My Thoughts on Goals

I have a love-hate relationship with goals.

On one hand, goals give you something to work towards and strive for. On the other, they can sometimes be arbitrary and confining. Here’s an example so you know what I mean by the latter.

I decided to run my very first half marathon in 2014. It was a daunting goal for me, since the longest race I had run before that was a 10K (6.2 miles). I wasn’t doing it alone, which made it better; some coworkers had signed up to run it as well and we started to plan how we would train for the race.

There were approximately three months until the race, so I followed a training plan I had found online and gave myself plenty of time to get ready. My life outside of work for those three months was focused on which days I would run and for how long. I enjoyed the structure and following my progression as my longest distances went from 3 to 7 to 10 miles.

The race day came (you can read about it here) and I finished the race. I was supremely proud of myself for running a distance I never thought I would run and I shared that excitement and feeling of accomplishment with my coworkers.

The day after the race I rested — which I was prepared for. The day following that, however, I found myself lost as to what I should do with myself. Do I run again? If so, how far? Do I do something else for exercise? What do I do now?

I had become so used to following a strict training plan to reach my goal that once that goal was reached, I was left feeling lost about what to do next.

I ran a total of three more half marathons after that because I wasn’t sure what else to do with myself and felt like I needed more goals to strive for.

What I’ve discovered about goals in my own life is that if I do something for me, the less of a specific goal I set, and the better off I am mentally and emotionally.

For example, I don’t have any specific goals in fitness. Because it’s something that I plan on doing for the rest of my life, and something personal to me, setting very specific goals for myself sets me up for that inevitable feeling of “what’s next?”

I do feel that it’s important to strive towards something, so my fitness goals are very general. I work to increase my strength and my stamina. I try and be a little bit better than I was last week or last month. Since my foot is currently injured, I’m working on improving my pull ups and my upper body strength and when I’m cleared for more cardio and weight-bearing exercises, I’ll focus on those as well.

I don’t have a goal weight. I actually have no idea what I weigh at the moment, but I can tell you it’s more than it was a couple months ago because a) I’m not following a specific plan like I was then b) I’ve gained more muscle and c) I’ve been eating more desserts (yum). Anytime I’ve ever set a numerical weight goal, it has ended in obsession, compulsion, feelings of shame, and never being satisfied with the results.

I understand that some people on a significant weight loss journey require those things as benchmarks of progress or to see if a current regimen needs to be tweaked, but for me it’s not sustainable and more damaging than shifting my focus to something that I find more helpful in my own journey.

If I’m doing something for others or for my own business, however, I don’t seem to have a problem setting more specific goals.

Some of my previous career and professional goals have been to hold wellness workshops, hit certain benchmarks for social media/blog, work with specific brands, work for myself (woot!), and a list of other ones that I haven’t quite finalized or reached yet.

I don’t find myself caught up in these more specific goals and often feel better about myself and my abilities once I reach them. I feel positive and capable rather than unfulfilled and lost.

My relationship with goal-setting may be very different from yours or some of this may strike a chord with you. I’d love to know how you approach setting goals and what you’ve found works and doesn’t work for you personally. Let me know in the comments!

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9 Comments

  1. September 6, 2017 / 5:31 am

    I have vague goals on almost every part of my life – except my weight. I’ve found that not having expectations for myself in terms of my body is the best for me. As long as I’m feeling happy and healthy, I’m all good. I don’t want to drive myself crazy over numbers and beauty standards!

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  2. September 6, 2017 / 9:59 am

    I also have mixed feelings about goals, but mostly because for so many years, I set goals based on what I thought others expected of me. I even struggle now setting goals for myself – which is why I tend to make small and less specific ones. I definitely avoid weight and body related goals, although I can see the benefit of you’re training for a specific purpose or aiming to lose a lot of weight.

  3. Sandra
    September 6, 2017 / 11:40 am

    Appreciate your thoughts on goals. I have noticed the same feeling of “what’s next” after reaching a set goal and feeling lost as to what to do next so I see myself going more general now. Erin, you really have a talent using words to express & convey your feelings which I admire and am working on myself.

    • erinsinsidejob
      September 11, 2017 / 7:04 pm

      Aw thank you so much Sandra!

  4. September 6, 2017 / 2:54 pm

    Right now my goals are also very general – fitness-wise, I want to run pain-free and I want to feel physically stronger (i.e., lift more, etc). Professionally, I want a job that I’m proud of that challenges me but also makes the world better in some way. I agree that this is more construction that specific goals, because you are never done achieving them, but sometimes it’s also a struggle because I don’t have this finite goal to achieve by this specific date, so sometimes I feel a bit aimless. So, you know, I guess it’s all about balance.

  5. September 7, 2017 / 11:28 am

    Ugh. Goals. Okay. I have mixed feelings about them, as well. As someone who always had something to work towards (a production I was performing in, a dance recital, studying for a test or pumping out an article during production week), I feel like I’m guided by them. Over the past year or so, sometimes they can become detrimental to my success if I don’t achieve them the way I intended or if I change my mind halfway through. I like to set goals such as “get stronger” for fitness, “write more” for my personal blog and book, and “stay grateful”. I know how hippie they might sound, but it’s so much better for me mentally than “become a CrossFit athlete by Oct. 1” or “write a book that Lauren Graham endorses by age 28.” Make sense? I do think they’re important, but so is the structure of said goal. And gosh darnit, you have to WANT it too.
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  6. September 8, 2017 / 11:42 am

    I totally understand where you’re coming from… while I do well when I set goals for myself, I never try to make them TOO specific, because a) it creates a lot of pressure and b) I also get the “what’s next?” feeling afterwards… I like to call my goals continuing goals, which means I always have something that I can “accomplish” and feel proud about, but I also know already what comes next. It’s a win-win.
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