Goal Ecology: 3 Areas to Explore When Clients Don't Complete their Actions! (With Questions)

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.

Instead we need to recognize that our lives are complex these days. Trying to achieve our goals can have consequences that ripple out into other areas. Sometimes in the rush to set or achieve goals we forget to step back and see how our goals fit (or don't!) into the bigger picture of our lives.

So, when you have a coachee who is not completing their actions, instead of getting into a tug-of-war with them, instead explore something called Goal Ecology.

Why Goal Ecology?

When we check a goal's ecology, we help our client look at the wider implications of a goal—and its actions. We are helping our clients set and achieve meaningful goals that also fit into their lifestyle, commitments, priorities and relationships.

It's about ensuring goals work for our clients in the context of their lives. And it's also about ensuring the goal is appropriate 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

When our goals don't align with our deepest selves we usually find a way to sabotage ourselves. So we need to check:

  • Is the goal what they really want? Or is it an outdated goal—or even someone else's goal for them?
  • Is the goal congruent (in alignment) with their values and who they are?

Maybe the goal is really their mom's or their partner's. Or perhaps it's an internal "should" that they don't truly believe in.

So if you have a client consistently doesn't complete their actions, look at congruency!

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?
    • This is 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

Sometimes we want something, but our lives are just too busy, complicated or stressful to take on another project.

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?

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

Relationships matter. And sometimes we'll self-sabotage if we think our actions will upset or make life more difficult for others.

So help your client consider how taking action (or achieving the goal) will impact other people in their life? What changes will the goal bring in how they interact with people? Who might get upset? Who will they need to say "No" to?

Questions you could ask:

  1. Who else (other than you) will be impacted by you achieving this goal? And 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 relationships be better with this new goal?
  5. How might your relationships be worse with this new goal?

Next Steps

By exploring goal ecology we uncover 'flaws' in a goal which may require 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 our client chooses to put in.
  • How committed our client is: they may need to step up and prioritise their goal, choosing to let go of other activities and commitments.
  • Taking smaller steps and actions that originally envisioned.
  • Adding in some 'set-up' pre-work actions before they can get started on their goal.
  • The client may need to first get others on board. Or they may need to 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. It's where we raise their awareness around the bigger picture and help them adjust their actions and goals accordingly.

And in doing this we also ensure our clients are better prepared, more committed—and are more likely to succeed!

Like this article on Goals and Goal Ecology? Try:

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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