3 ways you might be sabotaging your goals (and what to do about it)

“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” ― Albert Einstein

I like setting goals, but I’ll be honest: I like achieving them even more.

But I haven’t always been good at following through, and I’ve failed to achieve more goals than I’d like to admit.

In the past, I would chalk my failures up to not working hard enough, not having enough willpower, or setting the wrong goal.

So, when I learned about SMART goals, I thought I’d found the reason for my goal achievement woes – my goals weren’t SMART enough.

I was wrong.

I quickly realized that while SMART goals are a great start, we can fall short of our goals even with the SMARTest of goals. And that’s because creating a goal is only one part of the equation.

An effective goal strategy also includes proper planning, mindset maintenance, and self-care. If we neglect these components, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.

So, if you’ve spent loads of time reading about how to set great goals but you’re still not seeing the results you want, you’ve come to the right place, sweet friend.

I’ve compiled a list of 3 ways you might be sabotaging your chances of success and what you can do about it.

As you go through the list, please keep in mind that if you’ve been sabotaging your goals, the first thing you need to do is let yourself off the hook and stop beating yourself up about it. We all sabotage our goals at one point or another. Be gentle with yourself and focus on moving on forward.

Here’s the list…

1. You haven’t made a schedule for achieving your goal

I don’t know about you, but I get excited when I whip out my Filofax and wall calendar and mark in the deadline for achieving a new goal. Even though the goal is not yet accomplished, that simple act of circling the completion date gives me a strong sense of possibility and hope. And, it makes the goal seem more real and tangible. Having a deadline to work toward is vital, but it won’t be very helpful if you don’t also create a schedule for getting to that deadline.

Setting a deadline without a schedule is like going on a road-trip with a destination but no map.

A schedule helps you focus on the steps you need to take. It gives you milestones that you can track so that you can check your progress and acknowledge small wins. Looking at a single step in your schedule will also help you concentrate solely on that step instead so that you don’t become overwhelmed by everything you need to do to reach your goal.


  • Identify what steps you need to take.
    Once you’ve figured out how long you’ve got to work on your goal, spend time brainstorming all the steps you will need to take in order to reach your goal. Be sure to include ALL the steps no matter how tiny and obvious they seem.
  • Calculate how long you need for each step.
    Think about how long it will realistically take to complete each step. And don’t forget to give yourself some leeway (or “wiggle room” as my friend Susan likes to call it).
  • Create mini deadlines for each step.
    Grab your favorite calendar and write in the deadlines for each step.
  • Create phases and set milestones.
    Look at all the steps you need to take and break them into phases. There isn’t one perfect way to do this, so create phases that make sense to you. Don’t be afraid to have multiple phases. As long as you feel that completing each phase will give you a sense of achievement, you’re good to go. And don’t forget to mark the end of each phase in your calendar so that it represents a milestone that you can observe.
  • Block off time in your daily schedule to work on your goal.
    Take a look at your daily and weekly schedules. Keeping in mind how long each phase of your goal will take, decide how much time you can allocate each day to work on your goal. Think about your energy levels throughout the day and the type and amount of energy and effort that your steps and tasks require. Block off suitable times on your calendar and set reminders and alarms on your phone or on your computer’s browser. If you’re a paper planner, you can also add a reminder to the dashboard of your planner.
  • Celebrate your successes.
    Whenever you reach a milestone, make sure to take some time to acknowledge your accomplishment and celebrate. The celebration doesn’t need to be big or fancy, though you might want to do something extra special if the milestone was particularly hard to get to. The point is to do something a little out of the ordinary to mark the occasion and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
  • Be flexible.
    Remember that things don’t always go according to plan. There are going to be times that you can’t meet your deadlines and that’s OK. It doesn’t make you a failure and doesn’t mean you should abandon your goal. It just means that you need to evaluate the situation and adapt. Take some time to focus on all the things you have achieved. Then ask yourself what the best strategy is moving forward. Do you need to change your daily schedule? Do you need to work on your goal in the morning rather than the evening? Are there some steps that you hadn’t anticipated before?

2. You’re listening to your negative self-talk

Do you ever find yourself thinking things like “I could never do that, I’m not good enough, I’m too lazy/unfit/stupid, If I try to do this, people will think I’m nuts, Why am I even trying?”

If you do, you’re not alone. Negative self-talk is something EVERYONE experiences. The real problem is listening to it.

Listen to your negative self-talk enough and you’ll start believing it.

