Six Reasons We Give Up on Goals

  • 5 min read

Olympic Dreams!  Some of us have them as children, some carry them into their teen years and early 20’s.  At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Karen O’Connor and Mary King competed in their fifth and sixth Olympic Games, respectively.  There are several equestrians who have competed in six Games, including Frank Chapot, J. Michael Plumb and Robert Dover.  Phillip Dutton made his sixth Olympic appearance in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 as the oldest member of Team USA, across all sports, at the age of 52. 

What happens between the age of ten and the age of sixty?  Why do some of us mount up for our country six times, over two or three decades, others but once, and for the majority, hearing the National Anthem in honor of our performance on the Olympic playing field is but a dream we left behind in childhood. 

What are some of the reasons we give up on our goals and what can we do to improve our odds of success?

Six Reasons We Give Up on Goals fromthe book Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose Itby Michael Goldsmith.

  1. It takes longer than we thought.  Our need for instant gratification trumps our patience and discipline.
  2. It’s more difficult than we thought.  Improvement is hard.  If it were easy, we’d already be better.
  3. We have other things to do. Distractions tempt us to take our eyes off the ball.
  4. We don’t get the expected reward.  We lose weight but still can’t get a date. We put in the extra effort, but the boss doesn’t notice or care.  This creates frustration rather than inspiration to persist.
  5. We declare victory too soon.  We lose a few pounds and say, “Let’s order pizza.”
  6. We have to do it forever.  It’s not enough that we quit smoking.  We can’t have another cigarette for the rest of time.  Maintenance is tough!


Think about the last time you set a goal and did not achieve it.  Which one of the six was to blame, was it more than one or was it something else? 

Knowing why we give up doesn't help unless we have a plan for overcoming these obstacles.  Falling victim to Reasons 1-3 involves inspiration, or lack of it.  If you have set a goal and failed to achieve it for one of these reasons, finding a way to get and stay inspired may be the solution.  Or the answer may be that the goal is one that is not genuinely yours.  Do you really want to move up to Second Level/Preliminary/Amateur Owners or is that your trainer’s goal?  Do you feel like you are letting your super talented horse down if you don’t move up?

If #4 was your downfall and achieving your goal did not provide the expected reward, it may be that you need to ask yourself some pointed questions during the goal setting process.  You wanted to win a Year End Award.  Now you have it and the feeling isn’t what you expected.  What did you expect that Award to give you that is even deeper and more important than the award itself?  A sense of personal achievement?  Respect and admiration from your barn buddies? Did the process of achieving compromise an important value or create additional stress?  Did the time away at shows or the money spent make you anxious about your family or your bank account?  Were you unfairly pushing your horse beyond his abilities?

Giving up because you declare victory too soon may also be due to a lack of inspiration (you have some but not enough) or the pleasure/pain principle.  Declaring an early victory allows you to escape from the pain/discipline of working toward your goal or it gives you some short term pleasure (a pizza) at the expense of a long term pleasure (achieving your ideal weight and better health).

And then of course, #6.  Giving up because we have to do something forever may be due to either incongruent values or the pleasure/pain principle.  In the example of smoking, while you might express "Good Health" as a primary value, the value “Stress Management” is taking priority.  Or, it could be as simple as the fact that the short term pleasure of smoking outweighs the long term pleasure of quitting.  

A careful examination of the reason you gave up on a goal can give you the ability to succeed, should you decide to try again.

As a personal example, I set a goal of a training level three-day with my young horse for October of this year.  In 2003, I completed the long format CCI** at Bromont, so this seemed reasonable, even though I now have an 8 acre farm, horses at home, a five year old daughter, a new business and a part time class load.  I was having trouble getting the schooling and conditioning done and generally not looking forward to showing.  I could see that I was about to give up because #2, it was going to be more difficult than I thought and #3, I had other things to do but primarily it was #4, I wasn’t getting the expected reward of fun and personal accomplishment.  My blog entry Preparation for a Horse Show Weekend, describes a coaching session I had on this  topic. 

The men and women who will move into the Olympic Village this summer were able to overcome short term pain for long term pleasure because they set a goal that was based on deeply held values.  They were able to maintain their inspiration and motivation over the long term.  While these athletes are to be admired for all that they have achieved, they may not be any more disciplined or talented than any one of us who will be watching the live stream from home.  It may be that they chose a goal that is so harmonious with who they are that the six reasons to give up were much easier to overcome than they are for someone who has not distilled their goals to the same extent.

I would love to hear your comments and stories about the reason you gave up on an important goal.  Did you try again?  Did you eventually succeed?  Are you still puzzled about the underlying reason why you gave up?  Does one reason become the downfall for many different goals over time?  Is finding a way to succeed important enough for you to examine your values, create some inspiration and shift your perspective from short term to long term?  Have you ever set a goal that resonates so deeply within you that it was never a struggle to complete it?


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