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3 Common Pitfalls to Achieving Our Goals (and how to avoid them)

What's the best way to achieve a goal? Is it rock-solid willpower, a rigid schedule, a support pal or group? We turned to women's leadership and well-being expert Tara Sophia Mohr to shed some light on the issue. It turns out it's the goal itself that can make or break success.

Natural Vitality Living: Why, once you're an adult, is change so, so hard?

Tara Sophia Mohr: Actually, I don't think change is so, so hard. Change is our natural state of being—we are always evolving, shifting and transforming in some area of our lives. Change is possible and natural.

But sometimes we approach change unskillfully. Then it becomes very difficult, and we often fail at making the changes we desire.

NVL: Can you name three common pitfalls we encounter when working to reach a goal?

TSM: Yes.

  1. The first pitfall is that we set the wrong goals! We set goals that come from comparing ourselves to others or from our ego's fantasy about how we'd be happier, more lovable, if we only achieved X. But the ego is always wrong about that. The key is to set a goal that has to do with becoming more of who you really are, a goal that has to do with living your core values and following your heart's authentic dreams—not your ego's fantasies. There are some clues on how to tell the difference below.
  2. The second pitfall is going at it alone. Seek out people who can serve as sources of accountability for you. Find champions who believe in your ability to achieve the goal and who cheer you on.
  3. The third pitfall is believing that willpower or self-discipline is your key to success. The truth is, what it takes to achieve a goal that brings sustainable fulfillment is not that mysterious element of "self-discipline," but rather (1) choosing a goal that comes from your core, deeper self'not your ego; and (2) putting in place supports and practices that make it doable for you to achieve the goal. It's about giving yourself an awesome comprehensive, supportive plan.

NVL: What constitutes a reasonable goal? Are there guidelines?

TSM: The right kind of goal stems from who you really are. It's about your callings, your values, and your true fulfillment. I call that kind of goal a "gift-goal" because pursuing it doesn't feel like a "should." It feels like giving yourself a big gift. Here are some qualities of gift-goals:

    • Gift-goals feel as meaningful to pursue as to achieve. What goals are so connected to who you are, so reflective of your values and aligned with what gives you joy, that the journey would be as sweet as the destination?

    • Gift-goals reflect your voice, not others'. They aren't from your society, culture, company, friends or family. They aren't about pleasing other people. They aren't about "shoulds" or "have tos." They are about what you really want.

    • Gift-goals leave room for imperfection. Often, fear-based goals and the plans we create to achieve them don't allow for the messiness of life, for our human imperfection, for ups and downs.

    • They feel good (and often scary!). Gift-goals feel exhilarating, expansive and resonant. They make you smile. They get the adrenaline flowing.

    • They pull you. Sometimes we feel like we are pushing toward our goals. A gift-goal feels different: it has a magnetic pull on you.

NVL: You tell women to do things that make them "gasp." What do you mean by that?

TSM: That today is the day to do the things that reflect your big aspirations for your life AND that get your adrenaline flowing because they take you out of your comfort zone. Do the things that make you gasp and gulp and make your inner critic say, "What, me? Do that today? Take that leap? E-mail that industry leader? Publish that provocative and honest blog post I wrote? Pitch that investor?" Go for your gasps. Now.

With an MBA from Stanford University and her undergraduate degree in English literature from Yale, Tara Sophia Mohr takes a unique approach that blends inner work with practical skills training, and weaves together both intellectual rigor and intuitive wisdom. Mohr has been featured on The Today Show and, and in USA Today, Ode Magazine and Forbes, as well as numerous other media outlets. Visit to learn more.