It will bring you down, erode your confidence, and prevent you from going after what you want. The goal you were so excited about will quickly be dropped when you start doubting your ability to achieve it or when you start questioning whether you really deserve it.

Notice the negative thought and how it makes you feel. Ask yourself if this thought and the resulting feeling are helpful. If the answer is no, it’s time to get rid of the thought. Sometimes, it’s as easy as shrugging it off, but other times it can take a little more effort. Here are two approaches I like to use:

  • Talk to a supportive family member or friend.
    Sometimes we just need someone we trust to talk some sense into us – someone who is on our side and believes in us. They can remind us that we’re not alone and help us focus on our strengths and gifts.
  • Dispute and reframe the thought.
    Here are some questions you can ask yourself to start putting the unhelpful thought into perspective. If the negative self-talk you’re experiencing is particularly nasty, I highly recommend journaling and writing down your answers.

    • What evidence is there that this thought is true?
    • What evidence is there that it’s not true?
    • What’s the worst that could happen? How likely is that really? What preventative measures can I take? What could I do to overcome the worst case scenario?
    • What’s the best that could happen?
    • Why is my goal so important to me?
    • What’s a more positive and realistic thought that will keep me on track and make me feel better about myself and the situation?

3. You’re overworking yourself

It can be really easy to get swept up with the excitement of achieving important and meaningful goals. Couple this with the demands of today’s busy world, and you get a recipe for burnout. To keep up with everything and fulfill our ambitions, we end up pushing ourselves to do more, be more, and get more done. And what does this get us? Sure, we might achieve our goals for a while, but there comes a point when our minds and bodies are going to rebel and refuse to cooperate.

We need to make time for doing and non-doing.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn pointed out in his book Full Catastrophe Living (2013):

“Simplifying our lives even in little ways can make a big difference. If you fill up all your time, you won’t have any.”

Signs that you’re overworking yourself include feelings of persistent stress; anxiety; physical and mental exhaustion; sleeping too much or not enough; procrastination; feelings of irritability, resentment, anger, hopeless or cynicism; and forgetfulness.


  • Trim and prioritize your to-do list.
    • Get rid of any items on your to-do list that (1) don’t absolutely need to be done by you; (2) are not things that you truly want to work on right now; (3) you can’t realistically fit into you schedule without exhausting yourself.
    • Delegate, eliminate or postpone all the items that you’ve struck from your to-do list.
    • Prioritize the items that remain on your to-do list by taking into account (1) how important each item is to you and your overall goals and values; (2) any deadlines and milestone deadlines you need to observe; (3) the consequences that each task carries if you miss a deadline; (4) the complexity of each task; and (5) any logical sequences for completing the tasks.
    • Decide how much time you need to spend on each task. If a task will take more than one day to finish, decide how much time you’ll spend on it each day.
    • Work on your number top priorities first, but also consider tackling easy tasks that you can finish quickly as this will give you a sense of accomplishment and a motivation boost.
  • Establish a non-negotiable self-care practice.
    Make time everyday for activities that support your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Here are some ideas you can try:

    • Schedule in rest as well as uplifting and fun activities.
    • Add some light exercise to your routine and make sure you eat regular, balanced meals.
    • Create an evening ritual to unwind and relax.
    • Turn off your electronic devices at least 1 hour before you go to bed, and try to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
    • Check out the gorgeous Lime Tree Fruits website for a super cute and oh-so-useful self-care worksheet.
  • Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no.
    Limit the number of commitments you take on for other people. You can do this by:

    • Reminding yourself that saying no does not mean you are rejecting the person who asked you to do something. Your wants, needs and feelings are just as important as those of other people.
    • Before you add a new commitment to your to-do list, ask yourself if it’s something you really want to do and if it’s something that you can realistically fit into your schedule without feeling drained, resentful, or overwhelmed.
      • If your automatic response is “yes,” keep quiet for a moment after you’ve been asked to do something, take a few deep breaths, and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Is this commitment in line with your needs, wants, and goals?
      • If your immediate internal response was something like “oh hell, no!” or “ugh, why did she have to ask me?” give them a short simple answer that basically says “thank you but no” or “I’d love to help but I can’t.”
      • If you’re not sure how you feel about the commitment or it’s too difficult to say no right away, tell the person you will think about it. Then, get back to them at a later point and tell them that it’s not something you’re able to take on right now.
      • Remember that you don’t need to give a long explanation for saying no.
      • Remember that saying no gets easier with practice.

