Following Through on your Goals


The holidays are over and we’re tempted to do what we do every January: Make resolutions for the New Year.  But let’s face it: How many of you acted on the resolutions you made last year? For many, great plans start with a bang but end with a fizzle. Why is this? Why do well intended people set goals but don’t reach them? More importantly, what should we be doing instead?  After 18 years of coaching executives, running strategic planning sessions and training people on leadership, this issue has come up quite a bit.  Here are three suggestions I’ve picked up from people who consistently follow through on their goals:


  1. State goals in positive not negative terms

To illustrate this, imagine that nine patients are given identical diagnoses of heart disease. All will die unless they improve their diet, lose weight, cut back on alcohol and reduce their stress.

How many will make the necessary changes?

Only one, according to a 2005 study authored Dr. Edward Miller, the dean of the medical school at Johns Hopkins University.  “If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90 percent of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said.

In other words, faced with bad news, even death, most people do not change. Positive emotions drive people to action much more so than negative ones.

So, set goals in a way that creates positive feelings. 


  1. Connect our goals to intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivators

According to Daniel Pink and 40 years of research, people who are engaged in cognitive work are not motivated by the typical “carrot and stick” approach: Do this well and we’ll reward you, do it poorly we’ll punish you. This approach actually damages performance. Instead, people need three intrinsic motivators: Autonomy to control some aspect of their work, the opportunity to master a skill or ability and the opportunity to express their purpose through their work.

Make sure your goals give you some form of autonomy, can lead to mastery of a skill and express some aspect of your purpose.


  1. Ask for help in pursuit of our goals.

Going it alone increases our chances of reverting back to the status quo. Our goals have much more chance of success if we involve others.

Set up informal peer to peer mentoring. Suppose Susan, an acquaintance of yours, has a skill that you know you need for your career. Tell Susan specifically what your goals are and when you want them accomplished.  Pick her brain, ask her questions, and shadow her in her work.  Then implement what you’ve learned and report your result to Susan.  Tell Susan what you want to be told if you’re forced to admit that you haven’t stayed in action. What should she say to get you back on the horse? Sometimes a simple reminder of why your goal is so important is all that is required.


Dean Newlund is the President of Mission Facilitator’s International. He can be reached at: