What held you back from achieving your goals this year?

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What held you back from achieving your goals this year?

By Andrea Novakowski

Peter sat in my office reviewing his top ten goals for this year, shaking his head. He realized he hadn’t even touched two of them.

Sure, he’d done a great job on six of his business goals, including increasing his revenue, spending more time planning vs. doing, and finding a new learning project that would help him develop his skills.

With two of the goals, he’d made some progress: creating a vision of his life for his wife’s approaching retirement, and finding a new community project in order to give back.

But his last two goals were at a standstill. Both were related to his health. These goals kept showing up on his to-do list each week, but he never got around to working on them.

When I asked Peter what he thought was getting in the way, he took a moment to think and then answered, “I’m making everything else a priority.”

For the first time, he realized just how much time he spent taking care of others: his clients, his employees, and his family. By the end of the day, he didn’t have the energy or the desire to do anything more. He noted, with a sheepish grin, that his health hadn’t gotten any worse this year. It just hadn’t gotten better.

Peter and I took some time to dig a little deeper. The purpose of this exercise is not to beat yourself up or to indulge in the negative self-talk that arises in your head. Rather, the idea is to try and figure out what might be getting in the way of your accomplishing what you set out to do.

On further reflection, Peter admitted he’d been taking his health for granted. His habit was to power through every day, tackling one challenge after another, ignoring the messages his body was sending him. It was only a matter of time, he knew, before his luck ran out.

Peter was ignoring the uncomfortable reality, one of the most frequent obstacles I see that prevents people from moving forward with their goals. It’s far from the only one.

Here are a few more common obstacles that I see:

Lack of accountability. It may have seemed like a good idea, back in January, to run a marathon or lose 10 pounds, but unless you have a person or a place to check in with about your progress – committing to run a marathon with a friend or joining a weight-loss group, for example – no one else will notice if you let your plans slide. Create an opportunity for accountability by scheduling a quarterly check in and putting it on your calendar. This can be enough to remind you of the goals you set for yourself and perhaps even reinvigorate your energy and focus. Peter and I have plans to check in quarterly in this coming year.

Wrong goal. You’ve just finished reading an inspirational bestseller on ten ways to enhance your leadership skills and, energized by the possibilities, you commit to tackling a goal in each area. As the year progresses, however, you don’t make much progress. Perhaps, while these pursuits were important to this well-known author, they’re not truly important to you.

Too much ambition. Being excited by an idea may not be enough of a reason to pursue it. Before you commit to a goal, reflect on whether this is the right time in your life. Is this the year to add a new product line, or is it actually the year to cut some of your products? You can’t do everything. You can’t implement every idea you have. If you could accomplish only one thing, what would it be?

Not flexible enough. Back when Peter set his goals, he didn’t have a crystal ball. He created his plan based on what he knew at the time and what he thought would happen. We all do the same thing and may experience what Peter did: be right in your predictions in some areas, but not in others. Taking time to check in with your goals on a regular basis and do an honest assessment of what’s working and what’s not can help you adjust your goals and your focus along the way.

Procrastination. You keep telling yourself there will be time to address that goal tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. There are so many distractions. Unless you deliberately schedule time to work on your goal, and make it a priority, the task will keep getting pushed aside for later.

Denial. This was Peter’s problem – thinking an issue will take care of itself, when it’s just not going to happen. By not making himself a priority, Peter was ignoring his health and the importance of taking care of himself. Deep down he knew this was not a good idea, but kept putting it off. Pretending it wasn’t going to require more time and attention on his part, or that he could just add it to his to-do list and keep going, was unrealistic.

Quick note: You may feel, like Peter, that many of these are obstacles you encounter. Choose which one resonates the most and work with that.


As you get ready to close out your year, in addition to recognizing your progress, take some time to reflect on what didn’t get done. Those items on the list that you never got around to – they can tell you a lot about yourself and your priorities. Are they still important to you, a year later?

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