Here is a good question: If goal setting is automatic, why is it that so few people have clear, written, measurable, time-bounded goals that they work toward each day? This is one of the great mysteries of life. I believe there are four reasons why people don’t set goals.
First, most people don’t realize the importance of goals. If you grow up in a home where no one has goals, or you socialize with a group where goals are neither discussed nor valued, you can very easily reach adulthood without knowing that your ability to set and achieve goals will have more of an effect on your life than any other skill. Look around you. How many of your friends or family members are clear and committed to their goals?
The second reason that people don’t have goals is because they don’t know how to set them in the first place. Even worse, many people think that they already have goals, when in reality, what they actually have are a series of wishes or dreams like, “Be happy,” or “Make a lot of money,” or “Have a nice family life.”
But these are not goals at all. They are merely fantasies that are common to everyone. A goal however is something distinctly different from a wish. It is clear, written and specific. It can be quickly and easily described to another person. You can measure it, and you know when you have achieved it, or not.
It is possible to take an advanced degree at a leading university without ever receiving one hour of instruction on goal setting. It is almost as if the people who determine the educational content of our schools and universities are completely blind to the importance of goal setting in achieving success later in life. And of course, if you never hear about goals until you are an adult, as I experienced, you will have no idea how important they are to everything you do.
The third reason that people don’t set goals is because of the fear of failure. Failure hurts. It is emotionally and often financially painful and distressing. Everyone has had failure experiences from time to time. Each time, they resolve to be more careful next time and avoid failure experiences in the future. They then make the mistake of unconsciously sabotaging themselves by not setting any goals at which they might fail. They end up going through life functioning at far lower levels than are truly possible for them.
The fourth reason that people don’t set goals is because of the fear of rejection. People are afraid that if they set a goal and are not successful, others will criticize or ridicule them. This is one of the reasons why, when you begin to set goals, you should keep your goals confidential. Don’t tell anyone. Let them see by your results and achievements what you have accomplished, but don’t tell them in advance. What they don’t know can’t hurt you.