Are Your Goals Making You Lonely?

by | Aug 12, 2015 | Science of Happiness | 21 comments

You’ve wondered, right?

You thought setting and achieving big goals would make you feel better, happier. If we’re being honest, maybe even a little invincible.

There’s more to it though. Behind the thrill of setting big goals is also a little anxiety. You don’t talk about it much, but there’s that nagging voice. What will people think of you if you fail? What will you think of yourself?

It’s exactly that fear that keeps you head down and focused. You want to land that dream job. You want to finally pay off your debt. You want to lose fifteen pounds so you aren’t embarrassed to wear shorts in the summer.

You worry that any distraction, interruption, or lack of discipline is going to send those goals down the drain, never to be seen again–and your chance at a better life will disappear with them.

So you turn down invitations, but stay up late. You eat junk food to get you through the days you feel worn down. You’re crushed by all the things you feel need to be done that just aren’t making your list.

At some point, you might stop and wonder: is it worth it?

Congratulations. That’s the first step.

How the best dreams work

I’ve set (and accomplished) a lot of big goals in my time. I thrive on challenge and am always looking for new ways to stretch myself. So understand that what I’m about to say is not an anti-achievement manifesto, not even a little bit.

But I also know big goals can come with a lot of baggage too.

The more I accomplish, the more I feel I have a reputation to defend. The more I feel like I have to “measure up,” the more anxious new goals can make me. I make the mistake of thinking my happiness depends on achieving the goal, which means I’m capable of driving myself into the ground to make sure I don’t fall short.

Not healthy.

Nor am I alone in that behavior. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, asked Harvard students which comes first: happiness or success. They all had essentially the same response: “I’m working my butt off now so I can be happy when…”

But it doesn’t work that way.

Even if those students achieve their goals, they’ll raise them higher still or replace them with others. I call this the Big Break Trap, where the goal posts for success are always just out of reach and we’re denied the reward we were working so hard to obtain. That’s not only a recipe for burnout, but also a way to make your accomplishments feel less meaningful.

What’s the solution? Don’t stop setting goals, just re-evaluate how you get there. Try these 5 tips:

Tip #1: Get perspective on your goals

Would it be nice to accomplish your goal? Sure. But, chances are, it’s not the life-changing fork in the road you think it is. Whether you succeed or fail, life will go on, and you’ll have other chances to either try again or try something else. Sometimes taking a break or talking through your fears can help you get the perspective you need.

Tip #2: Stop judging

Most of the time, our fear of failure is groundless, since others don’t judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves. There’s so much truth in the saying “you’re your own worst enemy.” Focus on the task at hand, but don’t obsess over it. And stop comparing yourself to others! Many of our own harsh judgements come from the feeling we’re not doing something as well or as fast as someone else. But if the goal is truly important to you, who cares how hard you have to work at it or how long it takes?

Tip #3: Involve others in your goal

Have you ever waited to tell people about an exciting opportunity or goal until you knew everything was going to work out? I caught myself doing this recently and immediately felt silly. Be willing to share both the ups and downs in your life with your friends. That’s what friends are for! Sharing my anxiety also gave me some great perspective, as my friends made it clear they loved me and were proud of me for trying, whether or not my big opportunity panned out.

Tip #4: Make time for other goals

Don’t forget about ‘fun’ goals–especially if they’re smaller and more easily attainable–like inviting old friends for lunch, or reading that book you’ve been promising yourself for years. Focusing too much on one goal, especially if it’s a long term one, can make it easy for others to fall by the wayside; you may forget what accomplishment feels like. Stay motivated by completing some other smaller goals, and it should give you a boost of confidence to get back to your big one!

Think of a big goal like a full-time job–sometimes you need a vacation to clear your mind and come back to it with renewed energy.

Tip #5: Record the journey

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed when we’ve lost sight of all the progress we’ve already made. Keep a progress report. Have a journal on your bedside table. Scribble pictures in the margins. Take pictures. Whatever it takes, don’t try and keep everything locked up top. This might help you sleep better too!

It’s okay to set big goals. I say relish the challenge. Just make sure your goals aren’t taking you away from the life you really want for yourself.

Goals are supposed to complement your life, not take over your life.

Feeling overwhelmed is only temporary if you do it right.