When You Don’t Reach Your Goal: What To Do Next

When You Don’t Reach Your Goal: What To Do Next

You didn’t reach your goal.

What do you do next when it’s clear you didn’t reach your goal? Despite our best efforts and intentions, we all fail to meet some of our goals. We formed a clear plan with action steps and accountability. We plastered motivational quotes on our mirrors and appliances, and still, we find ourselves falling short.

  • There’s no way to squeeze into those “aspirational clothes.” 
  • The savings plan got swallowed up by house repairs. 
  • Energy vampires sucked the life out of the changes you intended to make at work.
  • The spiritual practices that would have made you feel better became a source of shame because you didn’t follow through. 

You didn’t reach your goal. Now what? 

Goals give us direction and purpose, but we get discouraged when we don’t achieve them. It’s normal to feel defeated if you fall short, and that’s why it’s important to remember that failing to meet a goal doesn’t reflect your self-worth or abilities. Here are some practical tips to help you after you fail. 

Figure out what went wrong.

Get a grasp on what went wrong and why. Try to remain objective as an outside observer conducting a clinical autopsy. Examine why you may not have met your goals.

Did the goal die from unnatural causes? Maybe it was a homicide. Is it possible you self-sabotaged your plan? Perhaps you have trouble seeing yourself as worthy of the positive changes that come with success. Perhaps 

Were you clear about your motivation for setting the goal? Did it connect to something more significant in your life that is important to you, or was it in the category “something I ought to do” or “something someone else expects me to do?” 

Was there an error in the plan? Was the goal too high to begin with? Did we set realistic steps to build accountability? Were you flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances? Every plan faces adversity and needs to be amended on the fly.  Neal Samudre compiled a list of fifteen things that may be keeping you from fulfilling plans to meet your goals. Do the checklist, how many of them were factors in your experience? 

Were there circumstances or life events simply outside your control? If illness or the death of a loved one or a major disruption to your life happens, there is no shame in putting other things at the top of your priority list. Sometimes it is not the right time for us to pursue a particular goal. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for every matter under heaven.” Perhaps it wasn’t the right time for that goal and a more opportune time will find its way to you. 

Array of clocks set at different times

No matter what the autopsy reveals, acknowledge and accept the outcome without beating yourself up.

People in the Bible who didn’t reach their goals

You are in great company! Most people in the Bible had unmet goals. Moses didn’t get to reach the promised land. King David failed to live up to his goal of being a faithful servant when he had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Peter knew he had failed miserably when the rooster crowed the third time to correspond with his three denials of Jesus. The Apostle Paul confessed that he often could not accomplish the good works he set out to do. Failing is part of the human experience, and God used all of these people to accomplish great things. Try to remember that failing to meet a goal does not reflect your self-worth or abilities.

Not reaching your goals is part of the journey.

Keep the right perspective. As Alyssia Mairanz says, 

You didn’t fail–you just didn’t meet the goal. That’s okay, it happens! Instead of focusing on the “I failed” idea, get out a piece of paper and a pencil and write a list of things you learned from the process. Even if you didn’t meet the goal in its entirety, you gained practice, experience, and new knowledge you didn’t have when you started. Think back to where you started and make note of the progress you made. Remind yourself that without this effort, you wouldn’t have gained that experience, and that in itself is a success! 

Not meeting goals is a natural part of growth and self-discovery. Instead of dwelling on your failure, focus on learning from the experience. How to improve for next time? Jackie Bledsoe said, “the greatest achievement of pursuing goals is the person you become during the journey to achieve them.” Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations or find a different approach to reaching our goals. 

The best feeling about reaching a goal is the journey it took to get there. If all your goals were easy, then you’d feel nothing at the end of the process. — Tim Denning

It’s what you do after the mistake that counts.

An incredible musician taught me how life is like jazz. Sometimes we hit a wrong note, and jazz musicians are trained to pivot off the wrong note and blend it into the song. He said it’s not the wrong note that is important; what you do after it makes all the difference. Do we sit around sulking, feeling like a failure, or use our mistakes to create beautiful and meaningful lives? Don’t give up on your goals altogether. Instead, adjust your approach and try again. Set smaller, more achievable goals, and create a plan for how you will reach them.

Practice self-compassion

It’s also crucial to practice self-compassion. Jesus said the two great commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Self love means finding a way to be kind and understanding with yourself, as you would with a friend. If someone you greatly respect didn’t meet a goal, my guess is that you would not value them any less. So why do it to yourself? 

Remember, if you didn’t reach your goal, it is not a failure as a person but rather an opportunity for growth and development. 

You are worthy of love written on a sign

Use Faith as a Resource if you didn’t reach your goal

Faith can be a source of solace and strength when we experience setbacks and failures, including the disappointment of not accomplishing a goal. Here are some ways that faith can help us maintain a positive perspective:

  1. Keep believing in a higher power. Believing in a higher power can help us understand that our failures are not the end of the story. God sees our best efforts and has compassion for us. We are just as loved when we fail as when we succeed. This perspective can help us find peace in knowing that our setbacks are not final and that there is a greater purpose at work in our lives.
  2. Take encouragement from scripture. The Bible is filled with stories of people who experienced setbacks but ultimately persevered and achieved great things. Like these heroes in the faith, envision your story as a redemption story. God can use any of our experiences to work good through us. Let a sense of humility and authenticity be part of the good that comes from your failure. These are endearing traits to everyone. Find a way to use the lessons you’ve learned on the journey to help someone else. Here is a list of Bible verses to help you maintain a sense of hope in difficult times. 
  3. Faith gives us a community of support. When we’re struggling, having a community of fellow believers to turn to for support can be invaluable. Connecting with others who share our faith can provide comfort, encouragement, and accountability as we maintain a positive perspective.
  4. Focus on gratitude. When we’re struggling to meet our goals, it can be easy to get caught up in what we don’t have or haven’t achieved. Focusing on gratitude and the many blessings in our lives can help us maintain a positive outlook and find joy even in the midst of failure.

By relying on our faith, we can find the strength and perspective we need to face setbacks and keep moving forward toward our goals.

Additional resources

Here are some links to sermons that you may find helpful in regard to this topic.

This is Your Time: A sermon about Ecclesiastes 3:1-12 is a sermon about discerning the season of your life and finding the right time to pursue particular goals. 

God Meant it for Good is a sermon about how God works to bring good things out of even the most terrible things that happen. 

Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday: The Chain of Thanks reminds us of the importance of gratitude and how to be thankful for all the people that make your life run as well as it does.