The Goal Achievement Iceberg

Sunrise on the Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, United States

Achieving goals follows the iceberg theory – achievements and accolades are externally observable similarly to the iceberg floating over the surface of an ocean, but the underlying behaviors, supporting meeting these goals, are like the part of the iceberg which is beneath the water.

So what does reaching goals mean? The response includes:

  • Being committed enough to make concerted efforts and take specific actions towards the achievement of a set goal. You can engage in blue-sky thinking, an approach discovered by psychologist Charles Garfield, which entails looking at your life as if there are no limits to what you can achieve. But a goal doesn’t (always) need to be a lofty target. It can simply be an improvement you wish to achieve in an area of your life. Another way to look at goals is an unorthodox one, that Mel Robbins, a New York Times best seller author, podcast host and renowned coach, suggests: pay attention to any feelings of jealousy you might harbor; “jealousy is blocked desire” (e.g. by your fears, doubts or overthinking) as per Mel, thus it can serve to identify goals you might not have considered or allowed yourself to dream about. Furthermore, commitment means doing the work, often times, the very hard work, to meet your goal. It ultimately means taking responsibility for defining and adjusting a plan for goal execution and staying honest about your progress against your goal.
  • Acknowledging that it is not about the goal itself, it is about the process and growth required to get to your destination. This mainly means to focus on things you can control. Map out steps, milestones or specific actions required to reach your goal and enjoy making progress on a mapped-out itinerary. Especially when it’s about a goal you cannot fully control (e.g. a promotion, buying a property, or getting married), it is fundamental that you focus on achieving the growth associated with that particular goal rather than getting attached to meeting it under some subjective or random timelines. The risk of missing a goal is higher when the focus is not on how to grow yourself to the level of your goal. Furthermore, a set goal might require a more profound type of growth, encompassing multiple areas of life. For instance, expertise and great knowledge in a professional sector might make someone a great individual contributor, but without leadership skills and presence, that individual’s career opportunities will likely not expand to positions of leadership. Likewise, succeeding professionally in a way that burns bridges with others, or at the risk of strained family relationships would challenge the notion of success for that individual.
  • Expecting to get discouraged or make mistakes when on the journey to achieve a specific goal. The path to achieving goals is rarely linear. Steven Handel, author of Small Habits, Big Changes makes the point that “our patience is strongest when we have a healthy expectation of future difficulties and obstacles. Get ready to be challenged. Get ready to make mistakes. Get ready to fail. And make sure you are ready to keep moving forward no matter what happens.” These moments of discouragement are when re-commitment to what drives you the most is necessary in order to not give up on your goals. It is also a time when you might need your support network the most and when surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can be the lifeboat in a stormy ocean.
  • Celebrating and owning your achievements. This might seem cliché but moving from one goal to another without acknowledgement of what you might have just accomplished can lead to burnout and life dissatisfaction. It is for your own healthy self that you mark meeting your goal in a celebratory way. Remember how much you wished for your goal to become a reality and how hard you worked for it. Would you celebrate your kids or best friends if this was their accomplishment? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”, isn’t it? It is not only about a symbolic celebration, but it is also about owning your achievement, which could be a process in itself. It might entail not succumbing to some impostor syndrome or arrogance that might surface, or not going back to some old-sabotaging patterns of thinking or behavior.

Setting and reaching goals are an important part of life. It doesn’t mean everything is good 100% of the time and goals are always achieved. But it is ultimately a lifestyle which leads to more fulfillment, peace, presence and success over time. When you are clear about your values-driven goals and pursue them in a healthy way, you reap more meaning and happiness in life. And chances are that the people close to you are also happier around the best version of yourself. In summary,

“Success is not a destination, it’s a journey.” – Zig Ziglar

Published by Helene R. Johnson

Helene R. Johnson is a pseudonym. Living life as a mom and manager. Articles are also published on, a site dedicated to human resources with a focus on transformational change and development.

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