Final thoughts

Goal-setting is a skill as much as a strategy.

And the great thing about skills is that they can be honed with practice! So, don’t give up on your goals. You’ve got this!

Well, sweets, that’s all I have for you today.

I’d love to hear in the comments if you had any aha moments.

What are you going to change about your goal-setting process?

Much love,



I’m participating in the Edited Year Blog Party! The 2016 Edited Year Planners are your secret weapons for staying on target with your goals, appointments, projects, and to-dos in a fun and systematic way. Click here to get your planners.


13 thoughts on “3 ways you might be sabotaging your goals (and what to do about it)”

    • Thanks, Siobhan. I’m so happy you stopped by. 🙂 I often used to be really hard on myself when I didn’t reach a goal. Now, I just remind myself that I’m human so I’m bound to make mistakes and run into obstacles now and then, but the important thing is to use the experience as a lesson and keep looking ahead.

  1. Well Dear,
    This was just fantastic!!!!
    I loved the bit about wiggle room 😉
    This is full with really good ideas and it’s a post that needs to be read over and over again to remind us not to beat ourselves up.
    Well done !!!
    Can’t wait to read more.

    • Oh, Susan. You’re too kind! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
      The “wiggle room” concept is so helpful, isn’t it? It’s easy to forget sometimes, but it’s so important if we want to keep from getting overwhelmed and stressed out.
      By the way, I was just over at your blog and I can’t wait to hear more about your new coaching program.:)

  2. Such great reminders here! I’m definitely guilty of self-sabotaging my own goals and of negative self-talk. I just recently realized (or should I say I’ve just recently admitted) that when a goal of mine really starts to take off, I get very nervous that I can’t handle the pressure and I immediately back off. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m working really hard to try and not let this happen again in the coming year. I found a wonderful inspirational planner and I’ve got an accountability partner to keep me on track. I’m super excited for what 2016 holds for me and I won’t back down this time. I’m dreaming big!

    • Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Dana. I really appreciate it. 🙂
      I can definitely relate to that nervous feeling you described. I’ve created a list of all the big goals I’ve already achieved to remind me of how far I’ve come and to give me a confidence boost. Talking to my accountability partner helps a lot, too.
      I love that you’re dreaming big for 2016. And you’re already setting yourself up for success by having an accountability partner and inspirational planner to help you.
      I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you accomplish in 2016! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Nina. I’m so glad you found the post helpful.
      I really liked your blog post on “The Beauty of the Brain Dump.” I love doing brain dumps – especially when I’ve got a lot on my mind at night.
      Have a lovely day. 🙂

  3. This is an awesome post, Kirsten! I love your point about setting a schedule when you make a goal. It’s so important to know all the mini tasks you need to complete along the way in order to reach that goal. Nice tips! Thanks for being a part of the blog party. 🙂

    • Thanks, Sage! I’m so glad I had the chance to join your blog party.
      Having mini tasks to concentrate on helps me stay focused and track my progress. Plus, it means that I get to have mini celebrations along the way, which is a great motivator! 🙂
      I love your 2016 planners. They look super cute and practical! I’ve got my eye on the Business Goals Planner. 🙂

  4. Love this post!! Tip #1 especially hit home to me! This year, I felt a lot of what I was doing was haphazard! Ha..well..maybe not that bad. But, I’m realizing now that I need to schedule and plan my goals. So, I definitely need to be more specific about what I want and how I’m going to achieve it.

    Great info here! Thanks so much.


    • Thanks, Jennifer! It means a lot to me that you stopped by. I’m a big fan of your site!:)
      I’ve found that really breaking down my goal and each of its mini task helps me to get super specific.
      And you make an excellent point…We need to be specific about what we want AND how we’re going to achieve it!
      Hope you have a fantastic day. 🙂

  5. Hi Kirsten

    I find 2 things that stop me from attaining my goal is analysis paralysis and not keeping it simple.

    Before I started my blog for example, I kept on learning the best ways to do it. I kept analysing, reading on advice on the best way to proceed. The more I learnt, the higher the mountain became, as there was so much to implement. It actually took me 2 years before started the blog. Analysis paralysis and not keeping it simple.

    What really got be to take action was the mindset of baby steps. There could be a hundreds things I could be doing, but as long as I take baby steps and keep moving forward even at a slow pace, I will hit my goal eventually.


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