Why your Goals Might be Slowing you Down

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Uni is back in full swing, and as deadlines linger on the horizon, you may begin to feel all those goals you set at the start of term begin to feel further and further away, leaving you tired, and demotivated.

It’s all too common that this endless chasing of goals can be exhausting in the long run, and these high expectations you’ve been working diligently towards may actually be the things slowing you down on the road to success. Sounds counterintuitive? Sure, but evidence suggests this might be the case.

Goals Deconstructed

In his Book ‘Happiness By Design’, Paul Dolan gives a warning about the dangers of setting goals. He states that the dopamine rush you feel after completing something you’ve been working so hard on is only a fleeting moment of happiness. Along with the fact that this feeling of fulfillment is only a temporary fix – the feeling also relies on you actually completing the goal.

By setting goals (and relying so heavily on completing them), you are only delaying your own gratification, and you may be putting yourself in a position of vulnerability. Goals can be a great guiding light, however, they may quickly become wrapped up in your identity, and when failure starts to have an impact on your sense of self, you may find yourself making significant sacrifices in order to reach that goal, which will end up making you more miserable overall.

Switching to a Systems Approach

So if goals are such risky business, what is the alternative? James Clear offers a solution in his book ‘Atomic Habits’. Clear suggests that a shift in your mindset to focus on the processes that achieve the results may be the way forward.

Like it or not, we are creatures of habit. The brain is hardwired to switch off at every possibility to attend to more important matters. While this may be useful when you are brushing your teeth, or walking to a lecture, bad habits are a huge obstacle.

A systems approach suggests adopting a bottom-up approach to working, making small but significant steps day by day to form good habits, instead of relying on some far off goal to guide progress.

Let’s use studying as an example. You’ve got an exam coming up and you know that to get a good grade you have to have a detailed understanding of an entire topic. With a goal focused mindset you may quickly become demotivated as you begin to feel like you are making small steps to achieve a huge goal.

So let’s switch to a process based approach. Instead of letting the final outcome loom large, instead break it down into tiny parts. Maybe you have 5 weeks and 5 chapters to study – thinking of this as a chapter a week makes it a whole seem a whole lot more achievable. Taking it a step further, you may break it down to 10 pages a day for 5 days a week. Now instead of a massive goal with a far off reward, you can tackle the workload in smaller chunks, getting a smaller (but still significant) sense of achievement each day.

Final Thoughts

Of course, everybody thinks differently, and some people may find setting big goals an incredible motivator. So it’s ultimately up to you to figure out how you work best, but sometimes little actions lead to big results.

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