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Why You Keep Failing (and the Only Way to Succeed)

We’re well into the new year. How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Have you achieved all your goals?

Yeah, me neither.

More than 80% of New Year’s resolution makers are New Year’s resolution breakers with a third of people having ditched those wide-eyed promises by February 1st.  This failure rate is so reliable that gyms make a killing from it every year.

Sucker.

So what do those 20% have that we don’t? They’re excellent goal writers. Too many people fail to achieve  their goals year-round, not because they don’t have the resources or drive but because they just don’t know how to break down the process.

Basically, goals that fail are STUPID.

You write STUPID goals. That is to say, you decide to pursue goals that are…

Silly: The goal is silly and unimportant. The slightest obstacle is enough to deter you from following your plan, because there’s no strong desire to get to the endpoint.

I’ll see what this automobile business is all about right after I finish this nap.

Timetable-Free: Your goal does not have any kind of urgency to it, so you’ll get there whenever you get there. Setbacks don’t motivate you to work harder, because there’s no deadline to meet.

Unrealistic: Expecting to post a profit in the first twelve months with your new start-up business? Want to lose 40 pounds in a month without cutting off a limb? Unrealistic expectations suck motivation out of a person, because you’ll end up associating failing at something impossible with being an overall failure.

Passive: Passive goals include: “Stop smoking,” or “Quit staying up late.” Those goals require you to stop doing something, to be passive when temptation beckons. And if it were that easy, you’d just stop doing the thing you want to stop doing and break the bad habit. But there’s more to it than that.

Those dopes are wasting their time waiting for a computer when I found information in this here paper thingie.

Ill-Researched: Ill-researched goals have the insidious habit of making you feel like you’re doing the right thing, but you may actually be backtracking. You get your information from what you remember from an article you read in college or Jenny McCarthy. You base your plans on sensationalized newspaper headlines that poorly summarize and draw dramatic conclusions from the actual study being reported.

Dependent: That is to say that STUPID goals are dependent on anything other than your own self-control and motivation. While it’s impossible to completely isolate your progress from all factors (e.g., personal illness, unexpected unemployment, dingo eating your baby), the more you depend on anyone or anything else for success, the less your actions reflect your ability to meet your goal on your own. This is also a great way to throw the blame on outside factors for your lack of success. Bravo.

You need to write SMART goals. SMART goals are…

Specific: You can’t just skip to the end and say you want to “get healthy.” That’s a result. Goals must be the steps involved in reaching that goal, like losing weight and adding healthy food to your diet. The steps must be guided by specific actions, which can be measured.

We’ll square this and then subtract the square of half the width and then find the square root of that answer – easy peasy!

Measurable: Even some of the steps on the way to that goal may be vague, such as “drink more water” or “eat healthy.” How do you measure that? You need to drink six glasses of water or four servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Make success based on something you can count, even if it’s just measuring whether or not you completed a task, rather than a vague concept such as “losing weight.” Make your goals something that’s an action, not resistance to temptation; research shows that you break bad habits not by just saying “no,” but by replacing them with good ones.

Attainable:  Take the Goldilocks approach when goal-writing: not to easy and not too difficult. Goals should be realistic (and you’ll know what realistic is when you do your research), but they shouldn’t be so easy that you’re already capable of and regularly do them; that’s an attained goal. You want to find something just right, something you can get but just haven’t yet; in other words, you’re looking for attainable goals.

Relevant: Make sure the steps you’re using to reach your goal are relevant to your overall life goals and for the specific goal you’ve set. Want to lose weight through exercise? Make sure the workout plan you’re following isn’t designed to build muscle and gain inches in places you’d rather be lean.

If I can keep this ridiculous hat on my head for one more minute, I’ll set a world record for sustained humiliation.

Time-Bound: Give yourself a time frame in order to promote the importance of following the plan each day. If you give yourself five years to save $500, the importance of budgeting and living within your means loses its sense of urgency. Events make for good deadlines: losing weight before a friend’s wedding or finding a new home before winter comes increase motivation.

