What to do if you’ve become negative about goal setting

Many self help gurus claim that writing down your goals is the key to achieving them.

If you’ve never tried this system, perhaps it’s worth trying, as it works well for many people.

See Brian Tracy’s book “Goals! How to get everything you want – faster than you ever thought possible”.

What if you’ve tried writing down your goals before, and it didn’t work out for you? What if you’ve tried many times, and more often than not you failed?!

As a diligent perfectionist, I followed the standard guru advice, and wrote comprehensive lists of goals. Year after year. Month after month. Did my goals magically materialize for me? No. Sadly they did not.

Perhaps you can relate?

After some time, I began to develop a real skepticism of goal setting.

In fact, it began to seem like something became less likely to happen if I wrote it down as a goal.

Experience had shown me that I often don’t achieve written goals. Having seen that pattern too many times, goal setting and failure began to be connected in my mind. So the negative association began to make it a self fulfilling prophecy.

Even if the goals I set “should” have been achievable, I still let them slide. ie I was more than capable of them, but I didn’t do what needed to be done.

It was like I sabotaged myself to make sure I stayed aligned with an internal belief that I’m not good enough and I never measure up. 

I came to feel a real resistance to even making goals.

I felt like “What’s the point? I’m not going to reach it anyway. And I’d rather not add the feeling of disappointment/shame/inferiority to my life that’s likely to come from me failing to reach this goal.

This is a classic problem of perfectionism. If a perfectionist knows they’re unlikely to succeed, they can be inclined to avoid trying in the first place.

According to author/researcher Brene Brown, perfectionism comes from shame.

If this is a problem you can relate to, you might want to read her book “The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are“.

To get back on track, I’ve been experimenting with how to change the negative association in my head. These are some techniques I’ve come up with.

How can you reframe goal setting so that you believe you’ll achieve your goals again?

I noticed that the things I really wanted to do, I seemed to do without needing to write them down as goals. In fact, when I knew I was going to do something anyway I didn’t even think of it as a goal.

I felt like it “didn’t count” if it was something I was going to enjoy doing or knew I was going to do easily. 

I was in the pattern of only putting things on my goals list that felt hard/unpleasant. This reinforced the pattern of feeling burdened by working on goals, as well as the belief that achieving goals is hard.

I was automatically ignoring/discounting the many things that I was doing/achieving without actually giving myself credit for them

Our authentic, best selves are probably linked to the things we enjoy doing rather than the things we struggle with. But those strengths can get overlooked and devalued. How sad and dis-empowering!

You can fix this problem by embracing ALL your achievements and successes… not just the challenging ones, but the “easy” ones too.

Remember: What is easy for you may not be easy for someone else. Acknowledge yourself for your personal strengths and achievements.

Learn to acknowledge yourself for the things you do well easily.

Try using another word for goals

If you’ve developed a negative association with the word “goals”, use a different word.

I decided to rename my “Goals List” as my “Achievement List”. As in… “these are the things I am going to achieve”.

This allowed be to get a bit of space from my negative feeling around “goals” and to think more broadly. Now I include tasks I know I’ll achieve easily that I previously would have skipped off my list because they didn’t “feel challenging enough to list as goals”.

Eventually you might go back to feeling positively about the word “goals”. But taking a break from the word for a while can give you space to help you change how you feel about it.

Include some goals/achievements that are easy & pleasurable

Now, when I’m writing my goals/achievements list, I include tasks that will be easy for me and I know I’ll achieve.

Just because they’re easy for me doesn’t mean I should discount their value. The things I’m good at, not everyone is good at. Focusing only on the things I find challenging emphasizes my weaknesses instead of celebrating my strengths, and makes life feel like a struggle.

Lady with eyes closed in garden

Get balance back into your self worth by acknowledging those things you find easy and enjoyable. This helps both to improve your self esteem and your perception of how easy “goals” are to achieve.

On your goals list include numerous things you’ll find easy and enjoyable as well as the things that might be more challenging.

That will be a more balanced reflection of who you are and acknowledge your strengths as well as your struggles.

It will help you to feel more positive about goals again, as you begin to acknowledge yourself for your achievements.

With this type of “goals list” you’ll get a lot more positive reinforcement, as you see the things you’ve done getting accomplished and ticked off the list. This will help you feel better about yourself and your ability to get things done. Then you’ll be in a stronger frame of mind to do those more challenging tasks too.

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