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When You Don’t Reach Your Goals


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What happens when you set the goal, take the right actions, and still don’t achieve it?

You set the goal. You made sure it was specific, realistic, and measurable. You created the action plan and followed through consistently.  

The deadline arrives and…you didn’t reach the goal.  


We’ve all experienced this disappointment. Sometimes we know what happened; other times it seems beyond explanation. I’ve had new coaching clients admit that they’re hesitant to set goals for fear they may not reach them. (We work through that fear pretty quickly.) 😉  

So what do you do when you miss the mark? Wallow? Decide goals aren’t for you? Label yourself a failure and just quit?  

I hope not. If that’s the answer, I should have given up on goals years ago!  

Let me put this in perspective.  Imagine your best friend is overweight and sets a goal to lose 100 pounds in one year. He exercises, works with a nutritionist, and does all the right things. One year later, he has only lost 95 pounds.  Is he a failure?  

When I pose this scenario in seminars, I hear a resounding, “No!” But he set a goal and didn’t reach it. Why is he not a failure?  

Which brings us to the meaning and purpose of goals: It’s not about the goal, it’s not about the destination. It’s about who you become in the process. It’s about your transformation. 

In that scenario, yes, your friend fell short of the goal. But he changed his lifestyle. He learned to make better choices. He lost 95 more pounds than he would have had he not set the goal.  

And I’d be willing to bet he goes on to lose the additional 5 pounds, achieving the goal – just in a slightly different time frame.  

(Now, I can hear some of you saying, “That’s all fine and good. But my job depends on me reaching my goals.”

When you don’t reach your goal, take some time to debrief. Ask yourself a few questions, like:

What lessons did you learn that you can take into your next goal?

Was the goal specific? Meaningful? Timely? 

What did you do that worked? 

What didn’t work? 

What helped? 

What might help more in the future?

As you move forward, make sure you set specific, meaningful goals that resonate deeply. Break them into consistent, manageable pieces. Take action every day – even (especially!) the days you don’t feel like it. 

Make sure you celebrate what you do accomplish, even if it’s not quite to the level you had planned. Then, take a breather, get yourself in a strong and positive mental state, line up your support, and go for your next goal. 

We all fall short of our goals from time to time. But what if your job depends on you reaching them?

Even the highest-achieving goal-setters fall short of their aim from time to time. In some cases, you can easily pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move to the next goal. But, sometimes the consequences are high, such as when your job depends on your successful goal achievement. What then?

When you set a goal and don’t achieve it, here are some things that definitely will not help: blame, excuses, cover-ups, denial, dwelling. Not only do these responses reflect negatively on you, they disrupt your integrity and stunt future goal achievement.

Instead, be honest. Debrief with the questions I shared above, to learn from the experience. 

Share with your supervisor what you feel you could have done differently, and ask for her suggestions as well. Enter the conversation with a game plan. 

Evaluate your strengths and how (or perhaps, if) they come into play with your goals – and how you could bring those strengths more to the forefront.

And, of course, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move forward. As you do so, keep these tips in mind:

Setting yourself up for success early in the goal-setting process is especially important when the stakes are high. Start by breaking your goal into sub-goals, milestones, and consistent actions.  In my coaching work, I often help clients set one-year goals, which we then break down into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even daily segments. It’s difficult to know on a Tuesday in January when action will make your December goal a reality, but it’s easy to see what action on that Tuesday will help you hit your weekly milestone.

Make sure to gain your supervisor’s input early and frequently. Just like you wouldn’t want to hear about a performance issue for the first time at your annual review, your leaders don’t want to be surprised without time to help you course-correct if necessary.

Shoot for big wins early in the game. When you kickstart into action, you will gain momentum quickly and be less likely to feel the need to scramble later.

Most importantly, line up your support. Often an objective coach, in tandem with your supervisor, can provide the guidance and resources to help you kick your goal into high gear. 

For example, one of my executive coaching clients was responsible for increasing sales 20% in one year – an incredibly lofty goal in her department and industry. Part of her felt invigorated by the challenge; part of her freaked out about actually being able to achieve it. 

She hired me early and we created quarterly, monthly, weekly, all the way down to daily actions needed to stay on course. We examined her Success Stoplight, eliminating tasks she did not need to continue. She was able to exceed the goal whileimproving her work/life balance and keeping meaning and purpose at the forefront. Whether you hire MAP Inc. or someone else, get a certified coach in your corner. You will be glad you did.

As a recovering perfectionist, I understand that setting a goal and not achieving it is, well, not fun. But it happens, and like most un-fun experiences, it usually prompts significant growth. 

Learn from the experience, set the stage for success moving forward, then grow forth!

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