverbial “Someday” isn’t quite here yet.

Procrastination just seems more acceptable when we aren’t judged for having it. This is why few people openly declare their goals. Some people avoid setting goals completely. They don’t know what they are missing.

In a well-documented Harvard study, researchers found that only 13% of the graduates from its 1979 MBA Program had goals. Another three percent of them had their goals clearly written down, with plans to accomplish them.

10 years later, the 13% who had goals were earning twice as much as those who had no goals. The three percent who wrote down their goals and plans? They were earning 10 times as much the other 97%.

Having goals in life is crucial for personal and professional success. Here are the unspoken reasons why you may be reluctant to set goals, and what you can do about it:

1. You’re afraid to fail

For many people, the fear of failing is greater than the potential reward of succeeding.

Fear of disappointment, fear of judgment from others and fear of self-judgment can be overwhelming. To avoid any possibility of failure, they would rather not have a goal, even if that means they have to give up on their dreams.

Try this: To take the fear out of failure, start by changing the way you see failure. Failure is sometimes the way to success. It’s a delay, not defeat. It’s a teacher, not the grim reaper. Many of the world’s success stories started out as failures. The people behind them succeeded despite failure, even because of failure.

2. You’re intimidated by your goal

A good goal is one that is challenging but attainable. Often, we avoid setting a goal because it feels too daunting, and we’re not prepared to feel inadequate by taking it on.

We may not like to feel vulnerable in the face of challenges, but that vulnerability forces us to find strength from where we didn’t know existed — this is when we grow.

Try this: Don’t overestimate the challenge and don’t underestimate yourself. Break down your goal into smaller and more achievable goals. A marathon runner doesn’t run to the finishing line, he runs to the nearest lamppost ahead of him. Then to the next lamppost. And the next lamppost…

3. You’re settling for what you have

The fastest way to kill goal-setting is to convince yourself you’re fine with the status quo — even when you’re not.

This goes back to how we’re wired to resist change, leading us to prefer a familiar dissatisfaction to an unknown improvement.

Try this: Make a list of what you have. Then make a list of what you want in life. Be thankful for the things that you have, but be committed to the top three things you truly want. What do you have to do to get them? What challenges stand in your way? How can you overcome them? The comfort zone is both a safe and dangerous place to be in. Change, before change finds you.

4. You assume things will take care of themselves

It’s convenient to adopt an “it happens when it happens” attitude. The reality is, unless you do something to get what you want in life, nothing happens.

If you relinquish the power to set your life’s direction, life has a way of exerting its power on you. Things may indeed take care of themselves, but who’s going to take care of you?

Try this: Take control of your life. What do you most want to change about your life? What is the one small change that you can make today? Who do you want to be a year from now? Channel your energies and abilities in a meaningful direction for the outcome that you want.

5. You’re afraid to fail again

The ghosts of past failures can haunt your house of dreams. The only way to exorcise them is to bravely set out on new goals and accomplish them.

When the memory of past disappointments holds you back, let the anticipation of future success drive you forward.

Try this: Painful as it may be, revisit your past experience. What did you learn? What changes in approach should you make? How can this get you closer to your desired outcome? Fortune favors the prepared mind. Remember that most successful people have resilience — and it’s not built on success, but how you respond after failing.

6. You’re not motivated

Pursuing goals is hard work. Sometimes it all comes down to effort.

Those who aren’t prepared to put in the work are rarely successful or happy. If you cannot find yourself motivated, maybe you haven’t found the right goals.

Try this: Decide if you want to be passive or successful, for they are mutually exclusive. On a Venn diagram, the two circles would be, like, a mile apart. Review your goals. Are they inspiring to you? What’s stopping you from working harder on them? What goals are worth your effort?

Whatever reason is holding you back from setting goals in life, denying it is only going to fuel more procrastination. When you face up to difficult truths and choose inconvenient but necessary paths, you’re halfway to success. Don’t wait for “someday” to get started on your goals. Do it today.

If you liked this, hit the “Follow” button for more. You might like my free worksheet “Adversity to Advantage” to help reframe challenges and refocus on your goals.

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