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Setting and Managing Goals

How to Make Goals Less Overwhelming and More Attainable

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Updated December 07, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

It is very important to have goals in your life. Goals (or things that you want to accomplish in the future) can give your life purpose and direction, as well as motivate healthy behaviors focused on improving your life.

However, goals can also be very overwhelming and a source of stress, especially if you are struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder or some other mental health disorder. Sometimes people set goals that are too lofty, difficult to attain, or too far off in the future. This can bring about a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, increasing risk for depression and low motivation. In addition, sometimes goals can send the message that the where you are right now is not good enough, potentially bringing about feelings of shame and guilt.

Therefore, you have to be careful when you set goals. It is important that goals are approached in a way that improve your mood and quality of life, as opposed to increasing distress. Listed below are some tips on how to make goals less stressful. In addition to reducing distress, by following these tips you may also increase your likelihood of achieving them.

Break Your Goals Down into Smaller Goals

Large goals can often feel unattainable and far away. Therefore, it can be helpful to break down that larger goal in a series of smaller goals that you can achieve in the near future. Think of these smaller goals as the stepping stones that will eventually take you towards the larger goal you have set for yourself.

Think About What is Driving Your Goals

When we set large goals that may take some time to achieve, we can sometimes forgot why we set that goal in the first place. As a result, we may lose motivation in attempting to achieve that goal. To counter this, try to think of why you set this goal. What kind of values are driving your pursuit of this goal? For example, let's say that you set the goal of getting a college degree. You may have set this goal because you value education. Likewise, you may have set this goal because you value family and know that a college education may open up a number of opportunities for more financial security for you and your family.

Reward Yourself For Making Progress in Achieving Your Goals

Oftentimes, once someone achieves a goal they quickly move on to the next goal. Take some time to recognize your achievements. Reward yourself. Take yourself out to dinner or buy yourself a gift. Do something that marks the progress you have made.

Give Yourself Permission to Change Your Goals

Sometimes in the pursuit of a goal we may realize that we no longer want that goal. Our interests may have changed or other goals may take priority. It can be hard to not complete a goal, especially after a lot of hard work has gone into pursuing that goal. Give yourself permission to focus attention on other goals. You are not giving up. You are simply just changing your focus. You will face worse consequences (low motivation, lack of interest) if you stick with the old goal despite not desiring it anymore.

Watch Out For Perfectionism or High Standards

No one is perfect and setting high standards can make goals feel even more overwhelming and difficult to attain. Setbacks will happen. This is okay. The most important thing is that you approach these setbacks with self-compassion (don't beat yourself up or blame yourself -- that will only increase your distress) and re-commit to the pursuit of your goal.

Let Others Know About Your Goals

Some goals can take a tremendous amount of effort. Therefore, enlist the help of others. It can also be helpful for others to know what goals you are pursuing because they can keep you focused and committed at times when you may feel your motivating waning. Other people can also provide social support to help with anxiety and stress that may come about from pursuing a goal.

By following these tips, you will be much more likely to achieve your goals, increase your self-confidence, and improve your quality of life. Goals can be very helpful; however, goals can bring about stress, anxiety, and other pleasant emotions, especially if you are already managing the demands of a mental health disorder. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that you are moving towards goals in a way that minimizes distress and maximizes success.

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