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:
- 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.
- Cling to hopes (or seek guarantees) that the goal will grant us the feelings we seek.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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?
- 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?
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