The Secret Dangers of Goal Setting

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

You do it every year - set big goals, feel excited.

And then the goals fizzle out and go nowhere. And you feel worse than if you never set a goal at all.

When goals go wrong

When you set goals then fail at achieving them it can lead to:

  • negative thinking
  • low self-esteem
  • self-criticism
  • feelings of hopelessness.

Worse, the feelings of failure missed goals bring can trigger any pre-existing mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety.

Is it better to never set goals in the first place?

If you are in a very vulnerable place at the moment, and unable to handle stress? Then sure, it makes sense to put off goal setting for now. Sometimes we need to be gentle on ourselves.

But in the long-term, never having any goals at all can also lead to depression and anxiety. We end up stuck and feeling useless.

The secret is to take the time to learn how to set goals that work, then get the support you need to reach those goals.

Why goals go wrong

Goals go wrong because we set goals that deep down we don’t actually want. We have chosen things to achieve that we think we ‘should’ do, or others around us want us to do.

But trying to gain approval of others is exhausting. And if those goals go against your personal values, you will lose incentive.

Personal values are the things that deep down truly matter to you. If your value is freedom, but you have set the goal of making extra money by working long hours in a small office? You will unconsciously sabotage the situation as you feel trapped.

Not sure if you are choosing goals you like?

Get mindful to how you feel when you think of the goal. If just running the goal through your head leaves you feeling exhausted or low, it’s probably not for you.

The right way to set goals

The next reason that we fail at goals is that we just don’t know how to set goals in the first place. We are unrealistic or vague, and set ourselves up to fail.

A useful acronym to make a goal that has a chance of working is “SMART”. It's actually something used by cognitive behavioural therapists (CBT).

S - is the goal specific? So instead of ‘get fit’ is it ‘learn how to run’?

M - is it measurable over vague? How will you know exactly that you have reached your goal? When you can run 20 minutes without stopping?

A - is it actually achievable? Instead of ‘do a marathon’ if you’ve never been a runner, is it ‘do a 5k run within a year?’

R - and is it realistic? Is it ‘finish the race’ over ‘win the race’?

T - do you have an exact time frame? Within how many months will you do this?

Still unable to achieve goals? The role of core beliefs

Set goals using SMART? Sure your goal is in line with your values? But still never getting anywhere?

It might be a case of negative core beliefs holding you back. Core beliefs are assumptions we have at some point made about ourselves, others, and the world that we now mistake as fact.

Often these beliefs are so lodged in our unconscious we don’t realise they are running every decision we make. We make decisions to prove our beliefs right, even of that means sabotaging our best laid goals.

Such core beliefs can sound like, ‘I am not worthy”, “I don’t deserve love”, “the world is a dangerous place where bad things happen’.

The easiest way to acheive goals safely

The best way to achieve goals is to find support. A coach, counsellor, or therapist will help you identify your personal values and core beliefs. He or she will will create a safe and confidential environment for you to explore the blocks that hold you back in life.

Ready to finally move forward to the life you want? Our easy booking tool helps you find a therapist to help you make realistic and atainable goals.

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