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  • Are your goals killing you? Measurable Goals and Anxiety

You've got your goals set and you are working hard at achieving them and yet you feel stressed, anxious or depressed a lot of the time! Let's explore the link between measurable goals and anxiety.

We are told that to get ahead we need goals right? And not just any old goals they need to be SMART ones. So you have read all the theory about goal setting and you have really stretched your imagination and set lofty goals that motivate you.

jetty leading to full moon

You are reaching for the moon because if you fail at least you will land on a star! That's what they all say right? 

And you are motivated, you want that end result. You just know you will be happier, your life will be easier or more fulfilling once you reach that goal. And it really is a goal, it's not just a dream. You have broken it down into manageable steps, you know what you have to do and exactly what tasks and actions you need to complete to get there.

You work hard on each of the actions. Diligently working your way ever closer to that elusive goal. You understand there will be hurdles you need to overcome, maybe some road blocks along the way and that it all takes time .... and your cool with all that.

As long as the goal still seems attainable you power on like a beaver building a dam - one stick at a time.

Congratulations! You are a model goal getting student.

Then why you are starting to feel stressed, depressed, anxious. What's going on? 

Why do you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about may be, just may be, not reaching your goal! What would happen if you actually didn't achieve it?

You want it so bad you can taste it but what if ....

Where would you be - what would you be?

And its about this time that your ongoing mental health starts to become in jeopardy. 

stressed man

I stumbled upon an article recently from a top equestrian who went from Olympic hopeful to sitting in a psychiatrists office wondering how his life went so wrong. Matt Brown's story resonated with me because not only do I have equestrian goals but I have big career and money goals also.

You do not need to be a horse person to learn from Matt's story and you can read it by clicking here. Matt’s story is one all of us who strive for more in life can learn from.

The bottom line is having measurable goals can and is contributing to increased mental health problems for many people. Unfortunately online entrepreneurs are not immune to this either, in fact if you are a particularly driven person your risk is even further increased.

So I don’t need goals then?

But are goals really the problem? Well yes and no!

You do still need goals but your focus needs to be on the process, not the end result.

And I say this because as I indicated earlier you need to consider how not reaching your goals is going to impact on you mentally.

I know everyone says don’t start out thinking you will fail. You will only set yourself up for disaster if you do that. And I am not disagreeing and I am not saying set goals you know you will not reach.

silhouette woman jumping

BUT what I am saying is I would like you to take a few moments and consider how you might feel if you do not achieve your goal.

Ask yourself:

  1. How invested in your goal are you? Do you consider it to be the make or break goal of your life?
  2. What will it mean to your self-esteem and your self-worth if you don’t meet the goal?
  3. How will you feel about who you are if the outcome isn’t exactly what you planned?

Are your thoughts that you will be a looser, that you will have failed those around you, that you simply didn’t have the skills, knowledge or talent to make it. 

If they are then you need to stop right there and re-frame your train of thought because you are headed for very rocky ground.

These emotions are present in your sub-conscious already regardless of whether you say them out loud or contemplate them. You are only kidding yourself if you don’t consider them and deal with them now.

This feeling of dread can start very early on, even as soon as you set the goal and start working towards it. It doesn’t start only once you decide you have failed or fallen short of that “reach for the stars goal”.

And this happens because all the focus right from the get go is on reaching the goal.   

The bigger and more lengthy the goal the more chance that you will be heavily self-invested in the outcome. These really enormous goals often begin to define us as human beings and that is where the problems start if by some chance you fall short.

Are you good enough?

I will use myself as an example - my online business goal is to create 2000 super-affiliates by the end of 2020 (Christmas Eve to be exact). This became my goal because it is SMART:

S - specific
M - measurable
A - attainable
R - relevant
T - timely

Because the goal is specific and measurable I will either reach it or I won’t. There is no half measure because it is all about the final figures. If I only create 1900 super-affiliates I have not reached my goal, I will have failed.

fail stamp in red

What will this say about me as a person? That I am not good enough to be successful! That I don't have what it takes!

I am already feeling nervous about whether I am reaching the smaller milestones to ensure I reach the final goal. Is there a chance this nervousness which at the moment is spurring me into action, may turn into anxiety?

It depends how self invested you are in the goal and whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

Do you have a fixed mindset?

Do you believe that intelligence, personality and ability are fixed? That you are born with certain characteristics and these can’t be changed or improved?

If you do feel with way then you will find you constantly need to prove that you are good enough, and that you have enough of these traits, that you are smart enough, that you have innate ability or the god-given talent to succeed.

And if you don’t see the success you crave then you will view yourself as not being good enough. The looser! There is no in between.

You can see how this might not be good for your mental health!

A growth mindset means you believe these traits can be improved and you are working on doing so. This way if you fall short it isn’t because you are not good enough it is because you need to grow more in that area, You need to grow your skills or your abilities and you will become successful.

Dr Dweck elaborates in her book “Mindset” on people with a growth mindset  - “They believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

You can see with this sort of mindset any failure is not final and does not reflect on your abilities, intelligence or talent, but rather that you simply need to grow more to achieve the success you are after.

There is always opportunity to grow. Failure is not final.

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Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying he did not fail he just found out 1000 ways not to create a lightbulb. This is an obvious example of a growth mindset. Had Edison believed after the first failure or the 10th or the 999th that he just didn’t have the talent to create a light bulb we would all still be sitting in the dark!

The more modern equivalent is Oprah Winfrey who was told early on that she did not have the talent for acting. Oprah believed not only in herself but that she had the ability to learn and grow.

Steve Jobs launched at least 4 failures in his early days - the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV, the Apple III and the Powermac g4 cube. Never heard of those products?

old box computer

Yep these were Job’s failures and they occurred over many years. Some may see this as many years of time, research and development wasted. But he didn’t give up and walk away because he believed he could grow and adapt to product products that the masses would embrace.

