How to Shift Audacious Goals from Painful to Productive - In Tandem Blog -

How to Shift Audacious Goals from Painful to Productive

When we set goals, we envision how the end goal will make us feel. We imagine the person we’ll become. We draw upon our desire to be a confident and happy woman, a more present parent, a professional success, or an adventurous and wealthy world traveler (to name a few common dreams!).

Walking Your Talk Matters More Than the End Goal

It sounds positive and powerful to dream up our future ideal selves. Hang on, though! (Uh, oh!) I want to toss out three cautions. First, let me say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a long-term goal. But, often we:

  1. Focus on one select route to success. Of course, when we pause, we remember that there’s more than one way to feel confident, happy, present, professional, or adventurous.
  2. Cling to hopes (or seek guarantees) that the goal will grant us the feelings we seek.
  3. Lose sight of the fact that we don’t need specific circumstances to feel good in our own skin!

More than any end goal, we’d benefit from creating more positive and congruous thoughts, feelings, and actions. At the root, we want to walk our talk.

How Goals Cause Pain

The great challenge is: we get stuck in the uncomfortable chasm between goal-setting and goal achievement. The coach Brooke Castillo frames the problem:

“…most of us have only allowed ourselves to want from a place of scarcity, so every time we wanted something or dreamt about something, it’s because we feel the lack of it…When we start dreaming about it, it actually causes us pain, because the dreaming is just reminding us that we don’t have it, and it’s reminding us of that feeling of negativity and scarcity and the lack that we’re having. People stop dreaming because they don’t want that contrast, they don’t want to think about what they want versus what they have.”

Yes! That toggling between our present and future selves can feel exhausting, overwhelming, and confusing—especially when we don’t expect it to be so hard. That path feels unnavigable sometimes!

Leadership trainer Ray Williams also addresses the pain in goals, but with neuroscience in mind. He writes, “The inherent problem with goal setting is related to how the brain works. Recent neuroscience research shows the brain works in a protective way, resistant to change. Therefore, any goals that require substantial behavioral change or thinking-pattern change will automatically be resisted. The brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear. When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter it commences a de-motivator with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns.” We’re wise to remember our brain’s ways of functioning.

So, where does that leave us? For many of us, goal-setting is second nature. We know it can work.

How should goal-setting look—for wellbeing and success? 

How to Shift Audacious Goals from Painful to Productive - In Tandem Blog -

How To Shift Audacious Goals From Painful to Productive:

  1. Release the all-or-nothing thinking about the end goal. There’s more than one way to feel the way you want to feel (no more “I’ll be happy when…” thoughts!). Walking your talk matters more than—and feels better than—the end goal. Besides, research shows that learning goals can be more effective then performance goals.
  2. Remember to work with—not against—your brain. It’s human nature to seek rewards and avoid pain. You’re challenging your brain’s natural tendencies, so go slowly and be self-compassionate (this isn’t another goal you’re uniquely failing at!). Gently and regularly observe the negative self-talk and judgments (you’re letting your mind and body know you’re not in immediate danger like our wild-animal-fighting ancestors!).
  3. Take small actions, with positivity. Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D. encourages “small improvements and incremental targets, and the smaller the better. Add to that, regular positive reinforcement and this type of goal setting is beneficial.” Notice the theme of gentle self-compassion?
  4. Re-assess your goals regularly, with your wellbeing in mind. Now you’re aware of a few cautions regarding audacious or “stretch” goals. Professor Maurice E. Schweitzer, co-author of “Goals Gone Wild,” reminds us to monitor the goal: “‘Is this goal too specific? Is this goal too stressful? Is it pushing many people beyond the normal bounds of what they should be doing?’ If so, then you need to rethink that goal.”

Approach goal-setting with this goal: build self-compassion and wellbeing above all goals! You’re enough as you are now, and you’re learning something, whether you meet your goals or not. What a beautiful relief!

Comment Below: What’s your self-compassionate goal? What helps you persevere?

