Intentions and inaction: 7 reasons you might be struggling to reach your goals

Ever decided you needed to make a change? But when the time came you flaked? That’s been me more times than not. Intention vs action,  is a very interesting subject and an issue virtually everyone struggles with at some point. Motivation, goals, achievement are all such complex beasts this blog cannot hope to sufficiently explore them all properly. What I endeavor to do today is explore what we can do when we just don’t feel like acting on our intentions when the time comes.

“I know I should go for this morning run, but I just don’t feel like it “

“I know I should go make myself dinner because it’s cheaper and likely better for me than take away… but I just don’t feel like it”

“I know I should put my phone down and start winding down for bed a bit earlier so I can get more sleep but… I just don’t feel like it”

“I know I should get off this stupid video game that’s not even making me happy, it’s just a distraction from work BUT I just don’t feel like it.”

Each of these examples above has either been me or still is me from time to time. What’s highlighted here is there is often a disconnect between what we know we ought to do and how we actually ac. I know procrastination isn’t good, but in the moment it feels so much easier.

So it’s come to the moment when you need to act on your intentions, but that feeling of not wanting to is creeping in. Here are some common reasons why this may be happening and some tips to help you out if this is you.

#1 – Biting off more than you can chew. You don’t just go and run a 20km marathon, you need to master 1km first.

Make sure you keep the big goal in view (because these are often goals that we place a lot of value in) but start small and build up to it. You may not be feeling like it because the initial task you’ve set is too big and too daunting.

#2 – Placeholder goals. Don’t set goals for the sake of it and don’t set goals that are to satisfy other people.

Short and simple this one: if you don’t care about the goals you’ve set, why would you do any work towards reaching them?

#3 – Take advantage of your current routine. New habits are easier to form when you’re able to piggy-back them onto existing ones.

This may not always be possible, but when it is it can really help get a new habit rolling. For example: you want to start reading more books but you don’t have time. If you have a morning commute and are willing to invest in something like audible (an audiobook provider) you could listen to books on your way to and from work. This way you’re taking an already established routine (driving to work) and incorporating a new goal or habit in it.

#4 – Creating a motivating environment – What external elements help you get in the ‘zone’ for your new goal?

Environment plays a big factor in how we perform. One of my biggest roadblocks is actually working from home, especially having the kids home 2 days a week. Home is both rest and work for me, which can make it hard to do either really well. So I try to set up my office to help me get work done or I go to a local café or something where I feel I can work better being out of the house (COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in that but it’s temporary!)


#5 – Your new goal conflicts with an current habit (usually a negative one).

Sometimes people set genuinely good goals, goals they care about one moment and stop caring about the next. One common reason is that the new goal directly conflicts with a current habit. For example: you want to stop being distracted by games and get more work done but when it comes down to it, the game feels so much better and is so much easier. Besides “it’s only for 20 minutes….” *1 hour later* “Woops…”. So having some accountability and perhaps even putting measures in place that restrict you from playing games (or whatever it is) may help you focus on getting the new thing done until it doesn’t require as much willpower to simply get on with it.

#6 –  You need to get something out of it – Where is the reward in what I’m trying to do?

You need a dopamine hit, you need a reward; you need some sense of satisfaction and something good to come from achieving the new goal for it to stick. This can be a big battle, especially in relation to point #5 because the reward is so much easier and instantaneous if you’re battling against an existing negative habit. So be patient with yourself and have a good think about what would make doing ‘X’ worth it? What do you get from it? How can you get something meaningful and really enjoyable from it? This may be different for everyone, but if there is nothing to be gained, why bother?

#7 – Lucky last = You need to take the first step – you need to try.

At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. The more I work with people (including myself) the more I realize how profound this statement is. Too many times people say “I will do X” and it could even be something small “Yup I’ll get back to you by tomorrow”, “I’ll get started on that this week”, “Yes sweetheart I’ll definitely do the lawn this Saturday”, but its never followed through even on step one. Set alarms, reminders, a schedule, anything to help you make time and have a go. Don’t just say it so as to shut someone up. If you say you’re going to do it, get onto it now and do it.

I hope you’ve got something from this. As I said at the start, this only scratches the surface as setting and achieving goals can get quite complex. But it’s helpful to keep things simple and attack the more common issues people face. This is exactly the kind of work I go through with my clients as I help them to get through these speed-humps.

If you have any questions feel free to ask!