You can write SMART goals all day long, and it still won’t get anything accomplished unless you get that one last piece to the puzzle…

You have to want it.

STOP.

STOP RIGHT THERE.

My psychic abilities tell me that you immediately said, “But I DO want to lose ten pounds/be more productive/marry Justin Bieber!”

Great. But you don’t want it enough.

More specifically, you want other things more than you want to achieve your goal. You want to eat your daily serving of chocolate oranges more than you want to slim down. You prefer surfing Pinterest to cleaning your bathroom.  Otherwise, you’d break out the sponge.

You may say you want to save more money, but you want to watch cable MORE. If you wanted to save money more than you wanted to watch cable, you’d cancel your cable subscription.  Sure, there may be great shows on. Sure, you can’t afford to go on vacations, so you need some kind of entertainment, right?

But you don’t want it enough. So you don’t reach your goals.

First thing in the morning on January 1st (or the 2nd, depending on your hangover) gives you zero indication of how likely you are to achieve your New Year’s resolution. The critical time is when you’re deciding to hit your snooze button instead of getting up to exercise in the morning. Every day. For six weeks.

A successful goal is not a plan or decision. Its success or failure is no more or less the result of daily choices.

There can even be a minute to minute choices depending on the bad habit you want to kick or the good habit you want to create. Either way, an action is exponentially more valuable than a thought, a plan, or a wish.

So really, the only way to achieve your goal is that you have to want it enough to do something about it.

Do you?

Image credit to Clipart.com.


Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Eric

    Being mindful of time always works for me. I wanted to do a little more reading, but didn’t want to hold myself accountable for a Dickensian novel’s worth of pages per week, so I told myself, “Five minutes.” If only you’ve five minutes to read every day, just do. No matter what I read, or how much I read, I do manage to learn a little something every day. Putting in the five minutes is an easy way for an accomplishment, if only a small one. Holding myself to a novel a week? I’d have failed looooong ago, there.

    Smart post, Jana, and useful tips for darn near anyone, here.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks for the comment, Eric. I love your approach to doing 5 minutes of reading per day. It’s got every piece of the SMART goal, especially the most critical one: realistic.

  2. Rachel

    Fantastic article, Jana. This hits uncomfortably close to home, haha. I’m really bad at setting goals in my personal life … mostly because they are silly, timetable-free, unrealistic, passive, ill-researched, and dependent!

    And I really struggle with wanting other things more than achieving my goals. I love this: “A successful goal is not a plan or decision. Its success or failure is no more or less the result of daily choices.” So true!

    This is a really inspiring post — I will keep coming back to this as I write goals and look for motivation. Thank you!

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks! I hope the SMART goals outline helps you get back on track; I know that coming to terms myself with the “result of daily choices” bit has gotten my butt out of bed or off the couch to exercise or finish a project on more than one occasion. Identifying my moments of weakness has definitely been a huge piece of that, which comes along with wanting short term gratification over my long-term goal. Glad you enjoyed!

  3. Amy Swanson

    Excellent tips here, Jana! I’m a horrible goal setter (I always make them too easy so that way when I accomplish them I feel awesome and reward myself, haha!) so I’m bookmarking this for future reference. Thanks!

    • Jana Quinn

      Haha, but at least you’re achieving them! That’s a step beyond those who don’t set them at all. Setting a goal that’s too easy isn’t necessarily a bad thing… as a beginning step. Building success early on is a great motivator. The key is to make them slightly harder and harder until you reach exactly where you want to be. It will take more time, but if that method is the most successful for you, then embrace it!

      Just try not to make those rewards in direct opposition to the goal (e.g., eating a huge piece of cake to reward yourself for working out, splurging on a new purse to reward yourself for saving money).

  4. Ali G

    Lovely, awesome, inspiring and RIGHT-ON, Jana! Great article filled with truth. Thank you.