Set healthy goals with In Tandem. Get exclusive tips in your inbox each month:

Additional Resources: Why Goal-Setting Doesn’t Work, and Forget Goal Setting. Focus on This Instead.

Photo Credits: Purple-Haired Woman by Ryan McGuire via Gratisography. Reaching-Up Woman via Pexels

24 thoughts on “How to Shift Audacious Goals from Painful to Productive

  1. Julie,

    Thanks for the tip! I am absolutely in need of that extra push. I easily get discouraged when I don’t accomplish goals for the day. Your mantra on ditching the “all-or-nothing” mentality is definitely something that I need to work on!

    1. Rachel, you’re welcome! I get discouraged about my goals too. There are benefits to ambition, but I don’t think we have to hold our ambitious goals so tightly; that’s the more feel-good way to approach this all.

  2. Oh, I needed this today. Thank you so much. It’s hard to keep all the different perspectives in mind sometimes, and to remember that there are actual neurological reasons why certain things happen. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. This message is very timely for me, as well. I have a pretty big audacious goal that I have not made a single stride towards in almost a year. I have a great excuse (chemo for the past 15 months) but 2 weeks out the month I feel great and I should be using my health to propel me forward, not hold me back.

      1. Wow, Kandas, thanks for bravely sharing your journey with us! I’m in awe of the mindset you’re developing about using the time when you feel well to meet your audacious goal! Best of luck with that. Amazing!

    2. Thanks, Erica! Yes, it’s so easy to forget about the neurobiology and to be harsh with ourselves. Fortunately, our perceived failings aren’t nearly that personal, are they? I know I’m relieved by that, and I hope others can be too. Also, it’s easy to fall into the belief that all goal-setting helps, but our goal-setting approach and mindset truly matter for our wellbeing.

  3. Julie,
    This is a fabulous! Thank you for reminding me to set goals with WELL-BEING in mind!
    I often encourage moms to take care of themselves, but I need the reminder myself.

  4. Hi Julie, I love this post! It’s eye opening for me because I never considered how your goals can cause you pain, but it makes a lot of sense. I’m big believer in setting your intentions, taking small steps everyday and being patient when it comes to goal setting. I’m going to reference this post a lot. Thanks!

    1. Hi, Monica! I’m glad it makes sense for you. I think you bring together the essential practices with the concepts of intention, small steps, and patience–perfect! What crisp wording. Thanks for sharing!

  5. When setting goals I find it easier to visualize it with a vision board with measurable goals. It helps to feel self compassion, as you stated. The visual stimulation gives a picture you can hold on to in your mind. Follow that with confirming positive affirmations to go along with the goals. Boom! Motivated!

    1. Katina, I love the reminder that vision boards can help us meet our goals. What an interesting thought you’ve shared: visualization and self-talk can work together in a powerful way. Love it! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. I was reminded the other day to go back and compare myself to myself as I’m looking at new goals and ambitions. I think it’s valuable to look back at where we’ve come from. Even in my least “productive” times, I realize I’ve made huge strides in lifestyle and mental habits and have taken concrete steps towards my goals. Often, those steps and my end result weren’t what I thought when I set my goal, but I’m happier for what it is now. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jen. I’m always trying to remind myself to only compare myself to myself, too! (Phew.) I love how you frame it as “strides in lifestyle and mental habits.” That’s a perfect way to acknowledge all of the learning and daily habits we’re changing. It sounds like you end those reflections with gratitude–a helpful and healthy process!

  7. Yes! I totally agree…it’s all about reframing our mindset to get more excited about the accomplishment than we are the “pains” of getting there! I’ve come to understand that I’m a big goal setter but not always a good planner…learning to shift from making big goals to executing small plans!

    1. Oh, mindset is everything, isn’t it? And it’s always a work in progress! Heather, you couldn’t have worded this better: “learning to shift from making big goals to executing small plans!” I love that. Thanks.

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