The Discomfort of Setting Goals

IMG_1877It is an annual tradition: the setting and eventual abandonment of New Year’s Resolutions.


Typically, around 12% of people accomplish the goals that they set while sipping champagne and singing Auld Lang Syne.


Why is that? Are 88% of us just a bunch of slackers? Perhaps if we better understand the reasons we abandon our goals, it will make it easier to stay the course.


One reason we abandon goals: We don’t want to feel deficient.


Setting a goal, particularly a specific and measurable one, is an immediate acknowledgement that we are lacking in some way. And, while self-evaluation is something that most of us can do for short periods of time, it can be difficult to sustain. We don’t want to feel incomplete for an entire year. That’s totally depressing.


While feelings of inadequacy are often tied to other, sometimes deeply-rooted psychological issues, I prefer to take the don’t-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach. Yes, I have weaknesses, but it does not mean that I am a waste of space on this earth. There are things I am doing well but want to do better. There areas in which I really suck and strive to be average. I must view myself as a whole person – one with strengths as well as shortcomings. I’m human.


Another reason to abandon goals: They increase stress.


Are goals uncomfortable? Yes. The very act of setting a challenging goal creates a gap between your current state and a desired future state. The resulting gap causes a sensation of being stretched or pulled from one place to another. Sometimes, the tension from the pull of a goal can make you feel like a rubber band that is being stretched to its limit just before snapping.


Without this uncomfortable rubber band-like tension, there is little motivation to improve. Stress is part of the package. If you read Real Simple magazine, you will see an article in January 2016 where I discuss how moderate levels of stress are important for high achievement. If your stress level is either too low or too extreme, you will not perform well. We all need a little stress in our lives in order to accomplish great things. Don’t shy away from stress completely – a manageable amount is what drives you to attain your goals.


So, when should we abandon goals?


Obsessive pursuit of a goal to which you have committed your time and efforts in the past is not always the best plan for the future. Just make sure you are abandoning a goal for the right reasons.


Consider revising a goal when:

  • Your initial estimates of time and resources needed to achieve it are inconsistent with current realities
  • You don’t have the skills or knowledge you need to achieve the goal as it was originally set
  • Your measurements of success were way too high or way too low


Consider abandoning a goal when:

  • The burning reason why you wanted to achieve the goal is now irrelevant
  • The cost of achieving it has, or will, far exceed the benefits
  • It has caused significant pain to you or those important to you


This is absolutely not to say that you should stop trying to achieve your goals. Just don’t get so heedlessly committed to a goal that you refuse to revise (or even abandon) it in the face of clear evidence that you should.


Tweetable Takeaway: If your goals are fighting each other, and you are fighting with your goals, it’s time to parley. via @melissagratias


The third most popular New Year’s Resolution is to get organized. Is that your goal? If you are tired of battling email, missing deadlines, and feeling scattered, call me at 912-417-2505.


I will work with you, without making you feel deficient by the way, to set goals that will lead to a more focused and productive year.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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