    • Jana Quinn

      Glad you liked it, Ali – it’s my thanks for all the motivation you’ve provided through your FB statuses. So much of our “failures” start when we screw up in the planning stages, and that seems pretty silly if we’re actually capable of the results!

  5. Mandy Kilinskis

    I don’t understand. You mean that just simply saying, “I want more money!” won’t give me more money? This is madness!

    In all seriousness, Jana, this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I have a bunch of vague, timetable-free goals that I’ve abandoned this year. It’s time to look them all over again. Excellent read. :)

    • Jana Quinn

      MADNESS INDEED! And yet, every November, I say I want to do NaNoWriMo, refuse to write, and then am shocked that a novel hasn’t magically appeared on my computer!

      Let me know when “Needs More” is up and running; I’ll be your first subscriber! :-)

  6. Cybernetic SAM

    Yep, this post reiterated the disappointment I have with myself! Haha! You are absolutely right with all the points you bring up. I think it is just hard for people to stay motivated as we are all creatures of habit and fall victim to our own lack of discipline. I think that modern life and environment are both the two perfect ingredients for failure. I guess you just have to learn how to fight the enemy, yourself, which is the hardest thing to do! Great post!

    • Jana Quinn

      Haha, you and me both. It was hard to write this because it really struck close to home, and even harder not to add in little “yeah, but” justifications for my own bad behavior. I agree that our instant-gratification culture with all of its awesome technology has unfortunately had the negative side effect of reducing our overall willpower. It’s time to Hal Jordan this life and fight back!

  7. Jen

    Cool post Jana! I set some “goals” at the beginning of the year to eat more fresh fruits and veggies every day. So far so good, and I have also started to include vitamins too! Who knows, maybe exercise is next, haha! You’re totally right, when you set goals you have to want it more than anything else. I really want to eat junk food all the time, but I want to be healthier and feel better even more!

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Jen! I’m so glad the fruits and veggies thing has been a success for you. I definitely think that replacing a bad habit (e.g., snarfing down junk food) with a good one (e.g., snarfing down fruits and veggies) is way easier than just resisting temptation. Happy to hear you’re rocking toward your goals! :-)

  8. Jeff Porretto

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post Jana! I set a new year’s resolution goal of going to bed by midnight every week night. Haven’t done it once. You’re completely right in that I just wanted to stay up MORE than go to bed.

    HOWEVER, I set a New March’s Resolution of losing 15 pounds, and I nailed that one by the end of April because I REALLY wanted it. I don’t F around when I really want something. The trick is getting myself to the point where I’m that motivated… not easy.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Jeff! I’m glad you made headway in the goal that really mattered to you; it just reinforces the knowledge that you need to want something bad enough to make a change, not just talk about wanting it but be happier with the short term benefits of the bad habits. Congratulations, and good luck getting your bedtime back on track. :-)

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  10. movieman

    Jana, I’ve literally done the things you’ve suggest and or the things I read here. I see myself as a constant failure everyday I wake up, I’m living lifge I didn’t plan and work as hard as I can to maintain my sanity. I got up and did something about it and still failed at that, don’t understand anymore I guess I was put on this planet to fail. Don’t get me wrong I’m optomistic in everything I don’t, I’m also a realist so I willing to gave one last try, your thoughts!

    • Jana Quinn

      Movieman, those attempts you’ve made toward those larger goals ARE successes. You got a lot farther than a lot of people did by actually taking action toward your goals; even if you didn’t meet the ultimate goal, you “got up and did something about it.”

      The first try didn’t work? Make the goal smaller, easier, quicker. Your first goal should be making your step-by-step plan. Nothing can stop you from that. Make your goal something you know you can do – that you’ve already done – and work on building consistency. That way, you *choose* to fail; you don’t have failure thrust upon you like some predestined fate. You’ll feel more in control and know your successes are your own.

      Hang in there. :)

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