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!