3 Reasons Why Goals Fail: Overconfidence And What You Can Do About It
Guess what. We’re horrible at making changes in our lives.
New Year’s resolutions fail. We don’t hit our targets. We fall short of our goals…
But that doesn’t stop us from trying over and over again. When we hit a birthday, a new year, or some kind of anniversary, we start the cycle over again.
There are a lot of ways to trip and fall. Change isn’t easy, but it’s certainly possible. But if you want to change the outcome, you have to understand why you failed in the first place. You have to learn why.
Psychology says one of our issues might be that we might be setting ourselves up for failure before we even start.
Because we’re too overconfident in our ability to make changes.
Overconfidence Makes You Horrible at Change
Roy Baumeister, a well known researcher and author of the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Here’s what he says about overconfidence in one of his studies:
When people must make decisions involving committing themselves to a particular goal or contingency structure, their positive illusions or overconfidence should create a tendency to set goals too high for themselves, with the result that their likelihood of eventual failure increases.
Roy isn’t alone in his analysis. Other psychologists agree that we can be a bit too optimistic. Another pair of researchers say that we believe change will be easy, leading to overconfidence and unrealistic goals. Even in light of our previous failures. They call this “false hope syndrome”.
In a published paper, they examine some of the underlying reasons of how we set ourselves up for failure. It’s not an inclusive list, but it highlights some major reasons why we overestimate our ability to change.
It reminds us what we need to watch out for, before we start making promises to ourselves.
3 Factors Contributing to Overconfidence
Without going into too much depth, here’s 3 things they identify that can contribute to our overconfidence.
1.Unrealistic Expectations. This is partially driven by the promises from marketing and programs that tell you that big changes will be easy, effortless, and with huge benefits.
We think that buying that Fitbit, new shoes, new exercise gadget, or downloading that habit app will make burning calories faster and easier. This gives us big expectations, at the cost of being a bit unrealistic.
2.We Feel In Control. Being in control gives us on overall positive mental state. It gives us a more optimistic outlook.
So when we set goals and make resolutions, we get that sense of control over our lives. This is usually a good thing, but can be a double-edged sword.
We can also fall prey to what psychologists call illusory control. Which makes us believe that positive outcomes will be more likely, while downplaying the possibility we might fail.
The experts say that this is more likely to happen in personal and familiar situations (like our own self-improvement). And if we get feedback that emphasizes our success, this effect is amplified.
3.We Forget Past Failures. The experts point out that even though we’ve failed in the past, we have a tendency to overestimate our future success in completing tasks. Interestingly enough, research says that while we do this when evaluating success for ourselves, we don’t do it for others.
2 Ways To Beat Overconfidence
So how to fix the problem of overconfidence?
1. Reflecting on past experiences and failures before setting your goal. This tempers our optimistic outlook with a more realistic picture of what is possible. It can help us identify obstacles and situations that we may overlook if we just focus on how our outcome will be successful.
The doesn’t mean we should always be dwelling on past mistakes. But to change the outcome of past mistakes, you need to reflect on what and how things went sideways the last time.
2. Focus on the process and not the outcome. This is another strategy that shifts your attention away from the successful outcome, and focus on the work it’ll take to get there.
Think about how you feel to wake up early in the mornings if you want to run. How family responsibilities will make your time short. How a day at the office can drain your energy to be productive when you get home.
This won’t be an easy thing to do. When setting the goal or resolution, think about these things. But when you need motivation to actually do the activities, think about how the successful outcome will feel and the benefits from reaching your goal.
Don’t Be Too Overconfident
Overconfidence when setting goals can lead to failure. We get excited, we feel good, and optimism abounds when we’re told success is easy. This leads us to set lofty, usually unrealistic, goals.
There’s a lot of advice out there telling us to set big, bold, audacious goals. It seems that we do a pretty good job at doing just that.
You’ve probably heard of stretch goals. Of getting out of that comfort zone. But we don’t realize when it comes to changing our behavior, even small changes are outside of our comfort zone.
So trying to wildly changing a habit, while still possible, usually isn’t effective for a large majority of us. Big goals aren’t bad, but we have trouble walking that line between “big” and “unrealistic”.
When trying to make sustainable, personal change, it’s small incremental changes that are more effective. Not the big overhaul.