We’ve all heard this saying many times in our lives: “She can’t see the forest for the trees”. The meaning is clear, that you can’t see the whole situation clearly because you’re looking too closely at small details, or because you’re too closely involved.
Often though, the reverse is even more true, that you can’t see the trees for the forest; that you’re so focused on the larger picture that you’re unable to cope with the details. In goal setting, it’s easy to get lost in, and even overwhelmed by, the Big Picture; that Ultimate Outcome that you’ve set for yourself but which can lead to stress and the inability to take action toward that ultimate goal.
How goal setting may lead to overwhelm
In an article at PsychologyToday.com, executive coach and author Ray Williams challenges the very notion of goal setting, and why it doesn’t work for many. “Our society,” he writes, “at both the individual level and in organizations, has an obsession with goal setting, particularly ‘stretch’ goals or ‘audacious goals’. We tie goals to accomplishment. In our culture, an individual or organizations cannot be considered successful unless goals are achieved.”
While it’s not my purpose to delve as deeply as does Mr. Williams into the possible negative consequences of goal setting, I must say that his article is enlightening. No, my purpose here is to help you overcome the stress and sense of overwhelm that can result from over-focusing on Big Picture Goals.
According to the “experts”, when setting goals for yourself, you should always include The Big One; the Dream-Come-True objective that will lead to happiness and success. From there, you will need to generate a list of smaller accomplishments that will help you reach that Ultimate Goal – and Nirvana.
For most, the problem develops when they are unable to take their eyes off the Big Goal to focus on the list of lesser accomplishments that will enable them to reach it. The sense that “I’m not getting there” can become overwhelming, leading to increased stress and disappointment in one’s self.
To overcome the overwhelm you feel when this happens, focus on these 5 effective goal setting tips;
- Be specific – Realistic goals work best. Even when you’re setting up your Big Dream, it must be attainable, lest you set yourself up to fail. Instead, think of your Big Goal exclusively as motivation when you’re struggling with the smaller, intermediate steps you’ve developed to help you get there.
- Be patient – Changing the habits of a lifetime does not happen overnight. You should expect it to take three weeks to a couple of months for your brain to become accustomed to the idea that this “New Thing” you’re doing is part of your regular routine.
- Be redundant – Repeating a goal to yourself, either in writing or by saying it aloud, will help to make it take hold. Every time you remind yourself of your goal, you’re re-training your brain to make it happen.
- Be selfish – Because trying to please others with your new behaviour will not work. It’s harder to stay on track and motivated if you’re doing something out of obligation to another person.
- Be forgiving – Of yourself when you fail. Mistakes are part of the learning process as you begin to re-train your brain into a new way of thinking. It may take a few tries to reach a goal but, that’s OK; it’s normal to mess up or give up a few times when trying to make a change. Just remember that everyone slips up now and then, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Simply remind yourself of your ultimate goal, and get back on track.
I believe in goal setting, though most of us haven’t been taught to do it well. Like anything human beings try, goal setting requires training and practice. If you take the time to learn how to set goals for yourself, you’re bound to improve your life. For help with successful goal setting, my book, Just Give Your Head a Shake, has a chapter on goal setting to improve self-esteem.
If you just can’t seem to figure out how to cope with stress and overwhelm no matter what you’ve tried, get in touch with me today for help coping with stress.