Setting goals without falling into the trap of achievement as self-worth
Setting ourselves goals can bring a sense of excitement, passion and purpose to our lives, but unfortunately can also fuel rigidity, obsessive striving, and self-criticism. Do you immediately think “What’s next?” when you achieve a goal, rather than revel in the achievement? Have you been caught up in focusing on what you could still improve on, without ever celebrating how far you’ve come? When you don’t achieve a goal, do you spiral into self-criticism and feelings of failure?
Is your self-worth precariously tied to your achievements? How can we enjoy the sense of purpose goal setting brings without becoming trapped in a ‘be more, do more’ ethos?
How to experience the benefits of goal setting without riding a self-esteem rollercoaster:
Develop our sense-of-self outside of achievements (and weight, appearance, and possessions)
When we base our self-worth on external things like our career, our appearance, our achievements, our fitness abilities, or our ‘health regime’, we’re building our worth on shaky ground. If there is one thing that is certain in life, it’s change. If we believe our worth is tied up in what we do for a living, what happens if we lose our job? If our sense of ‘enoughness’ is dependent on our ability to complete fun runs, what happens if we get injured and can no longer run? How do we feel about ourselves when we set a big audacious goal and don’t achieve it?
We don’t need to perform like dancing ponies in order to prove we are ‘enough’ as humans. We are valuable, worthy humans simply because we exist. I’ve seen so many wonderful people burn themselves out in a fervent rush to ‘do all the things’ to prove their worth. After all we are human beings, not human doings!
What if we instead developed our sense of who we are by fleshing out the internal, unshakable aspects? Ask yourself “Who am I outside of all these external, changeable factors?”. The answer to this is unlikely to be quick and easy, but it holds the key to a sustainable sense of self-worth, a solid platform from which you can lead your life. A counsellor can help you to explore this.
Ensure your goals are flexible
We need to maintain awareness that things change, life can throw hurdles (or mountains!) at us, so it’s completely ok to defer a goal or completely let it go. We set it and we can also forget it. Self-compassion can be a fantastic tool for dealing with ‘failure’, and counselling can assist you in building self-compassion skills. In my life, practicing self-compassion has been completely transformative.
Choose Goals motivated internally rather than externally
(Choose goals for ourselves, not for other people)
Keeping our eyes on our own work is tough when we have a constant stream of social comparison in our pockets – social media! Remind yourself often that social media is a highlight reel. It’s a stream of the put together, admirable moments, not those moments where we’re simply pleased our clothes are on the right way around and we found our keys. Self-worth work includes letting go of such a tight grip on what others think, and knowing we are not defined by other’s judgements.
If you're perturbed by how much others are doing and achieving, keep in mind that some ‘high achievers’ will be trapped in their own battle of proving their 'enoughness'.
Ask yourself this question
Does this goal bring more to my life than it takes away? You might be puzzled by this question. “Of course goal setting brings a lot to my life!”. But ponder it a little more. I know a lot of people who have trained to run a marathon. For many people as a part of preparation for this huge goal they spent a lot of time (and money) injured, they missed out on key social events, they were exhausted at work, and they had to give up other pastimes to fit in the training. For some people those costs just take too much away from their lives, for others the training fits with their life, luck is on their side, and the costs are minimal. When I studied my Masters in Counselling full time whilst working I had to forego a lot of socialising, pastimes I enjoy, and I had to say no to interesting projects I wanted to do. These costs were small compared with the phenomenal learning from classes, readings, and counselling placement hours. I knew that for two years that although there were some costs, the benefits were high, and it was bringing so much more to my life than it was taking away.
Extracting yourself from the ‘do more, be more’ treadmill brings great relief. When we choose flexible goals that excite us but don’t define us, we have the freedom to enjoy the goal setting process without our self-worth being a slave to it.
If you are tired of feeling like you need to prove you are enough, please get in touch as I'd love to work with you.