photo is in sepia tones. Back of person wearing tan hat and jacket over tan hoodie looking over a scenic view of fields and tress. Text in red reads "Every Accomplishment Starts With the Decision to Try."

Coping with Goal-Setting Anxiety

Does the thought of setting goals fill you with dread because you are afraid you won't meet them? Do you have so many ideas that you are figuratively (perhaps literally) going in circles, unable to focus on anything for long? If so, it's time for a reality check so you can more efficiently and effectively create a goal plan that will challenge but not overwhelm you.

Identify your goals. Choose short term (takes a month or two), medium-term (takes 6 months), and long-term (takes a year, five years, maybe a lifetime) goals. It often helps if the short and medium goals feed into the long-term goals, but they can be separate. It all depends on what you want to do. Split these goals into various categories, for example:

  • Relationships
  • Health
  • Career
  • Education
  • Finances
  • Spiritual
  • Hobbies

Be realistic with your goals but make them challenging. If you haven't run in a few years - or ever - choosing to that 5k next month may be pushing it. Running a 5k in 6 months is more realistic but you'll still need to challenge yourself to prepare for it.

Be specific with your goals and make them measurable when you can. If your goals are too vague, determining steps and identifying when you've reached your goals can be difficult. If you struggle with anxiety, you may have some goals that measure habits more than outcomes. For instance, you can create a goal of meditating for 10 minutes, 5 days a week. Here, the goal is creating and sustaining the habit, not the outcome.

Remember to write down your goals so you can see them and track them. You can use your planner (digital or paper) to track them, or some people use planners specifically made for goal planning to help them plan. Use whatever tools work best for you.

Bright pink sticky note reading "Set Goals" in white text on open hand. Background is light wood desk with a few papers and two mobil phones on it.

Break goals into mini goals. Are you looking for a new job? As you know, that often takes time. Once you set your goal of finding a job in, say, six months, break it down into manageable pieces you can tackle on a weekly and daily basis.

  • Schedule time to send out resumes and cover letters, remembering to edit each to best fit the job description. Set a day and time to create and update your manner of tracking leads, responses, interviews, etc.
  • Perhaps you want to improve your skills during this time, so you want to find some classes or informational sessions and add them to your calendar.
  • Plan ahead so you can more easily create contingency plans when obstacles crop up. Don't forget to review at least monthly to see if you are on-track.

Break mini goals into steps. You may have some mini goals that need to be fleshed out a bit.

  • Using the example above, once you have decided to take a class to improve your skills, there are more steps to take: Do you prefer online or in-person classes? Do you want to eventually earn a degree or certificate, or just take one class for credit? Perhaps you only want to audit a class for information. What type of payments can you afford? Will the class fit in your schedule? After answering these questions, you can be more confident that what you choose is realistic.
  • After registering for the class and receiving a syllabus, you can schedule both class time and homework on your calendar.

PLAN spelled out using square wooden Scrabble-like tiles on top of a layer of the same tiles placed upside down so you can't see the letters.

Regular check-ins. Check in with your goals regularly - weekly, monthly, quarterly - whatever works for you.

  • When you are on-track to meet your goals, reward yourself. It doesn't have to cost money; perhaps a relaxing evening with your favorite movie or book is your reward.
  • Don't punish yourself for not meeting a goal. Positive reinforcement is always better than negative. Note why you went off-track and brainstorm ways in which you can improve.
  • Determine if this is a goal that is still important, as your life may have changed since setting that goal and it may no longer be a priority at this time. Perhaps you've found a goal wasn't realistic or specific enough.
  • Revise the goal to fix it. If your goal was simply "find a job," that may be too vague. You may want to change it to "find a job that pays at least $x in the tech industry." If your goal was to move within six months but you had a major family emergency, perhaps trying to move during that time is no longer realistic. Set the goal for a later date so that you can deal with the current situation.

The key to achieving your goals is to take action. Once you’ve set your goals and created a plan, you still need to do the work to achieve them; planning alone won't get it done. Don’t wait to be motivated or you may not start due to anxiety. However, once you have acted on a goal, you will probably find that seeing progress helps motivate you to keep going. It's very possible you may not achieve all your goals, especially if you set several. Even so, chances are you've improved greatly in those areas. You may have wanted to lose 50 pounds but lost 25. That means you lost 25 pounds; your clothes fit better, or you went down a size or two, you feel more energetic, you're sleeping better, and perhaps you improved some physical ailments. You may not have reached your end goal, but you still made significant progress. That is worth celebrating!