June 6th, 2022

Goal Setting When You Feel Stuck

When dealing with ongoing stressors in our life, many of us get a sense of feeling stuck. This sense of spinning wheels is related to any number of mental and physical ailments, and even our stress-relieving activities and hobbies can get mired down into this directionless dread. Goal setting can be an incredibly helpful tool when we feel this way, as it allows our brain to organize abstract thoughts and gain a sense of control of what may feel very much out of our control. 

The most common trap we need to avoid is focusing on the end result. End results are very rarely up to us, and typically there are a lot of moving variables between where we are in the present and where our goals take us in the future. We want to deconstruct the finish line of our goals, and instead set goals related to the process that makes our goal more likely. We can’t magically get a new job out of thin air, but if a new job is our goal, we set goals related to the process of getting a new job, or what steps we can take to make getting a new job more likely. Some of these steps may be obvious, such as applying, but the process of applying requires time, energy, space, and likely some resources like an internet connection. So, rather than say our goal is a new job, we set goals related to the process, such as applying to three new jobs each week. Breaking that down further, we may think about setting aside an hour each week to create the time we need to fill out applications, and we adjust our schedule to allow for some extra recharge time (go for a walk, read a book, socialize) so we have energy for the stress of applying. Our goals therefore become additional time to socialize and an hour a week with our needed technology and limited distractions to complete the applications. Pretty different focus, right? No where in “I need a new job” does it intuitively make sense to be intentional about time to socialize, yet when we deconstruct the goal and focus on the process, we realize that added time of recreation actually makes it more likely we will complete our application tasks, so it makes our end goal more likely. 

The other big part of focusing on the process is it helps to control your controllables. You aren’t in charge of getting hired for a new job, some talent acquisition or HR person does that. If something isn’t under your direct control, it can be self-defeating to set a goal around it because it is up to other people. You can (ideally) control the number of applications you do in a week, so that is a good goal that you can control. Take dating as another example. Just because you want a partner does not mean you will get one right away. The end goal is to be in a relationship, but it takes two to tango, so we instead focus on the process of what creates more opportunity for being in a relationship. Again, some obvious up-front ideas: use dating apps, go out and socialize in person, but some goals that are less obvious might be things like having good hygiene, doing things you enjoy by yourself, or learning a new skill. These aren’t things that are intuitively tied to dating, but they all do contribute to the likelihood of being in a relationship. You can start your day being sad or mad about being single and you cry through your morning shower, or you can acknowledge that having good hygiene shows you take care of yourself, makes you healthier, and can boost your confidence, and suddenly that morning shower is a process-oriented goal you’ve completed on your path to being in a relationship. These process-oriented goals create a greater sense of accomplishment, because you have the control to cross them off your list, rather than the doom-and-gloom of goals outside of your control zapping your motivation.

There are lots of ways to set goals, and different people’s brains work differently in relation to the goals they set. Some people use lists, some people relate to role models, some people need verbal processing. Take some time to identify the structure of how goals work for you, then work backwards from the finish line categorizing processes you can control to create more realistic goals. I love support systems, so using friends, family, maybe even your friendly neighborhood therapist, can help you think differently about the processes you need to focus on to make your goals more likely. Happy goal setting!