What to Do When Goal Setting Gives You Hives

OMG Three Crazy ShotsDoes New Year’s Day make you feel nauseous … and not just because you were a tad bit overserved the night before?

It’s the resolution time of year, which means the go-getting goalsters out there are buffing and polishing their 2023 SMART goals while chanting their rallying cry:

We must identify and pursue lofty ambitions! We must not be complacent! We must work diligently at improving (&/or proving) ourselves! We must excel at our intricately designed, step-by-step-to-soaring-success capital-g Goals!

If this “goal-liness is next to Godliness” ethos sounds like you, high five! This is your peak season and may you bask in the glory of target-setting, you little goal-digger, you!

If you are feeling nauseous from our little chat so far, you might be goal-phobic … and that’s okay. There is still hope for you to achieve greatness in the absence of well-crafted goals scrawled across your white board.

What if goals are a turn-off?

As an executive coach I see this resistance to goals All. The. Time.

Just about everyone I work with wants to “do something” with their lives—accomplish something with a semblance of meaning … feel like they’ve grown &/or become a better version of themselves in a before/after kind of way— but the mechanisms of how people reach the thing they have in mind are as different as the people doing the reaching.

Just as goals make some people glow, goals make some people bristle.

Some of my clients feel restrained by a well-defined goal, as though it thwarts their creativity right out of the gates. These people typically feel caged by the idea of structure in other parts of their lives, too.
Some clients experience a spike in self-imposed pressure when they set goals for themselves. The right amount of pressure can be powerful when harnessed (hello, Instant Pot beef stew!), but paralyzing when it looms large and in charge over one’s head. These people are hard enough on themselves without another layer of demands-with-deadlines to grapple with.

So what’s an ambitious person who wants to Get Shit Done in 2023 to do, if goals make them break out into a rash? Because most people know that goals are like the holy grail for successful people … more than 400 studies over the last 25 years have made it clear that “specific, high (hard) goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ‘do one’s best.’”

You know what a suitable substitute for a goal is?  A dream.

You read that right: a dream. Not middle-of-the-night-as-you-drool dreams, but “the things that dreams are made of” dreams.

Empirical evidence on goals vs. dreams

Researchers have validated the tension that arises in some goal-phobes. The goal-setting process activates our sympathetic nervous system (you know—the coked-up go-go-go system inside us), whereas the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system (you know—the smoke-a-doobie chill-out system) is activated when we fathom and talk about dreams, aspirations, possibilities, visions, hopes, and things we might be excited to try.

Not everyone is adversely affected by the sympathetic system that goals can ignite, but for those who are, the calming impact of the parasympathetic system might be the best way to spark action towards achievement.

Decide if you are a goal-seeker or a dream-weaver.

  • If specific and measurable goals with a deadline floats your boat, try filling this out: I will [insert what it is you want here] by [this date], and I’ll know I’ve achieved it because [insert measure here]. (It’s a classic SMART goal: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time oriented. As a goal-driven person, these are your ABCs.)
  • If you’re more of a dreamer that loves structure-free room to breathe, spend quality time fabricating your dream and imagining it in vivid color. Try filling this out: I envision [insert what it is you want here] happening this year, and I will feel like [insert how you’d love to feel] along the way while I make this dream come true. This is what will keep me motivated to make the dream come true: [insert motivators here]. I know dreams don’t happen without scaffolding and action, or else they’d just be squishy, fluffy cloud-like ideas, so I’m prepared to take these first few steps to breathe life into my vision. I’ll know my dream has come true when this/ these things have transpired.

One more idea to achieve what you want this year

What’s the ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING that you want to accomplish in 2023? That thing you’d feel awful about yourself if you didn’t get done by December 31st? Asked differently …

  • I would feel like a total deadbeat at the end of the year if I didn’t __________.
  • I would feel like a billion bucks this year if I __________.

Goals vs. Dreams Your answers to these questions can then lead you to a goal-setting session &/or a dream-weaving experience.

Accomplishment is one of the five “empirically legit” pillars of well-being, so let’s grab that brass ring this year and revel in the feeling of pride and achievement for challenging ourselves and “getting there” (whatever that means for you—whether it’s being able to do the handstand scorpion pose in your yoga class, selling $2.75M in your division at work, getting to 15K Instagram followers, taking Every Single Vacation Day you’ve accrued, finishing your degree, becoming a volunteer docent at the museum, feeling healthy again, etc.).

In a world with goalers, dreamers, and doers, who cares whether it’s goals or dreams that get us going? Let’s just make sure we’re DOING … taking action on the thing(s) that’ll make us feel absolutely and astonishingly alive this year. 2023, here we come … without a hive in sight.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: You, me, Instagram. Let’s make it happen for 2023.

P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


Related articles you just might love...

One Key Question to Live Your Most Alivealicious Life
The Profound Benefits of an Existential Crisis
2023 Un-Dead Your Life Calendar