U.S. investors are following their gut in investing rather than setting out long-term goals, according to a Natixis survey released Monday.

The 2014 Natixis Individual Investor Survey U.S. shows investors have conflicting desires for their investment growth versus safety. Many also have unrealistic expectations.

“Many investors have set aggressive investment targets, but don’t have a realistic way of reaching them,” says John Hailer, chief executive officer of Natixis Global Asset Management in the Americas and Asia. “Something has to change. The markets have reached new heights and investors feel generally comfortable about portfolio performance. But without a plan that incorporates individual risk and personal benchmarks, the odds are diminished that investors’ will meet their goals.”

According to the survey, Americans say they need average annual returns of 9.8 percent above inflation to meet their financial needs, including providing income in retirement, housing and health-care expenses.

“This is an ambitious goal that could drive investors to take on more risk than they can handle,” says Hailer. With average yearly inflation of 4.2 percent since 1964, these investors would actually need to earn 14 percent to meet their needs, surpassing the 10 percent average annual gain of the S&P 500 over the past 50 years.

Seventy-one percent of those surveyed say asset growth is a priority over principal protection, while 56 percent say they are only willing to take minimal risk to achieve high returns.

“This demonstrates a great opportunity for financial advisors and the industry to help educate investors on realistic expectations and strategies to reach their goals,” says Hailer.

According to the survey, 76 percent of investors only own investments they understand well, but just 25 percent feel their overall investment knowledge is very strong.

“Fifty-percent have no clear investment goals and 54 percent have no financial plan, so it’s not surprising that when asked how they define investing success, some look at asset levels and others look at comfort level, rather than meeting long-term financial goals,” says Hailer.

Investors rely on two things to judge success, according to the survey. Half look at their total assets and 49 percent look at their comfort level. Only 37 percent look at their long-term goals.

At the same time, 82 percent of investors say they would be willing to set a target for investment returns that is independent of overall market returns.

The biggest concern of investors is the uninsured cost of long-term care in old age, a concern that has increased dramatically over the past year. Fifty-three percent of investors identify it as a top risk to their financial security in retirement now, compared with 40 percent in Natixis’ 2013 survey.