What's REALLY going on when setting goals makes you want to run and hide...
Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Or when you feel sick every time you think about setting yourself goals
There’s a thing people hardly ever talk about. This is mainly because hardly anyone realises that this thing exists. And in this blog I’m going to tell you what this thing people never talk about is, AND how you can start to overcome it if you’re affected by it.
But first let me set the scene…
You KNOW deep down that where you are in life is OK but isn’t quite making you feel as fulfilled and excited as you possibly could be.
You’re not exactly unhappy, but if you could wave a magic wand, there are at least a few things which you’d change given the chance.
You even have an idea of how you might go about starting to change these things in your life WITHOUT a magic wand.
You’re just finding it REALLY hard to actually do anything about it, and keep on telling yourself that actually, things are totally OK as they are, no need to change anything, it’s fine.
And it really may be fine.
And that’s fine too.
But it’s also very likely that you’ve actually worked towards many goals and dreams in the past, only to give up and feel like you’ve failed.
Am I onto something here?
If I’m describing how you’re feeling, I might have a little something which will help you understand what’s going on.
And this my lovely human is something called Goal Trauma.
Before you jump down my throat and tell me that not reaching your goals DOESN’T cause trauma, hear me out
We have all heard of traumatic experiences others have gone through, or you may even have experienced something which you would class as a traumatic event yourself.
It’s not this acute, clearly definable trauma I’m referring to.
It’s the microtraumas which happen in our day to day lives.
These microtraumas are anything which happens that harms our sense of safety, sense of self, or our ability to regulate our emotions.
For example, if something makes us feel rejected, insecure or even sad, our brain remembers this and can “file” the experience under the trauma label.
In the future, if there’s something which reminds us of these feelings, our brain instantly clicks into protection mode, and does everything it can to avoid our feeling like this again.
And this is where goal trauma comes in
There are several key areas of “risk” our brain is constantly scanning for to avoid any psychological impact to us. And when it comes to our goals and dreams, there are a few of these which are at centre stage!
● And even success…
And when you think about it, this makes TOTAL sense as to why goals may feel a little sticky for some of us.
Take this as an example
Say you have the best intentions of saving money for something you’d love to have - be it handbag, car, a holiday, whatever it is.
But every marker you set yourself for having saved “£X” by “Y” date you fall short.
Are you disappointed about not having saved as much as you’d aimed to? Do you start telling yourself you’ll never get to the goal, or even start beating yourself up for those impulsive little spends which you’re so “stupid” for giving into because it’s keeping you from your goal?
I bet you focus entirely on the “failure” to reach it, rather than looking at what you HAVE managed to save?
Over time, this is very likely to le
ad to a tendency to give up on the goal completely. Repeated “failures” lead to ongoing disappointment and you start to believe there’s no point in trying anyway.
The trauma of NOT reaching the goal you set for yourself is too much to risk, so you begin to back away from setting a goal at all.
And this can be even more highlighted if you have targets associated with your work.
Say you have a goal of 10 new clients in a month, and you only reach 5. If you’re employed, this may result in negative performance related feedback (an unpleasant experience) and if you’re self employed, it may mean struggling to cover your expenses.
Both are likely to create these disappointment and failure responses, causing your brain to flag that it DOES NOT wan
t to experience this again.
What happens over time is that it becomes “unsafe” to set ambitious, or sometimes even ANY goals. So rather than growing and stretching, you begin to keep yourself “safe” and stuck, in order to avoid the trauma of not hitting the goals you set.
And on a conscious level, this becomes confusing.
You KNOW that you want to grow, achieve more and feel like you’re developing whether that’s personally or professionally, yet when it comes setting any concrete goals, you want to run screaming.
The dissonance between these two things can feel monumentally frustrating!
And when this is combined with the advice so often given to make your goals, big, HUGE stretch goals, for those of us with goal trauma… these barely compute because they’re so beyond anything we can believe little old “me” could achieve. They’re nice to think about, but not something which is going to get any serious attention or action steps toward.
Unless you start to do things differently…
And here’s how you can start to make goals “safe” for your brain again
1 - give up any kind of goal which is reliant on factors out of your control
By this I mean
-clients signing up - whether someone says yes or not in the end is out of your control
-increasing the number of people following your online (see above - it’s other people’s choice)
Or losing weight - the number on the scale has everything to do with your hormones, how hydrated you are etc. etc
Instead - make your goal something related to -
How many people can I invite to have a conversation with me?
How many invitations to connect can I send?
How well can I look after myself through exercise and good nutrition today?
These are all things which are WITHIN your control, and you can start to “hit” these goals easily, once you decide what they are, as they’re not linked to the OUTCOME, they’re linked to your input
2 - make the goal smaller. And then even smaller
Your brain LOVES dopamine. So the more times you can hit the dopamine button, the better.
Imagine, over and over again, you hit a really achievable goal, then gradually increase this over time as you grow and become more adept at your input (see point 1)
This teaches your brain to respond positively to goal setting, to see it as something safe, rather than something which is likely to lead to distress, and over time, the trauma response of avoiding goal setting at all costs will start to reduce
3 - Explore what relationship you have with feelings of disappointment and failure
Where have you experienced these things in your past? Are there any patterns which have reinforced that they’re not “safe” to experience again?
Could you reframe disappointment into a chance to learn or failure into the opportunity to tweak and try again?
Hopefully you now have an idea of what might be going on if you find yourself resistant to setting goals, and you have some tips on how to start to turn this around
If you’re still struggling with the idea of being able to set and reach goals without feeling panicked or completely disengaged with the process, why not drop me a message to talk about how my signature approach can help you get excited, instead of intimidated by your goals and dreams?
It's a whole new way of approaching progress in a courageous way which makes space for self-doubt, obstacles and unexpected bump
s in the road WITHOUT you coming to a grinding halt.
Just click here to message me today