5 Sticking Points Preventing You From Achieving Your Goals (and How to Overcome Them)

by Briana Morgaine 7 Minutes

Image via Unsplash.

Is it late enough in the year that I can talk about goals without it sounding like the same overwritten post about New Year’s Resolutions?

Good—because I love talking about goals.

Nothing excites me more than setting new goals; a faster running pace, a challenging project that I know will strengthen my skill set, a new recipe I’m eager to try out—you get the idea.

However, the reality is that no matter how exhilarating the process of setting goals and imagining yourself achieving them may be, we don’t always achieve our goals.

Rather than getting hung up on disappointment, it’s much more productive to actually take a step back and critically assess what went wrong, and where our sticking points are.

Have you ever stopped to think about what exactly gets in the way of you achieving your goals? We often fall into similar patterns, and so fail repeatedly for the same reasons.

With this in mind, I’ve outlined five common sticking points that prevent us from achieving our goals, and how to combat them. With a clearer understanding of what exactly is preventing you from achieving your goals, you’ll be better prepared to take the necessary steps to avoid these sticking points altogether.

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Sticking point #1: There aren’t enough hours in the day

You have a goal that you really want to achieve, but you just can’t find the time to get it done. You’ve had a whole day of tasks, and suddenly it’s 9 p.m., and all you want to do is sit on the couch.

It’s a common position to be in, and it’s easy to fall into the habit of wishing for more time to get everything done. Of course, who wouldn’t be more productive with more hours in the day? But the reality is, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. The trick is to maximize your time, to clearly define how long the action steps you’ve laid out along your path to reach your goal will actually take, and to block out time for them.

Say, for example, that your goal is to learn a new language. To do this, you’d decided to use Duolingo (I’m drawing on personal experience here, as this is a goal of mine). You determine that it will take you 15 minutes every day to practice with Duolingo.

The next step is the most important—and often crucially overlooked: You have to actually schedule a time to do the task and stick to it with the same dedication that you would give an actual appointment.

So, put it in your iCal, Google Calendar, or old-school paper diary. Set yourself a recurring alert on your phone 15 minutes in advance. Pretend it’s a commitment you’ve made to a friend or colleague (and if you have a hard time keeping commitments without actual external pressure, see point #5—we’ll touch on this sticking point then).

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Sticking point #2: You’re lacking in the motivation department

Maybe you have a laundry list of things you’d like to accomplish—but the trouble is, you just can’t seem to find the motivation to get them done. It’s a common way of thinking, and it makes sense; after all, it presumably takes a highly motivated person to complete the sometimes monotonous, difficult steps necessary to achieve a goal.

The reality is, however, that what appears to be a high level of motivation is often nothing more than a solid plan and forming a habit. There is even an argument that intrinsic motivation (that is, feeling motivated from your own internal desire, not via the dangling carrot of money or praise) doesn’t even exist.

I’ll use myself as an example: Like most people, I used to believe that sticking to an exercise regimen came down to being highly motivated. However, the reality is that more often than not, I do my planned exercise not because I’m feeling overly motivated, but because by now, it has become a habit. I don’t always feel motivated to, say, complete my long run every Saturday; sometimes staying home and watching Netflix sounds infinitely more appealing. However, by now it’s habit, so I just do it. It’s like brushing my teeth.

I’ve found that the best way to deal with a supposed lack of motivation is twofold:

First, clearly articulate to yourself what you stand to gain from achieving your goal. Paint a highly-colored picture in your mind of how the desired outcome will improve your business, your quality of life, your skill set, and so on. Having a clear sense of what you’re working toward, and more importantly, why you’re putting in the grunt work to get there, will make the next step easier.

Second, you need to create a plan and stick with it. It takes a little over two months to build a habit; create a plan that enables you to do whatever the necessary tasks are again and again until it’s less about finding the motivation, and more about maintaining the habit you’ve formed.

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Sticking point #3: It’s hard to figure out how to achieve your goals

Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is determining the actionable steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal.

