A few years ago I got super swept up into the wide-world of goal setting. It all started when I started the blog. I paid for trainings that continually told me to set goals to grow my blog. While I do love this concept and see where the benefits lie, I also found goal setting to be a bottomless pit of despair. That might sound dramatic, but that’s pretty much what it felt like. Without much warning, I quietly snuck out of the goal-setting culture I began to find that there were others like me who found that this whole goal-setting thing can actually lead to so major setbacks. If you’ve been struggling with setting and sticking to your goals, here are some reasons why it might not be working for you.
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What are the goal setting concepts?
Without fail, the majority of the content I found that centered around goal setting usually went by the same set of rules. It was almost as if they all just regurgitated what the people who had come before them had to say.
- Think of something you want
- Imagine the feeling having this thing already
- Set big, scary goals (big financial goals)
- Give yourself an end date to set this goal by
- Break down your goal into baby steps
- Tell someone else about your goal
These are all great things, and even as I’ve strayed from goal setting more and more I see how they can be beneficial.
Where we go wrong with goal setting
If these are all simple enough, and even straightforward enough goals, then where is it that we start going wrong when it comes to setting goals?
In my experience, there have been three major pitfalls that are very rarely addressed, if ever.
We want the results, not the work
Jay Shetty gave an example in his book, Think Like a Monk, he talks about when he first arrived at his monastery and an elder monk was showing him around. The elder gestured toward a fellow monk and stated that this particular monk had memorized over 200 versus of scripture. (Let’s be clear, I’m retelling this as best I can from memory.) Jay responded by saying that he wished he could have 200 versus memorized to which the elder monk turned to him and asked something along the lines of, “Do you want to have scriptures memorized, or do you want to go through the process of memorizing?”
This story always stuck with me — even if I am not doing it justice.
How often in life do we get caught up in an end result thinking that is all we need to be happy. Even Jim Carrey has been quoted as saying,
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”– Jim Carrey
One of our major setbacks when it comes to goal setting is that we only want the end result, and don’t actually want to or enjoy the process of getting there. Even still, I think a lot of people accomplish their goals without thoroughly enjoying the process. They are just determined enough to make it happen. I can only imagine that this is what so often leads to the mid-life crisis and the realizations that we built a life chasing goals that weren’t actually in alignment with who we want to be or how we want to show up.
Strict goals make us paddle too hard
Most goal setting books, teachers, motivational posters have that “Go hard or go home,” kind of mindset to them. Very drill sergeant-like. It kind of reminds me of an episode of Park and Recreation. Yeah, I’m taking a big leap from monk talk to TV sitcoms, just stay with me.
Two men, Ron Swanson and Chris Traeger are having someone of a bet about which method works better for motivating employees to get tasks done.
Ron believes that strict, demanding rules with a threat of punishment works best and Chris believes optimistic encouragement works best. They test their theory on a beaten-down office employee named, we’ll say, Jerry.
Both men tell Jerry to file different colored folders in their respected manors and they wait to see which folders he files faster.
The make believe results:
- Ron’s folders are filed faster but filed incorrectly
- Chris’s folders are filed correctly but take a little longer
What I’m getting at is that a lot of time when we set these strict goals for ourselves with deadlines and scary numbers, we might inadvertently activate that fight or flight mode within ourselves that causes us to go into a state of total panic.
In doing this we can begin paddling too hard, working too much, and, like poor Jerry, we do everything all wrong thereby never accomplishing our goal and burning ourselves out in the process.
Failed goals make us feel like failed people
If we fall into the trap of paddling too hard or working too strictly toward our goals and inevitably fail or fall short of our perhaps unrealistic standards, we chalk ourselves up to being a total failure and rob ourselves of all motivation to keep going or try again.
The ice cream for breakfast theory
Remember when you were a kid and there was that time when you wanted ice cream for breakfast?
Maybe you ran into the kitchen begging your mom or dad to let you have ice cream for breakfast, just this one time!
Now, as an adult, can I ask you, what was it that you really wanted in this moment?
If you’re anything like I was as a kid, you were probably chasing that total joy of having something unexpected. Giving into all of your sugar craving impulses. You wanted the fun stuff without waiting for it. Ice creamy goodness in place of what might normally have been a healthy meal.
However, there is a good chance you were denied this wish by your parents. As kids we assumed they were just on a secret mission to destroy or lives and keep it void of any fun. In reality, they no doubt believed that if you accomplished this goal of having ice cream for breakfast, and always ate ice cream for breakfast, there was a chance you would have started to experience some negative side effects. Mood swings, health struggles, and those no-good rotting teeth everyone warned us about.
