why do we set goals

7 reasons why people don’t set goals… and why you should

Why do we set goals? Whether for business, career, health, finance, social or hobbies, everyone knows and understands the power of goal setting. For years, experts and gurus have carped on about the value of setting goals. Everyone knows that they should set goals to help them to achieve their aims and objectives…

So why is it then that so many people don’t set goals when they know that they should?

Well it’s certainly not through lack of education! Whenever I attend a seminar, from investing in property to building your business, the subject of goals and goal setting seems to get mentioned… and every time it heralds an orgasmic groan from 80%+ of the audience. They’ve heard it all before…

  • SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. Yeah, got it thanks pal!
  • Well Formed Outcomes from NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Yeah, done that one too buddy!
  • The Yale Study – the 3% with written goals achieved more than the other 97% put together. Yawn! Yeah, heard that one too. Got anything else? (Interestingly, that one is more than likely not true by the way but more of that another day).

So, it’s certainly not lack of education or knowledge that stops people from setting goals.

Perhaps its lack of time then. That’s what a lot of people say. Yes, that must be it, people don’t have time to set goals. They don’t have time to write them down. They don’t have time to review them regularly. They don’t have time to change their habitual actions.

Yes, that’s it…

But then again, perhaps not! Figures (looked up rapidly on the web – stats attributed to Nielsen Media Research Inc.) suggest that the average person in the UK watches 32 hours of television every week. So even if we allocated a generous 1 hour for reviewing and revising goals every week and allowed 30 minutes of visualisation exercises every day there would still be plenty of time left to ensure that you did not miss your favourite programmes!

So not lack of time then.

So, what is it, really, that stops people setting goals? The truth is that there are probably many, many reasons but I decided to share with you the top 7 reasons from my experience as to why people don’t set goals…

1. Lack of belief & scepticism

Many people don’t believe what they hear. They don’t believe what is taught to them. They don’t believe that they could achieve significantly more than they are currently achieving in their business, their health and their lives just by setting goals.

This is not surprising. We are all creatures of our own circumstances. We form our beliefs based on our experiences and the people who surround us. If no-one around you has any goals or has very limited goals then it is hardly surprising that you feel sceptical or are not ambitious with yours either.

2. Setting the wrong goals

Some people just set the wrong goals. They set goals they think that they ought to set. They set goals that their family, their teachers and their peers wants them to set. They set goals that their boss thinks they ought to set. They set goals that they pretend they want but that they really don’t.

How many people do you know who lead seemingly successful lives but underneath it all are pretty unhappy? Probably quite a lot. I have met many ex-school chums who are doctors, barristers and accountants who absolutely hate their professional (and personal sometimes) lives. They know exactly why… because they set the wrong goals. They set the goals that they were supposed to set rather than the ones that they really wanted. Why do we set goals that are wrong for us?

Setting the wrong goals will at best see your goal setting efforts fail but worse than that you could succeed in achieving something that you really don’t want.

3. Previous disappointments

Let’s be brutally honest here, most adults are not very resilient. We say we are but in reality, we’re not. We try something once and if we fail, we refuse to do it again for fear of embarrassment or comparison with others who have succeeded.

As kids, we leap up from our failures and try again. When we’re learning to walk, we stand up and stand up and stand up until we can flipping well walk! But somewhere down the line, something changes. We learn the pain of disappointment and we start to settle. We settle for second best. We think, “Well, if I don’t set my sights too high I can’t feel too disappointed.”

It’s not your fault. They trained us to be like this, our parents and our childhood advisors. You said you wanted to play football for a living, they told you to be realistic. They didn’t want you to be disappointed.

Hanging onto previous disappointments will stop you in your tracks where goal setting is concerned. It’s bad news.

4. Fear!

Fear paralyses many people into inaction. Fear paralyses many people so that they just keep on doing the same old things that they’ve always done.

Fear stops them setting new goals in case they achieve them. Fear holds you inside your comfort zone and stops you setting big goals.

I often ask people in seminars, “How much would you like to earn?” They might say, a million! Or more! But when I ask them to set a goal around what they want to earn they are much less ambitious… they say 30k when they’re earning 20k or 50k when they’re earning 35 or 40k. Few say £250k when they’re earning 25.


Fear. Fear that it’s too big. Fear they cannot do it. Fear it’ll hurt if they fail. Fear others will ridicule them. Fear that things like that just do not happen to people like them.

5. Laziness

I guess laziness had to come into it somewhere. Goals require energy. Without energy, you’re not even going to take step 1 towards your goals.

One of my friends works 9-5 Monday to Friday. He never goes in to work early and he never goes home late. He never takes any work home. He never has to. His life outside work consists of TV, the pub and his mates.

He told me one day that he would like to set up a small business. He was quite enthusiastic about it. But he told me that he could not afford to give up his job. Together we sat there and figured out that if he were to do a couple of hours a day after work and 4-5 hours at the weekends he could be turning over enough money within 6-9 months to leave his job without losing his standard of living.

Wow! Was I psyched for him…

Unfortunately, I was more psyched than he was. When he realised that his goal meant not watching TV, not going to the pub every night and cutting back on some of his leisure time, he quickly lost interest.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. You should only set goals that you really want and that are really important to you but the point is profound…

No-one else can do it for you, as I couldn’t do it for him. If you’re lazy, your goals are going nowhere.

6. Comfort zone

Setting goals will take you outside of your comfort zone. Setting goals and chasing your dreams could take you on a journey that you could never imagine.

For many, getting outside of their comfort zone is really uncomfortable. In seminars, when we discuss how to get outstanding results, we come up with many, many new actions and activities that would take the delegates in the direction they want to be going in their lives. Excited as they may be, when they start thinking about the reality of changing their behaviours, many delegates feel challenged by the thought of being off comfort zone island. They quickly get out of the sea and seek refuse on the safety of their own little island of habitual behaviours.

7. I want it now

In today’s society, we want everything now. We are living in an instant gratification, ‘short-termist’ culture. If we want something we buy it. Never mind whether we have the money or not, if we want something we borrow the cash and we get it. Now!

People are really focused on now… live now, pay later. Live now, worry about it later.

Goal setting requires a focus on the future… saving for your retirement rather than blowing your spare cash on lottery tickets and hoping for a lightning strike, forking our for a wedding day but never thinking about the marriage itself, going on a crash diet but not thinking about the exercise necessary to be a healthy person.

I want it now is not the best way to set goals. I want it now doesn’t worry about goals.

So, over to you. Are you going to carry on like everyone else living a mediocre life or are you going to set a huge great goal and change your sales, your business and your life for ever?

Gavin Ingham

Gavin is a speaker and author of “Motivate People” and “Objections! Objections! Objections!” Gavin has given over 1000 paid talks to over 100,000 delegates, spoken in nearly every county in England, all over Europe and in the US and Africa. With talks from small SMEs to the likes of Jaguar, UBS, The Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft and Renault Trucks, he knows what it takes to motivate and inspire audiences to change and adapt to today’s competitive markets.

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