It seems like every week you’ll run across another book, podcast, or blog post on how to optimize your health and career so you can live your best life now. Before we know it, we feel motivated to make lofty goals of doing a month-long juice fast or commit to going to the gym for two hours a day. Even though we’ve all had our list of new year’s resolutions, many of us fail to keep our goals and end up throwing the list out the window out of frustration. But what if the solution isn’t to try harder to keep your goals, but to approach your goals from a different perspective? Here are a few reasons why focusing on your goals is actually ineffective and what you should do instead.
Life is chaotic and unexpected things happen
You didn’t hit your goals last year, so what happened? Most likely, what inevitably happens to all of us. Life throws us a curveball and our well-meaning plans to run 5 miles every morning are pushed aside as unexpected events happen. You may have had the full intention to run those 5 miles each morning, but had to leave those goals on the sideline when you got a knee injury. Sometimes the failure to achieve our plans right away can feed into a vicious cycle of self-flagellation where we end up thinking that we just need to try harder to make things happen. In some cases trying harder would be an adequate solution, but in other circumstances where we’ve already done everything we can, focusing on a goal that can’t be achieved in the moment will only bring stress and frustration.
Do this instead:
Focus on progress over perfection. Stop beating yourself up and giving up on your goal. Rather, focus on the steps of progress you have made, no matter how small. Keep tabs on the daily progress you are making and continue to challenge yourself to improve upon that progress.
Goals are only effective in the short-term
Goals can help you visualize a tangible result of what you are trying to achieve. For example, if you want to lose weight, setting a goal to lose 10 pounds is a better way to quantify what you’re trying to accomplish. There’s a tangible finish line that tells you when you have reached your destination. However, the inherent problem with goals is that once it’s accomplished, most people don’t continue with their progress. After losing 10 pounds on a strict diet, some go back to eating the same foods before the diet, and may gain back what they lost. The reason why goals aren’t always effective is because people lose sight of the bigger vision of what they want for themselves. Losing 10 pounds without a long-term commitment to eating healthier will only create a ceiling on how far you can go.
Do This Instead:
Commit to making long-term changes in your lifestyle. If you’re wanting to lose 10 pounds and desire to keep it off, your focus needs to be on incorporating healthier eating and exercise into your lifestyle rather than just losing the 10 pounds. If you want to continue your progress after the weight loss, you need to commit to a long-term change in how you live. Focus on incremental changes in your lifestyle rather than reaching a certain milestone.
Goals are not sustainable
For many, reaching your goals is entirely dependent on your feelings of motivation and your ability to execute your goals through self-discipline. In other words, the amount of willpower you have will determine whether or not you reach your goals. As logically sound as the plan seems, it’s a flawed strategy that doesn’t practically translate well for imperfect people with limited will-power. When you first set out to accomplish your goal, you may feel motivated and have enough discipline to carry it out. But as you keep at it, more energy is required to keep up with your goal, especially if there is resistance. However, when the going gets tough in the long haul, there’s a likely chance you’ll run out of willpower at some point. In order to get over the hump and accomplish what you want, you'll have to take a different approach.
Do This Instead:
Focus on the kind of person you want to become. Willpower can be limited especially when you’ve hit a wall or have depleted your resources. Instead of pushing yourself to complete the goal, focus on the kind of person you want to become. If you’ve made a goal to lose 25 pounds and you’re struggling with working out everyday, remind yourself that it’s more important to become the type of person who works out everyday rather than just losing the 25 pounds. It’s your vision of becoming a better version of yourself that should drive you, not your goal of losing 25 pounds.
Goals are a great way to help you benchmark where you want to go, but the most important part is focusing on the overall vision of what you want to achieve. Without an overarching vision, goals can even distract you from what you are trying to accomplish for yourself. Keep your goals aligned with your vision, and your desired results will be inevitable as you make steps towards progress.