Part of welcoming the new year usually involves setting goals or making “resolutions”. Starting the new year this way, gives us a feeling of intention and purpose, unless of course you struggle with anxiety. In that case, goal setting creates more overwhelm, resulting in the discarding of goals which creates aimlessness. But as the saying goes, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time.” Aimlessness creates overwhelm and you end up right back where you started, full of anxiety. What if I told you there is a way of setting personal goals without anxiety?
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends.
Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always.
We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning the art of “stillness” so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
why goal setting causes anxiety
For many people, the thought of setting personal goals triggers anxiety. A great paradox because psychological evidence proves goal setting actually relieves anxiety. Individuals undergoing treatment for chronic anxiety, typically receive an assignment early on helping them to set small “goals”. Aside from the dopamine rush each time you set a goal, this helps anxiety sufferers with motivation and countering negative thought patterns. Just as physical clutter causes anxiety, a cluttered or disorganized approach to life causes anxiety.
The main cause for experiencing anxiety when setting personal goals comes from a fear of failure. This combined with fear of commitment and lack of self confidence complicates the process. Popular goal setting systems like “SMART” goals compound the problem. Imagine, you make the effort to set a goal; then that goal requires five qualities (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timebound). Overwhelm sets in and you give up. Setting personal goals without anxiety requires a different approach for success.
Let’s Take This Slowly
Successfully setting personal goals without anxiety requires a slow, gentle approach. In this post we’ll explore the mechanics of personal goal setting, and some pitfalls to avoid when setting your personal goals. In Part Two I will outline the process I use and recommend for personal goal setting if you suffer from anxiety. Part three explores creative ways for achieving and setting goals. I am publishing parts one and two back to back days, so you can have the complete process and begin setting personal goals. Part Three will publish next week.
the mechanics of personal goals
Setting goals provides many benefits; motivation, clearer thinking, direction, better decision making, and peace of mind. In addition to other benefits, having goals gives you purpose and intentionality leading to fulfillment. All good reasons for setting goals, but we need more than that to set and reach goals successfully.
You may know setting goals is beneficial, but you need to get “personal”, you need the “why” for the goal. The “why” helps you own the goal and creates commitment. So many times we set goals without fully understanding why we want that achievement. Knowing the “why” behind the goal aligns the goals with your values. Having goals that do not align with your values, creates discord which equals anxiety and ultimately failure. Additionally, failing to include placing your goal desires before the Lord leads to uncertainty and anxiety. Be sure you allow Him to place your goal desires in your heart. (Psalm 37:4-5).
Goals Aligned with Values:
- Goal-lose 20 pounds. Value-be healthy.
- Goal-set up a budget. Value-be a good steward with resources
- Goal-improve writing skills. Value-excellent work brings glory to God
For example, a psychologist Friend shared about a client who struggled with setting and meeting goals. He had a goal to “lose weight”. When questioned, for more specifics about why he wanted to lose weight, he said, “to be healthy”. Aside from the non-specific answer, he still didn’t define why he wanted to lose weight in a way that motivated him. Finally it came out that due to his obesity, he couldn’t play with his grandson as he wished. He became short of breath and couldn’t toss a ball back and forth for more than a few minutes. Talking about the possibilities of easily playing with his grandson as well as other activities, if he lost weight, gave him a “why” that compelled him to success.
the pitfalls of goal setting
Understanding the basic reasons setting goals can cause anxiety, coupled with the mechanics of goal setting helps us arrive at a starting point. But before we attempt setting personal goals without anxiety, let’s visit the pitfalls of goal setting. Understanding and avoiding these pitfalls will enable you to set your own personal goals without anxiety.
Setting Too Many Goals
Most people I talk with who struggle with anxiety around their goals are those who set too many goals. They mistakenly conclude they must have a goal for every area of their life. When in fact, there are no hard and fast rules about the number of goals to set each year. Know your limits, and respect them. Setting and achieving one goal, is better than setting 10 goals and achieving none.
Choosing Goals Beyond Your Ability
Setting challenging goals is beneficial, however they must be attainable. Make sure you allow enough time to complete your goal. While you may desire to lose 40 lbs., don’t expect to do so in two months. De-cluttering your basement is a worthy goal, but don’t skimp on time to accomplish it. Deciding on a jogging routine sounds great, except if your current physical limitations are an obstacle. Avoid setting yourself up for failure right from the start!
Choosing Goals For the Wrong Reasons
I encounter this all the time with people. They set goals that don’t belong to them. They set a goal for weight loss based on their desire to please someone else or because everyone at the office joined Weight Watchers. They joined the gym because a friend badgered them to do so. Remember, these goals are personal, for your own growth and well-being, they should align with your values. Choosing a goal based on someone else’s desires will not only cause anxiety, but discourage you too.
Choosing Non-Specific Goals
This may be the number one reason most people fail to reach their goals. Choosing non-specific goals also creates anxiety, because your goal is so general, you don’t know how to make it happen. Similar to the example above about the patient focused on weight loss, but needed a “why” for motivation. If you choose the goal to “be healthier”, what does that mean? Physical, emotional or mental health? You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going!
Failing to Plan For Setbacks
**Spoiler Alert**, there will be setbacks. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. One thing you may have learned from 2020 is that things seldom go as planned. As I mentioned earlier, one reason people shy away from setting goals is fear of failure. Fear of failure creates anxiety, but if you realize failure merely shows us what didn’t work, it’s less scary. Because the truth is, most failure to reach a goal resulted because of the previous pitfalls. That said, a setback doesn’t indicate failure, it simply means we got off track for one reason or another. By accepting the reality of setbacks up front and having a plan in place, you proactively avoid anxiety.
Failing to Measure Goal Progress
A huge piece to the goal setting strategy is a plan to measure progress. Now, this does not require a huge mechanism for evaluation or a large time commitment. If you chose a specific goal, like “spend 30 minutes each day in Bible reading and prayer”, you can easily assess your progress. I recommend making a date with yourself monthly to review your goal progress. Make this positive! I’ll discuss this more later in the post, but this is a time to celebrate baby steps, toddler steps and big girl steps towards your goals! In addition, you can quickly correct your course, or alter the goal.
While we need focus as we progress towards our goals, we can veer into tunnel vision. I see this happen especially with people who struggle with anxiety. They easily “fixate” on achieving a particular goal so much, that they fail to enjoy the present. For example, your goal is to enjoy a summer vacation at the Grand Canyon. You shopped and booked the best airfare, hotels and car rentals 6 months in advance. Rather than now enjoying the freedom of anticipation, looking into local, fun activities to do there, you stress over whether you got the best deals after all. Or you focus so much on the end result of achieving your goal, you don’t enjoy the transformation process.
Setting Personal Goals is a Process
Setting personal goals is a process best accomplished in a deliberate, thoughtful way. That’s why I generally take the better part of January for my personal goal setting process. Additionally, though “personal” goals, I believe God must have the final say on goals I pursue each year. I strive to not only align my goals with my values, but God’s purposes for my life.
Therefore, spending adequate time reflecting and seeking God’s council, yields personal goals we can be confident pursuing. This in turn results in setting personal goals without anxiety because ultimately we allow God’s sovereign will to guide our choices. Now, on to the three step process I personally use to set all of my personal goals each new year. Click HERE for Setting Personal Goals Without Anxiety (Part Two).
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”