Updated: Oct 18, 2022
The end of the year is an exciting opportunity to let go of whatever happened or didn’t happen previously, and to begin thinking about what you want to create in your life going forward. This new year also happens to be the beginning of a new decade, making it even more exciting. It’s the perfect time to set some big goals.
I get so excited around this time of year. I create space for myself to think about my life, and what I want to create in the next year, five years, and 10 years. I think about relationships, career, family, friendships, community, and other areas of my life. I see each year, five years, and 10 years as measurable time blocks that I can use to assess the progress I’m making on my goals.
A lot of people don’t share my enthusiasm. For many, setting goals has become associated with frustration, painful feelings, and failure. For them, setting goals has very little value. If this sounds familiar, I can understand why you don’t want to set goals.
If in the past you haven’t followed through with your plans to reach your goals, you might not believe in yourself anymore. Of course, you don’t want to set yourself up to fail again and feel bad about yourself. But maybe the answer isn’t to stop setting goals. Maybe you need to change the goals you set, change your strategy, or even better, find a way to accept that failure isn’t the end. Failure is a normal part of the road to success. In fact, it provides a lot of necessary information and opportunities for growth. It’s not bad to fail unless that is the meaning you attach to it. Frustration and pain along the way toward your goals doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of succeeding; it only means that the goals you’ve set are hard. But you can do hard things.
Failure means you’re trying, and discomfort means you are growing. I know that you can tolerate these difficult feelings. I know that putting yourself out there by setting goals and trying to reach them is scary. But you will gain more by doing so than if you don’t try at all, regardless of whether or not you accomplish the actual goals you set. Some say if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.
Difficult emotions that emerge within us when we set goals and don’t make progress are directly connected to shame and vulnerability. It is vulnerable to set goals and try to achieve them. You’re putting yourself out there, even if you’re the only one who knows what your goals are! And, as the incredible Brene Brown says in her TED Talk, “Vulnerability is excruciating.”
The frustration and pain you feel when you fail comes from the fear that you’re not good enough. This is also known as shame. A “failure” becomes proof of your unworthiness. This is why it is imperative that you change the meaning you attach to failing from proof that you’re less-than to information for a new strategy to reach your goals going forward. When you fail at something, it has no bearing on your worth.
Goal setting is all about trying, learning, and growing. It is less about accomplishing the goal, though of course, that’s a nice outcome, too. I always learn and grow much more from the journey than I do from the good feelings that come with accomplishing my goals. Once I accomplish a big goal, I feel good for a while. I feel proud, confident and comfortable. For a time, it is lovely. But inevitably, the time comes when those feelings of comfort and achievement turn into feelings of stuckness. We don’t grow in comfort, and eventually, comfort becomes uncomfortable. It is at this point that I know it’s time to push myself out of my comfort zone and into something new and challenging. Comfort can be really appealing when we fear failure and discomfort; but we grow in our challenges, our failures, our pain, etc. So, If we want to continue to grow, we have to push ourselves into discomfort and meet up with failure once again.
It’s okay if you don’t want to set goals, and if you want to choose comfort. You deserve to be happy, and you are the only person you have to please with your choices. I’m not saying comfort is bad. As long as that is working for you, that’s great. But we must not confuse choosing comfort with fearing failure. When I accomplish a big goal, that comfort is where I want to be. But if deep down, I begin wanting more but I choose to stay where I am because it’s comfortable, that’s something to explore so that I don’t hold myself back from what I want just because it’s scary.
If you would like to set goals for the new year, and/or the new decade, but you fear painful and uncomfortable feelings will come from doing so, the following tips will help you step out of your comfort zone:
Have a secure base. A secure base is a person or a few people you really trust, who you can turn to when you feel frustrated, when you doubt yourself, when you’re afraid you can’t do it, etc. If you’re going to strive to improve yourself, you’re going to fail, feel stuck, feel hopeless and more. It’s important to have the support you trust and can count on to remind you that you’re capable, that this is part of the journey, and that they believe in you even when you don’t. There’s no shame in needing support to reach your goals!
Make friends with failure. It’s important to change the way you think of failure. All successful people failed and failed a lot. When you fail, it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean you are a failure, or that you can’t do something. You have to work to know, deep within yourself, that failure is an opportunity for information that you need in order to get back up and keep going with more likelihood of success. Failure is not your enemy, it’s your friend.
Build an inner supporter. Most of us have a strong inner criticizer by the time we’re adults (and often even earlier). That part of you will never give you anything but criticisms. In some way, that part of you has served you in the past. But now, it will only hold you back. In order to reach your goals, you need to build a part of you that can remind you of how incredible you’re doing and can see the positive in your efforts. If you only listen to your inner criticizer, you’ll always feel like you’re not doing enough and not getting anywhere. Give your inner supporter a voice so you get a full sense of your work and progress, rather than only getting the most negative critique.
Happy New Year to all. I am so excited about all that you will do in 2020.
This blog was originally published by Caitlin on Psychology Today.