3 Reasons Why People Fail to Achieve their Goals (even when they’ve nailed the goal-setting process)

Jacinta Quah Leadership Coach Goal Achievement.jpg

Last week I read an article that outlined a number of startling new year’s resolution statistics:

  • 92% of people who set new year’s goals never actually achieve them

  • ~40% of people forget about them by March

  • ~1 in 3 won’t even last beyond January

While that’s a US centric report, you & I can see how the stats may very well describe our context as well – based on our own experiences and those of the people around us.  


We’ve all been taught to set SMART goals, break the goal down into key milestones, track, measure, and have a management system to keep progressing forward.  But why are so many intelligent, knowledgeable and capable people still fail to reach their goals?

In my coaching work, I’ve observed 3 big reasons why people lose steam on their SMART goals.  If you find yourself (or your team members) in any of these scenarios, try the self-coaching questions to get unstuck and re-commit to your goals.

  1. Disconnected from their big WHY 

They set a goal to land a bigger role, a promotion, own a certain made of car or house.  But they didn’t ask why the goal is important to them.  They set those goals because that’s what people do, what the society expects of us, bigger paycheck, car, house etc are symbols of success and status.  The problem: there’re trade-offs involved.  What and how much are they willing to give to get those things?  Are they chasing their own dream or other people’s dreams?

Coaching questions:

  • Why is this goal important to me?  

  • Why now? 

  • How will my day-to-day life be different when I’ve achieved this goal? 

  • What would be possible then that’s not possible now?  

  • How will achieving this goal affect the people nearest & dearest to me?

These questions help to focus on the impact (ie your desired outcomes) from achieving the goal.  And clarify if the goal accrues to a more fulfilling life. 

2. Running away vs running towards

They set a goal based on what they don’t want - to fix a problem, to escape from a painful situation.  Pain is a powerful motivator to take action.  However, if they’re not clear of what they do want instead, then they’ll just be running from an old problem to a new problem.  For example, they feel under-appreciated in their current job.  The goal of “get a new job where I’m not under-appreciated” is a lousy goal.  

Coaching questions: 

  • What kind of contributions do I want to make?  

  • How would I like to contribute?  

  • What are my top 3 non-negotiable values?  

  • What emotions or feelings do I want more of?  

  • How would I want the interactions with my colleagues be like instead?

Setting your goal with a positive intention opens up possibilities.  When you focus on getting clear on what you DO want, you may find that shifting perspectives may bring you closer to your goals than shifting position or place or location in some cases.

3. Upgrade their goals without upgrading their mindset & skillset

If we want to go faster & further, we get a better car (or upgrade from a bike to a car)!  I’m always amazed by people who set big ambitious goals, and not prepared nor willing to upgrade their intellectual, mental, physical or emotional capacity to play at a high level with potential bigger rewards. Also, counting on unwavering will power at all times and do it all alone is a recipe for failure.

Coaching questions:

  • What are the key competencies/skillsets required to achieve the goal?

  • How can I find out what I don’t know that I need to know? Who can help me?

  • How will I prepare myself to handle setbacks and road bumps along the way?  

  • How will I hold myself accountability? 

  • What support structure will I require?

Upgrade = change.  Change is hard.  Changing habits are almost impossible for some people.  One of the main reasons why coaching works is because people feel accountable to follow through on the actions they’ve committed to their coach (hey, we’re all mature, responsible adults that keep our words).  Think through and build your support team.  Don’t go it alone.  

Once you’re clear on your goal and your plan, start NOW.    

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. ~ Chinese Proverb