3 Areas to Explore (with Questions) when Clients Don't Complete their Actions! (UPDATED)

Client not completing actions, coach pulling on rope

We've all had a client who SAYS they want to achieve a goal but consistently avoids and, for one reason or another, does not complete their actions.

Our lives are complex these days - and our goal actions often have consequences that ripple out into other areas. So sometimes in the rush to set or achieve goals we forget to step back and look at how our goals fit into the bigger picture of our lives.

So, when a client is not completing their actions, it could be down to Goal Ecology.

Why Goal Ecology?

Goal Ecology helps our clients avoid pitfalls. By helping the client look at the wider implications of a goal and its actions, we help them set and achieve meaningful goals that fit into their life, lifestyle and relationships.

It's about ensuring goals work for our client in the context of their lives - and ensuring that goal is appropriate for them in the first place.

So, let's take a quick look at 3 'ecological' reasons why a client may not be completing their actions (along with some ideas of questions you could ask) below:

3 Key Ecological Goal Factors

1) Congruency

Is the goal what THEY really want? And is it congruent (in alignment) with their values and who they are?

Because when our goals don't align with our deepest selves we usually find a way to sabotage ourselves. Maybe it's someone else's wish for them or perhaps it's an internal "should" they don't really believe in. So when a client consistently doesn't complete their actions, ask to find out.

Questions you could ask:

  1. How important is this goal to YOU personally? (use scale of 1-10)
  2. How does this goal align with your values? (use scale of 1-10)
    • TIP: If you've done values work with our clients, you could refer to their top 5-10 values in turn, and ask them to score out of 10 how well it aligns with each value. Any low scores may need exploring and may suggest an inner conflict.
  3. Suppose for a moment that you have your goal, what is it like? What do you feel? What are you seeing, hearing and saying to yourself? (a useful check to explore how the client experiences successful completion of their goal - and look for inner challenges and conflicts)
  4. If you could have this goal NOW, would you take it? If not, why not? Explore...

2) Unexpected Personal Impacts

What unexpected impacts might come from taking action towards - or achieving their goal? Does the client have the time, energy or space in their life for this goal right now? Sometimes we want something, but our lives are just too busy, complicated or stressful to take on another project.

Questions you could ask:

  1. What other areas of your life might be affected by this goal or change?
  2. Where does this goal fit with your priorities and current lifestyle?
  3. How do you feel as you consider the additional effort needed to take action towards this goal?
  4. What is the price of making this change? Are you willing to pay the price?
  5. What's good about your current  situation? How can you keep the good aspects of your current situation WHILE still making the change you want?

3) Relationship Impacts

How does taking action or achieving the goal impact other people in your client's life? What changes will the goal bring in how they interact with people? Who might get upset?

Questions you could ask:

  1. Who else (other than you) will be impacted by you achieving this goal? How does this affect how you feel about your goal?
  2. What will others think about your goal? How will they react?
  3. Who, in your life, might feel threatened if you achieve your goal?
  4. How might your life be better with this new goal?
  5. How might your life be worse with this new goal?

Next Steps

By exploring goal ecology we uncover flaws in the goal which may required fine-tuning or even rewriting the goal altogether.

Areas that may require change (an increase or decrease) include:

  • The ambition or timescale of the goal.
  • The amount of time and effort they choose to put in.
  • How committed they are: they may need to step up and prioritise their goal, choosing to let go of other activities and commitments.
  • Taking smaller steps and actions.
  • Adding in some 'set-up' actions before they can get started on their goal.
  • The client getting others on board, or maybe decide they're going for it anyway - no matter what others think!


Helping clients set an ecological goal is a key part of the coaching process: when we raise their awareness around the bigger picture and help them adjust their actions and goals accordingly - we ensure our clients are prepared, more committed - and are more likely to succeed!

Like this article on Goals and Goal Ecology? You may also like:

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Client not completing actions - Coach pulling client on rope by alphaspirit.it via Shutterstock


    • elelsey

      Thank-you Peter! Although it's funny that your comment says couch-ing - helping you stay on the couch!!! But seriously, thanks for taking the time to comment - and glad you like them. Warmly, EL

  1. Tina

    This is wonderful- so often the people are blamed for just being lazy or having lack of motivation - it's really down to if the goal aligns correctly and how it is integrated into their current lives! Thank you Emma Louise!

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Tina! Thank-you for taking the time to comment 🙂 And you are most welcome, I'm glad you found it useful! Warmly, Emma-Louise


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