While I’m actually down for being the kind of mom who allows the occasional ice cream for breakfast — we only live once after all — and remember I said occasional as a parent now, I can appreciate and understand why my mom would turn me down. She wanted something better for me than an impulsive sugar rush at 8am.
Ice cream and goal setting
This same concept of ice cream for breakfast still comes into play in our adult lives. Let is be known that we are all still basically some version of our child-like self simply masquerading as an adult who has their shit together. You know that, right? A lot of times we think we know what we want/need to be happy or achieve success and we go after it with that child-like impulse desire except we have no one holding us back because they know better.
Let’s you write down a goal that you want to write a book. Fair enough. That’s a great goal.
The first thing I want to encourage you to do is ask yourself, “Why?”
What feeling are you hoping to accomplish from this goal?
Do you just have a passion for writing?
Is there a story you feel will change the world?
Have you always dreamed of being a writer?
Do you feel obligated to in order to be seen as an expert?
Is there someone in your life who wrote a book so you feel like you have to too?
Checking in with ourselves to find our true motivation can shed a lot of light on whether or not this is a goal we have the stamina or willpower to complete.
Is goal setting a thing of the past?
I am not saying that goal setting doesn’t work for some people, or that it doesn’t work at all, it’s just that I think there are more things to consider beyond the same straight forward processes that are always shared.
Here are some ways I have learned about and applied to my life that have allowed me to continue to work toward more or better things in my life without working against myself, burning out or hating myself for making mistakes.
Goal setting: simplified
Here are some practical ways I have personally found to be beneficial in setting realistic goals that don’t totally freak me out or push me into quitting.
Try daily goals
Instead of big, far off goals that feel almost impossible, start with small, tangible goals that you can work toward on the daily. If you are already at the bottom of the barrel and feeling like a failure, might I suggest setting goals that you can’t fail at (I mean, unless you absolutely do nothing).
Examples of fail proof goals:
- Drink 1 glass of water before coffee
- Walk around the block
- Email 5 potential clients
Setting small, goals that steer your toward better things can be a great way to take the pressure off big goals.
Set emotional goals
Usually, when we dream of having or achieving something it’s because there is an emotion behind it that we crave. Take the time to ask yourself what emotion you are seeking and what are some simple things you could do today to help you feel that emotion?
For example, if you are really craving ice cream for breakfast because you want to feel more enjoyment when eating breakfast than you normally do, try adding some cinnamon sugar to your usually plain buttered toast. If you’re steering clear of sugar, try turning on a favorite episode of a show or eating breakfast outside while the sun rises.
There are so many ways that allow us to meet our emotional needs that require little to no effort or goal setting on our part.
One type of goal setting that is commonly overlooked is the type of goals that allow us to serve others and leave a lasting impact. In fact, one common things that most people miss in their lives is the understanding that showing up to serve the world as a whole fulfills our lives in a far bigger way than we could ever imagine.
When we attach our goals to a higher purpose, it gives us a lot more motivation to stick with them. On the other hand, if our goals stay stuck in the mode of only serving ourselves and our wants, we might achieve them but will still be left feeling empty handed.
Sometimes goals get shifty
Another important thing to remember is to allow your dreams to shift. There are some dreams in my life that have definitely come true (and they didn’t look exactly like I imagined).
For example, when I was freshly divorced, I was in a head-strong, female empowerment mode of living where I wrote down a list of things I wanted and didn’t want in a future partner. There was no way in hell I was settling for anything less than the absolute best.
Again, I didn’t set out to create a deadline for this goal. It was more an emotion-lead wish to the Universe — I couldn’t even call it a prayer. It was a stead fast knowing of what I wanted and I put my whole heart behind it. Within a few weeks of writing it, I met a guy who checked off everything on my list except he had kids and he was bald.
Guess I didn’t specify enough. Of course, I’m kidding. These things were welcomed due to the fact that this man had been quite literally everything I had dreamed about. And, to be fair, he wasn’t totally bald when we met. I basically put the Bic in his hand because even though I didn’t write it on my list, dating a guy with a horseshoe haircut wasn’t something I was digging.
So, remember, be willing and be open to embrace any changes or shifts that might come into the goal setting process. When changes happen, check in with yourself. How do these things feel in your body? If they feel good, go with it. I once heard that if your head and your heart are in agreement, then you have nothing to worry about.