Your goals may be bad for your health.
Here are some symptoms to look out for:
You think if you don’t achieve your goal, you’re a loser.
- When you think about your goal, you feel tired and stressed out instead of excited.
- You agonize over making the right decision and each choice feels like you’re giving up a limb.
- You stay up at night, imagining all the ways you'll fail and visualizing your own Walk of Shame (Game of Thrones style).
Sound like you?
Yes, your goals should push and challenge you but they shouldn’t be excruciating!
In this post, I’ll share how to work on your goals in a healthy way so you feel excited instead of stressed out and are actually able to make progress!
The first step is to back up and figure out WHY you want what you want.
You may have a great goal, but what’s driving you towards your goal may be stressing you out and causing you more pain than it’s worth. I see a lot of people working on goals just to please their family and friends. Get that promotion, write that book, start that radio show, launch your business…for all the wrong reasons. So of course you feel stuck!
So let me ask you...
Why do you have this goal? Are you focused on why you want it for yourself or are you (secretly) more focused on how achieving it will impress your friends, family and peers?
A few years ago, I applied for a prestigious fellowship to lead trauma recovery groups for women of color. While I was waiting to hear if I made the cut, I’d have a mini-nervous breakdown every time I thought of the fellowship. Will I get it? quickly turned to Probably not...I’m a loser. What made me think that was a good idea in the first place?
After my fifth meltdown, I staged an intervention for myself. I did some journaling and I realized that I thought getting the fellowship would prove that my idea was worthy. (And therefore I was worthy!)
I also secretly wanted to give my parents something to brag about (which, as a grown woman, I was a little embarrassed to admit!)
So I dug deeper and asked myself why I wanted to lead these groups.
I remembered the night when the idea came to me. I was in the middle of my first severe depression. I came across a website that described depression as a spiritual rebirth, and I felt hopeful for the first time in months. The women's circles were my way of giving hope to women who were in the middle of their mental health crises.
This memory reminded me why this work was important to me. I realized that even if I didn’t get the fellowship, I could still run the groups I envisioned. This inspired me to reach out to an organization I knew and I ended up partnering with them to run my first round of the women's group in Harlem.
A few weeks later, I found out I hadn’t made it to the next round of the fellowship. I was disappointed but I wasn’t devastated because I was still doing the work I wanted to do.
Have you ever had a similar experience where you lost sight of why you’re really pursuing your goal?
It's so easy to get caught up chasing external validation instead of the inner motivation that inspired your goal.
It’s like when you go shopping on an empty stomach.
I don’t know about you, but when I go shopping on an empty stomach, I always end up spending way more money than I budgeted and getting junk food I don’t really want to eat.
With the fellowship I wanted, my hunger for approval pulled me away from why I really wanted to do the work in the first place. Remembering my initial WHY reinspired me and opened me up to new possibilities I hadn’t considered
It also took away the stress and anxiety I was creating for myself.
Stressing your way towards your goal can be just as damaging as shopping on an empty stomach.
Here’s why: endurance is key to achieving your goals. Disappointments and failures are inevitable. If you're so hungry for outside validation, those disappointments and failures can derail you and cause you to spend all your time and precious energy pursuing leads that can pull you further from your goal.
So what’s the cure?
You may have heard of setting SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. SMART goals are great. But there’s an important step before setting them that often gets overlooked.
You need to get clear about WHY you want to pursue the goal you’ve chosen. Our reasons fall into two camps:
- extrinsic reasons that are about proving yourself like fame, fortune, or beauty
- intrinsic reasons that are about internal personal things like spiritual growth, deepening your relationships, or giving back to your community
Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be famous or rich.
However, researchers have found that when goals are primarily motivated by extrinsic reasons, the people pursuing these goals experience more stress, depression and anxiety and report lower self-esteem even when they achieve their goals.
On the other hand, people whose goals are primarily motivated by intrinsic reasons have more energy and feel better about themselves (even when they don’t achieve their goals).
So with goal-setting, it’s more important to set your goal with a full stomach so that you avoid setting goals based on your hunger and fear.
- Choose a goal that’s stressing you out right now.
- Reflect on WHY you want this goal. What experience inspired this dream for you? Where did this idea come from? How did you feel when you first dreamed up your goal?
- List out all the ways that will either help you grow spiritually, express values that are important to you, contribute to the world around you or make your relationships better.
- Now based on this deeper inspiration, are there any new ideas about how you can achieve this goal or any adjustments you want to make to your current goal to match this new motivation?
If you liked this article, stay tuned for the next one in the series. I’ll be sharing how to stop complaining about never having enough time to work on your dreams again.
P.S. Did you know that you can ask me anything? I’m starting a new advice column and I want your questions. The more specific the better. This will be a chance to get some free - but highly personalized - coaching. And don’t worry, I’ll keep the questions anonymous. Send in your questions here.