Goals don’t work

Here’s what the science says actually makes you succeed in life. (4 mins)


It’s a common misconception that having goals leads to success, but research shows you are 2 to 3 times (double or triple) as likely to achieve what you want in life if you actually get clear on when, where and how you will perform the right daily habits. So let’s get clear on the difference between goals and habits, and how you can apply this thinking to increase your success. 


You can think of goals as the end outcome of all your habits. Goals are the things and feelings you want to achieve in life. Maybe it’s achieving the joy of finally clearing your student loans and giving the government (or your parents) the middle finger while screaming ‘I’m quitting work and going to live in a camper van!’. Maybe it’s the pride of finally leaving your career doing that thing you thought you’d enjoy at 21 (has anyone ever got that right!?), and heading off to instead start a cupcake business out of your garage using a bbq.


You can think of habits as the daily behaviours that create your success, or not. If you’ve got a financial goal such as clearing student debts or starting your own business, then behaviours such as eating out in restaurants 6 days a week, buying a new outfit every time your Instagram idol puts a selfie on your feed, or being the mate who always shouts the first, second and every other round of beers, will go against your success. Funnily enough, I have a friend who’s the opposite of this and is always in the bathroom when it’s his round! When you think about it, there are probably 4 or 5 habits for each of the things you want to achieve in life that are either helping or hindering your success right now.



Applying this research, when we’re coaching people around building Resilience and achieving more success in their life, step one involves getting crystal clear on what the ‘thing’ is they want to achieve, BUT the real work is spent on establishing and achieving “implementation intentions”. This is really just a fancy way of saying ‘create a specific plan on the behaviours that will lead to the success you want’. For example, even if you don’t have a fitness goal right now, complete this sentence for one of the habits you need to adopt for the success you want:

“During the next week, I will complete [at least 40 minutes of vigorous exercise] on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”


This sentence has been used in countless studies and researchers conclusively found that stating when, where and how you intend to implement a specific behaviour, leads to double or triple the success compared to people who didn’t have implementation intentions. Studies have included using implementation intentions to increase the odds that people will exercise regularly, stick with studying, and even stop smoking.




You may have already identified your goals (well played), but are you crystal clear on the daily habits and behaviours required to achieve success? Having many goals can seem daunting and overwhelming, reducing the likelihood of you starting, continuing and succeeding. But creating a specific plan on the behaviours that you will (or won’t) take makes it’s easier to take action everyday, hold yourself accountable, and keep you on track for achieving the life you want.


If you need help defining, implementing and achieving the life you want, mastering the habits that will get you there, checkout our Resilience online course



Dalton, A. N., & Spiller, S. A. (2012). Too Much of a Good Thing: The Benefits of Implementation Intentions Depend on the Number of Goals. Journal of Consumer Research.

Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology.

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