The Real Reason You Always Fail Your Goals

Be honest.

You’ve had the experience of being really hyped up to make a new and exciting change in your life. You’re high energy, pumped up, and absolutely killing it for maybe a week. Suddenly, you wake up one morning and don’t have that same energy you started with. You shrug off your new behavior change and opt for your old habits but promise yourself you’ll pick back up tomorrow when you have more energy.

You never pick back up.

This is a universal experience shared by all who have tried to change their life for the better. We start off with the best intentions and extremely high motivation levels. Without fail the motivation suddenly disappears, and our intended behavior change along with it. Every…single…time.

This happens so often that people start to lose hope in their ability to even make a behavior change in the first place. Behaviors start getting accepted as if they are written in stone as part of the individuals personality.

While it can seem hopeless, it is possible to make ANY behavior change happen. For many I believe all that is needed is a small tweak to how they go about behavior changes in the first place, as well as getting rid of some ingrained cultural doctrines that are only holding you back.

Re-framing your Behavior Change Mindset:

Culturally we gravitate towards romanticizing the “overnight success”.

Our movie hero goes through a 5 minute training montage and BAM…instantly jacked.

A YouTube channel with no subscribers hit’s a viral video and now they are internet famous.

Successful business owners are shown starting in a garage then suddenly jump to them being CEO of a billion dollar company. We never get to see the process that happens in between. Just a beginning and an end.

Meanwhile all of us sit back and eat these stories up.

We love this idea of our lives instantly changing overnight. I mean, who want’s to sit around and wait for everything they want when you could have it now right? Unfortunately, this has never been how behavior change has worked…ever.

Behavior change is a slow ongoing process, not a sudden light speed jump to success. In fact, it’s often so slow that you won’t really notice the changes you are making as they are happening. In strength training, it’s extremely common for a client to not realize how far they’ve come until they are actually shown a picture of themselves years apart. Or they find an old training log and realize how much their strength has progressed.

If you’re serious about making a behavior change happen first and foremost you will need some serious patience. Stop focusing on where you “want” to be, or where you “should” be and instead focus on that very next step (the one that’s right in front of you) that will actually make those goals happen.

“Willpower” is Not the Solution:

Following right behind our love of an overnight success, is this idea that if you just put your head down and “power-through” for long enough, you are going to make it.

#grinddontstop #everydayimhustling #sleepisfortheweak

Sounds great on paper I’ll admit it. Makes for some great social media captions too. Hell, the internet  unanimously loves listening to motivational speakers like David Goggins and Jocko Willink talk about will-powering through tough situations and I’d agree it’s a great mindset to have.

Doesn’t work though…

Yes, on some level you will need some “grit” to get through a behavior change, can’t disagree there. However, if you were to define your current relationship with your behavior change as a “grind” where each day you are struggling against your intended behavior. I would blatantly inform you that you are going to fail.

Willpower and motivation are a great catalyst for a behavior change and they are fantastic when you hit a particularly rough patch on your journey. But…they are not the main driver of behavior change.

This idea of putting your head down and “grinding” your way to a goal is so culturally ingrained that simply suggesting this isn’t a good method for genuinely getting someone to change their life causes offense.

“Oh you’re just soft”, “You just don’t have what it takes”, “Snowflake”. 

Here’s the thing. We have an entire area of study devoted to this topic. Behavior Change Theory, (literally has the name in it) that has research dedicated to telling us that for the vast majority of the population “powering-through” simply isn’t going to work. Thankfully, they’ve even provided us with a better alternative.

So sure, willpower is a great story, I’ll admit it. I don’t like stories though, I like results.

1% Better Everyday:

Screw it. 0.1% better every single day.

Here’s how you actually achieve any goal you want.

What is the smallest possible thing you can do today that will move you closer to your goal? Something so small that you can GUARANTEE with 100% certainty that you’ll do it (not “I’ll probably do this”, just “I will do this”). Whatever that thing is that’s your starting point.

The best example I can give of this is someone wants to start exercising for the first time. Could they commit to 10 minutes of exercise per day? “No”, okay what about 10 minutes of walking? “No”, what about 5 push-ups? “Yes”, alright that’s the starting point. You will take this as far as it needs to go until you find something you can guarantee you’ll do.

Subsequently you will not add to this behavior change until you have proven to yourself you can do it with overwhelming certainty. Once it’s something you “just do” everyday that’s when you add to it. Again, you’re only adding something you can 100% promise you’ll do.

The basis of behavior change is compounding tiny steps of progress until way down the line they add up into something truly awesome. Unfortunately people tend to shy away from this method because it’s not the “sexy” answer.

“This is boring”. “I’m barely making any progress”. “I want my goal NOW”.

This isn’t fast paced and exciting, there’s no sudden “flipping of the script” in your life, it’s just plain, boring, and slow progress. But that’s exactly the point it IS progress.

The idea behind this is to remove as much resistance from completing a given behavior as possible. Obviously you are going to have to do some work, but it should never reach a point where it’s feels like you are struggling to hang on every day.

We get too caught up in creating lofty initial goals for ourselves. Often, this comes back to wanting “overnight success” so when we sit down and write out what we want we start crafting a behavior change that will be impossible to complete. It’s almost as if we imagine if we do enough work in a singular day we’ll fix everything immediately.

While I truly wish this was the case, you have to stop trying to “fix” everything all at once. If you did exactly one thing better today than you did yesterday, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, regardless of if you feel you deserve credit or not, you made progress. That’s all that matters. Not how much progress you made, just that you made progress.

You can have your big goals, you can have goals no one else has yet to accomplish, but at the end of the day it all has to be rooted in that cliche of simply being “1% better every…”.

(For more on behavior change check out this video!)



Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.