Realistically, lots of big goals feel insurmountable from the start. So, you need a plan, and you need simple, broken down, achievable steps.

It’s important to break your one main goal down into the smaller goals you’ll first need to accomplish, which will cumulatively add up to success in the long run. What are the steps you’ll need to take in order to get to that overarching goal? Think the often-referenced S.M.A.R.T. goal framework here—which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

For example, say your goal is to increase your earnings by a certain amount over the next year. To do this, you’ll likely need to take on more clients, do more work for your existing clients, increase your prices, or some similar combination. So, consider the smaller sub-goal of taking on more clients—what steps do you need to put in place to make this happen?

Breaking all your goals into smaller sub-steps with assigned due dates and relevant KPIs makes it easier to ultimately achieve the big goal. If you’d like more detail on goal setting and KPIs, check out this article.

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Sticking point #4: You can’t determine what to tackle first

Do you find yourself with too many goals that you’d like to accomplish, and no idea how to prioritize them all?

Maybe you’re the person who, with the best intentions, creates a mile-long New Year’s resolution list, gets completely overwhelmed, and scraps the whole thing. Suddenly it’s June, and not only have you not trained for that half-marathon, but you’ve read exactly zero books, haven’t picked up a new hobby, and you forgot to call your mother every Sunday.

It’s not the worst place to be in; after all, you have a lot that you’d like to accomplish, and that’s always a good thing. However, it comes down to prioritization. As tempting as it may be to try to tackle all your goals at once, it can lead to early burnout.

If this rings true for you, your next step should be an exercise that helps you prioritize your goals. For an example of a great way to do this, look no further than Warren Buffett’s two-list system for goals. Here, you can narrow your goals down from the top 25 things you most want to do or achieve in your life, to just the top five. With only five to focus on, it’s much easier to plot out the necessary steps you have to take to achieve what is truly most important to you right now.

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Sticking point #5: Without external pressure, you falter

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge believer in the idea of motivation. That being said, it can be argued that when it comes to motivation, people often fall into two distinct camps: Those who are more motivated by internal pressure, and those who are more motivated by external pressure.

Writer Gretchen Rubin (famous for her book The Happiness Project) focuses on the different personality types behind habit forming in her latest book, where she draws a distinction between those who have an easier time meeting goals they set for themselves, versus those who find it easier to succeed at a goal or a habit that is set for them by others.

Let’s say your goal is to read two books a month for pleasure or to expand your knowledge on a certain subject. While you might have had no problem reading that amount in school or as part of a book club, maybe you’re having trouble getting it done with “no one watching.”

The issue here is a lack of oversight—and I don’t mean oversight as a negative. Essentially, if you’re someone who finds it easier to accomplish tasks set by others than those you set yourself, you’ll likely find that it’s monumentally harder to stick to plans when no one is checking up on you and making sure that you actually follow through.

To combat this, try enforcing a little artificial external pressure into your goal setting routine. Consider speaking with a friend, your spouse or partner, your business mentor, or a relative about the goal you want to achieve, and tell them what important benchmarks you’re trying to hit, or what your schedule for completing certain parts of the task is.

If they’re willing, ask them to perform scheduled checks, to make sure that you’re actually following through. With this external pressure in place, it’ll be easier to make sure that you’re meeting key benchmarks, as you actually have someone to report to, and sharing your progress will make you more likely to ultimately accomplish your goals.

In addition, turning to social media can also be a good way to publicize your goals. Simply letting those in your circles know that you’re taking on a new goal will make it more “real,” and serve as an external pressure source (in a good way!) that will make you more likely to stick with it.

Which sticking point rings truest for you? Have you tried any of the strategies I’ve discussed, or do you have a tip to add?

Leave me a comment and let me know, or reach out to me @BrianaMorgaine on Twitter.

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by Briana Morgaine
Briana is a copy writer, copy editor, and freelance writer, covering the various facets of the small business and entrepreneurship space. She can be found writing for Bplans, and also on Twitter.