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4 Reasons Why We Don’t Set Goals

Posted by: In: Uncategorized 10 Aug 2009 Comments: 0
By Michael Caron, President, Northbound Learning

I’m not going to tell you in this article that you should be setting goals. If you’re a reader of sales-enhancing literature, you’ve surely read lots on the power of goal setting. If you consistently set written, realistic goals with all the other necessary components for goal success, then read no further. If, however, you are one of the 95% of the population who doesn’t, continue reading.

A powerful question then becomes, “If goal setting is so great, why do only 1 in 20 of us do it?” I don’t know what the statistics say for the number of us who exercise, but I suspect they are similar. Both are activities that undoubtedly produce immense benefits yet seem to elude the average person. There are 4 main reasons why we don’t.

1—Fear of Failure

The dreaded F.O.F. Many of us are stopped by the thought that, “If I set a goal and miss it, I will feel like a failure.” What is not understood is that having a goal always gets better performance than not—even if the goal is missed. What’s key is the need for goals to strike a balance between being too hard and too easy. If you’re hitting your goals all the time, it means that it’s time to raise the bar. You need to be challenged more to sustain growth and generate that feeling of accomplishment that salespeople thrive on. If, on the other hand, you are consistently missing your goals and all the other components of good goal setting are present, it’s important to reduce your goals to something more realistic. If your goals are simply too out of range, you will give up and they will no longer provide the power to motivate.

Also, what people who fear failure might not realize is that failure is necessary for growth. Knowing what not to do next time can be very valuable. Winston Churchill said, “I would rather fail my way to success rather than be a successful failure”. Failing can be the greatest learning experience.


To misquote Alexander the Great, “Why do something today that you can put off until tomorrow?” The art of procrastination is worthy of an article of it’s own (Want to Stop Procrastinating . . . Read This Now!) Setting goals, while incredibly powerful, isn’t something that has the urgency of other countless day-to-day tasks crying out for attention. Disappointingly, like other important but low urgency life enriching activities like exercise, learning and family, we put goal setting in the “when I have time” category.

3—“I’ve done OK without them”

If you’re satisfied with a just “O.K.” life, then this is a perfectly good excuse.

4—“I keep them in my head”

When teaching our “Bulls Eye!” goal setting workshop, I often hear this one. My immediate response is a query on the individual’s goals in key areas. The typical responses are some vague generalities with no time frame, no plan and most importantly no answer as to “why?” For the immense power of goal setting to be released, they must be taken out of your head and written down. The mere act of putting something in writing solidifies your brain’s ability to focus.

Your homework: Get yourself in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Write down the biggest sales failure in your career to date. What were the negative outcomes? What were the positive outcomes? (yes, you will find some if you look hard enough) Lastly, what did you learn?

An M.I.T. study found that the 3% of a graduating class who had set clear, written career goals upon finishing school, had cumulative net worth 20 years later greater than the entire other 97% combined!.

With a little bit of effort and discipline to avoid the classic goal setting obstacles noted above, you too can turn your dreams into reality.