Almost everyone has some form of long term, impressive goal on their bucket list. They want to write a book, learn a new language, travel somewhere distant, climb a mountain, run a marathon or learn to play an instrument. These are some of the most common bucket list items in the world. That said, few people will ever manage to achieve them. You may or may not attain these goals, but if you are to have any hope of success you need to make sure you do not fall into these traps that keep the majority of people from reaching those common goals.
You lack a why.The most important thing to have when it comes to achieving any goal is a why. If you do not know why you want to achieve the goal or do not have a good reason for pursuing it, you are doomed to fall short. You will struggle to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve any goal because you cannot articulate to yourself why you should make those sacrifices. When you start to run low on willpower and want to give up, you will not be able to remind yourself why you need to get back on your feet and continue pursuing your goal. If you do not have a good why, there is nothing to push you to continue striving toward your goal. Why would you struggle and sacrifice to reach a goal that means nothing to you?
You never set a date.“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” That means that if you really want to get something done, you need to give yourself a deadline. Otherwise you will continue to put off achieving the goal in favor of focusing on more urgent concerns. No one is forcing you to achieve your goals, so you have to manufacture some sense of urgency. Self-imposed deadlines are perfect for this. Without them, you will never reach your objectives. Instead, your goals will linger forever as daydreams. Do not claim you want to write a book someday. Get your goals out of the ethereal and floaty “someday” and slap a date on them that you can write on a calendar. Rather than writing a book someday, decide you are going to work toward finishing your first draft by next Christmas. Instead of wanting to travel to Israel eventually, decide that you will visit the Holy Land before the decade is over.
Deadlines are best when they are specific. “Next year” is still better than “somewhere,” but an even better deadline would be “April 15, 2020.” Even important goals are easy to lose track of in the craziness of life. A specific date is easier to keep in your mind than a vague one. Even a vague one, though, is still better than lacking a date at all.
You relied on motivation, not habit.If you have ever tried to reach a long term goal, you know that you will inevitably run out of steam at some point. You may have been eager to lose weight, train for a marathon or learn another language. That initial enthusiasm, however, does not last forever. Eventually, you start craving chocolate, decide to sleep in instead of running before work or get tired of trying to make your tongue form unfamiliar syllables. You decide to come back to it when you are feeling more motivated. The motivation never returns.
Motivation is fleeting. It is, essentially, the honeymoon phase of setting a goal. Motivation is plentiful when a goal is exciting and shiny and new. It quickly fades, however, when the reality sinks in that you are going to be chasing that goal for months, not weeks. Habits do not fade. Anyone who has ever tried to break a bad habit knows how hard it is to get rid of a habit. Habits stick around whether you want them to or not. If you want to keep putting in the work to achieve a goal, the best thing to do is to make a habit of doing so. Then, on those days when you do not have the motivation to write, workout, eat healthy or practice your language skills, you will find yourself sitting at the computer typing, at the gym, sautéing vegetables or forming unfamiliar words without any conscious input.
You didn’t track it.If you want to form a habit, you need to track it. You need a way to confirm you are actually doing what you meant to do. You might cross off days on a calendar you hang on the wall, put tally marks on a piece of paper you keep at your desk or make notes in a journal about whether or not you followed your habit. Since habits are keys to achieving goals, it is doubly important to track habits that will help you achieve your goals.
If your goal is one that does not lend itself quite as easily to daily actions, such as saving money for an international trip, you still need to keep track of your progress. Rather than checking to make sure you did something every day, find a way to keep track of how much money you have saved. Fill a jar with pennies where each penny represents a $1, $10 or $100, whatever is appropriate for your situation. Use a tracking app on your phone, or go back to middle school and draw a picture of a thermometer on a piece of paper and shade it in as you get closer to your goal.
You never made it a priority.If you really want to reach a goal, especially a difficult long term goal, you need to make sure it is and remains a priority. If you put it on the back burner, you will not come back to it. Instead, other concerns will get in the way. You will keep putting it off until you either forget about it or have lost the habits that would have let you achieve that goal. If you want to reach a goal, you need to keep it constantly in your sights, not hide it away and hope you remember it somehow.
If you want to achieve your goals, you need to make sure you are prepared to work for those goals. They will not mystically come true on their own. You wait on wishes, and wishes may or may not come true. You work for goals, and you decide whether or not they come true.