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Conquering the fear of goal-setting

Goal-setting can be difficult for some people, so Naphtali Hoff offers steps to overcome resistance and simplify the process.

6 min read



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(Author’s note: One of the staples of my mastermind groups is goal setting. We set both professional and personal goals and then share them as well as enter them into a spreadsheet. Every 6-8 weeks, we review our goals and report on our progress. Despite the structure and stated expectations, some group members struggle to follow through. They don’t seem to see the value in the exercise or simply don’t know where or how to start. Recently, I started a meeting early to allow members who had not yet set their goals to do so with my support, and it made a huge difference.)

Setting goals is often hailed as the cornerstone of success, yet many people are reluctant or even afraid to commit their aspirations to paper. This hesitation can stem from various psychological barriers and misconceptions. Understanding these fears and the importance of goal setting can empower individuals to take that crucial step toward achieving their dreams. Here, we’ll explore why people fear setting goals, why it’s essential to overcome these fears and practical strategies to simplify the process.

Why are people afraid to set goals?

1. Fear of failure:

The possibility of not achieving a goal can be daunting. Many fear that setting a goal and not reaching it will label them as failures. This fear is often rooted in perfectionism and the societal emphasis on success. For example, someone might avoid setting a goal to lose 20 pounds because they are afraid that they won’t be able to stick to their diet and exercise plan.

2. Fear of commitment:

Writing down goals can feel like a binding contract with oneself. This sense of commitment can be intimidating, as it requires discipline and sustained effort over time. For instance, a person might hesitate to commit to the goal of writing a book because it demands a significant investment of time and effort.

3. Uncertainty and overwhelm:

The process of defining clear, actionable goals can be overwhelming. Some individuals may feel uncertain about what they truly want, leading to paralysis by analysis. For example, a recent graduate might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of setting career goals because they are still determining their desired career path.

4. Self-doubt:

Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can hinder goal setting. People may doubt their capacity to achieve ambitious goals, fearing they are not good enough or do not have the necessary resources. For instance, an aspiring entrepreneur might avoid setting business goals due to a lack of confidence in their business acumen.

5. Fear of change:

Goals often necessitate change, which can be uncomfortable. People may fear stepping out of their comfort zones and disrupting the status quo. For example, someone might avoid setting a goal to move to a new city for a better job opportunity due to the fear of leaving behind their familiar environment.

Why it’s important to set goals

1. Provides direction:

Goals act as a road map, guiding you toward your desired destination. They help in clarifying your vision and setting a clear path to follow. For example, a student aiming to become a doctor will set specific academic and extracurricular goals to get into medical school.

2. Motivates and inspires:

Having well-defined goals can be highly motivating. They provide a sense of purpose and drive, inspiring you to act and make progress. For instance, an athlete training for a marathon sets specific training goals to stay motivated.

3. Measures progress:

Goals offer a way to measure your progress. By setting milestones, you can track your achievements and stay motivated by recognizing how far you’ve come. For example, a writer can set weekly word count goals to measure progress on their novel.

4. Enhances focus:

Goals help you prioritize your efforts and focus your energy on what truly matters. This can increase productivity and reduce distractions. For example, a business owner sets quarterly sales targets to focus on revenue-generating activities.

5. Builds confidence:

Achieving goals, even small ones, builds confidence and self-efficacy. It reinforces the belief that you can achieve what you set your mind to. For instance, someone who sets and achieves a goal to learn a new skill, like coding, will gain confidence in their ability to tackle more complex challenges.

Simplifying the goal-setting process

1. Start small:

Begin with small, achievable goals. This can help build momentum and confidence. As you achieve these smaller goals, gradually set more ambitious ones. For example, start with a goal to walk 10 minutes a day before aiming for a 5K run.

2. Use the SMART framework:

Ensure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework helps in creating clear and actionable goals. For instance, instead of setting a vague goal like “get fit,” set a SMART goal like “lose 10 pounds in 3 months by exercising 30 minutes a day and eating a balanced diet.”

3. Write it down:

Physically writing down your goals can make them feel more tangible and real. It also serves as a constant reminder and motivator. For example, keep a goal journal where you write and review your goals regularly.

4. Break it down:

Divide larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks. This makes the process less overwhelming and provides a clear step-by-step path to follow. For instance, if your goal is to write a novel, break it down into writing one chapter a month.

5. Visualize success:

Spend time visualizing the achievement of your goals. This can increase motivation and create a positive mindset. For example, imagine crossing the finish line of a race or receiving a promotion at work.

6. Seek support:

Share your goals with a trusted friend, mentor or coach. Their support and accountability can help you stay on track. For instance, join a study group if your goal is to pass a challenging exam.

7. Be flexible:

Understand that goals may need to be adjusted as circumstances change. Flexibility allows you to adapt without feeling like you’ve failed. For example, if an injury prevents you from running, modify your fitness goal to include low-impact exercises.

8. Celebrate progress:

Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way. This reinforces positive behavior and keeps you motivated. For example, treat yourself to something special after reaching a significant milestone in your goal.

Setting goals is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. While the fear of goal setting is typical, recognizing and addressing these fears can pave the way for a more focused, motivated and successful life. By starting small, using structured approaches and seeking support, you can overcome reluctance and embrace the transformative power of goal setting. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step — start today and watch your dreams unfold.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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