And the rest as they say is history.

Do you find yourself constantly needing to prove yourself? Do you beat yourself up if you fall short of your goals?

Then you have a fixed mindset and for your continued growth and mental health let's change that.

How do you do that then?

Change Your Mindset

The first step is to change your mindset from fixed to one of growth. If you do nothing else this will help preserve your mental health and save you from much anxiety or full blown depression in the future.

When you can start to focus on learning and improving your skills you take the pressure off having to win at all costs. You need to value the growth that you achieve as you work through the processes needed to achieve your ultimate goal.

If you are learning and growing then you are moving forward, as you move forward to creep closer to the final goal but you can value and concentrate your efforts on the journey not the destination.

journey not the destination

Know that because you are growing any small setbacks are not catastrophic. They do not reflect on you as a winner or a looser. They simply show you where you can grow further and what avenues you can go down to improve your skills and your chances of success.

They may highlight an area you can improve on and that’s great. It all contributes to you improving and becoming a more skilled, talented, able person.

Reframe Your Goals

The you need to revisit your goals and change them from the traditional outcome based goals to process based. You do this by working out how you will achieve the goal rather than specifically what the goal is.

Let's run through an example.

A traditional outcome based goal might be to loose 10 kilos in the next 3 months. Lets re-frame that into a process based goal. So what are the processes you will need to do to achieve that goal?

Man measuring waist with tape

You could create an exercise plan for the next 3 months, you could work out how to set aside time to exercise each day/week, you could work out a meal planner for the next week.

As you consider setting processes for your goals think about your behaviours, your attitude towards them, your level of commitment and what actions you can put into place.

See how there is a lot of reference to you in that sentence.

These smaller process orientated goals need to be completely within your power to control. Do not set process outcomes that are dependent on others for you to reach them, this is only setting yourself up for potential failure.

You are in control, only you can stop yourself from achieving growth. Your daily efforts and attitude will direct your trajectory.  

By setting and focusing on processes that you can control it puts you in a position of power. Often outcome based goals will have some reliance on others to reach them. If you remove this then you know that it will be your efforts that ultimately decide the reward.

Check out this great video from Simple Happy Zen for more info on how to set process goals.

These processes give you definite tasks to work towards. You will still get that feeling of success as you compete each task but if you fall a little short you will see it as an opportunity to grow rather than a complete flop.

Manage Your Mind

I hope you found this blog helpful in re-framing your mindset and the way you approach reaching your vision of success.

As always if you have questions or perhaps you would like to share you tips and tricks when it comes to goal setting and keeping yourself mentally healthy pop them in the comment box below.

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  1. No, my goals are not killing me, but the lack of them is. Well maybe not killing me, but what I really appreciated about your article is how you transformed my difficulties into something that I can read and understand.  Simply, Dreams will never be realized until goals are achieved, but goals will never be achieved unless they are;

    S – specific 

    M – measurable 

    A – attainable 

    R – relevant 

    T – timely

    Thank you for that anagram…

    I am thinking that writing down your dreams is OK but if you are writing down your goals, it will be useless unless you are writing them on a calendar or day planner.  Perhaps my perspective of goals is skewed and what I  should be concentrating on is procedures and timetables, developing a daily routine. 

    This sounds very much to me like I am saying that I need to maybe not discard the outcome based goals, but embrace the procedural goals.  

    Any article that makes me think, Good Blog…

    1. Glad you enjoyed the blog Rod and that it’s got you thinking about how to structure your goals. It certainly got me thinking when I came across Matt Brown’s story. Mental health seems to be suffering in our current fast paced, go get em society – sometimes it’s good to sit back and assess how we are coping.

      Many of us are high achievers who strive towards lofty goals and there’s nothing wrong with that but I think we need to give ourselves process goals so we can reward ourselves and not beat ourselves up for falling a little short sometimes.

      I love day planners. I just use a good old A4 diary and write my to do lists in there. Sometimes I allocate actual times for task if I know when I’ll be free otherwise it’s just sometime that day. I have actually started getting up at 4am each week day to get a little more done each day. You might be interested in checking out my How to Beat The Zombies blog for more info.


  2. Thanks for this interesting read. I’m sitting in the same boat, having goals and having to live with failure. 

    One thing that came to my mind quite quickly was, that an important factor of weather I suffer from failure or not is the way I want to achieve my goals.

    If I love what I do and it’s a passion, failure hurts much less than if I chose a method that doesn’t come from my heart. Of course, failure hurts every time but if it turns out constructive and can help me try even harder is depending on how much I like what I do.

    To set goals not affected by other peoples reactions is a very good advice 🙂

    1. I agree so much with your comment Stephan. I have horses and some pretty lofty goals with one of them, sometimes we fall short but because I love the journey as much as the goals it doesn’t feel like we failed. We simply need to do more work which we enjoy. 

      I think this applies to our online businesses also. We need to love our niche and be passionate about helping people that way every single person we help is a win even if we don’t reach the sales targets we set for ourselves.

      Thanks for stopping by for a read and taking the time to comment. Most appreciated..

  3. Love this blog! I have a girlfriend who has anxiety but i didn’t understand her most of the time, this gave me kind of an insight. Loved the deep question as im a very unstressed person and i think i may be a growth mindset but sometimes is good to question yourself and think about your goals!

    1. Hi Liliana (what a lovely name by the way) I’m like you and not a stressy person. I hear so many people talking about their anxiety and I do find it difficult to understand and be empathetic because I just don’t feel it myself. 

      I hope those people may find my blog and it could help them to reframe their goals and outlooks so they can reduce the stress and love living. 

      Thanks for your comment and I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog.  

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