It feels the same every year: you set some goals for yourself, the year starts with the best of intentions, but then it’s October and you are looking at a partially completed goal and feeling pretty frustrated with yourself. It happens to everyone—literally. But not everyone struggles all the time. Here are twelve ways that your mind is sabotaging your goals and some approaches to getting your head right.
1 Lacking clarity on values and priorities
You have a goal or two (or five) in mind for the next year or so, but you’ve only really made progress on one of them. This happens when you lack priorities. Over time, you tend to do what’s easiest or quickest and neglect goals that are more complicated and require more effort. You can avoid this by simply prioritizing your goals.
How to Overcome It Basically, figure out what really matters to you and organize your goals accordingly. TED has a great playlist to help you put everything in perspective. Then, when you start to document the values and priorities that will guide your time management, remember to keep your list simple.
Not sure what kinds of priorities and values to pick? MindTools will talk you through selecting your values, and James Clear has a good list of values to get you started. He recommends picking no more than five.
2 Being a Perfectionist
People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it. —Edith Schaeffer
Have you ever caught yourself thinking: “If it can’t be done right, don’t do it at all”? Or the more intense version—“If I can’t do it perfectly, why do it?” This is the nirvana fallacy, and it stops us from achieving our potential because it discourages us from making even make small improvements. Charly Haversat, a recovering perfectionist and former professional athlete, discusses the damage perfectionism does to our productivity and how we can try a different approach: the pursuit of good enough.
How to Overcome It There are a few ways to stop perfectionism.
- Lifehack has a great article on how to get to “good enough.”
- Let go of the fixed mindset that locks you into to an all-or-nothing situation and embrace growth. You can read more about the fixed mindset and its opposite, the growth mindset, in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
- Deeply entrenched perfectionism and control are signs of anxiety, a mental illness. AnxietyBC has put together a great step-by-step guide to help cope.
3 Isolating Yourself
Taking some time for yourself to focus is one thing, but cutting yourself off from people to “avoid distraction” or “be more disciplined” is another. Very, very few people have brains that allow them to function best in isolation. Odds are that your mind will do better if you talk to people and share your ideas. Not only will you boost creativity, but you’ll give your noggin a rest from intense work.
How to Overcome It If you don’t have friends you can discuss your idea or goals with, consider finding a specialized group for your interest. MeetUp is a great way to find niche groups of people on similar journeys in everything from training for a marathon, writing a book, or building a mobile app. If there are no good MeetUps in your area, consider finding a forum or starting your own blog.
4 Not Building Your Self Confidence
If you’re your own worst critic, you might be struggling with perfectionism (see above) and a distorted sense of your own value. However, research points to one reality: what we believe is true matters. If you believe you can, your performance improves significantly. If you believe you can’t, your performance suffers. If you’re feeling a little unsure of yourself, spend some time building up your confidence.
How to Overcome It
- Take some time to regularly invest in your confidence. This TED playlist can help.
- Before you start a difficult task, jot down a few times when you felt competent and successful. It’ll get your mind in the right place for success with the new task. Having trouble? Ask a loved one or friend to tell you what you’re good at.
- Use it or lose it! Test your confidence and focus on wins when possible. Forbes discusses how to build confidence here.
- Looking for more? TIME Magazine put together a research-backed list for building your confidence.
5 Thinking Too Big—Too Often
In western culture, we have loads of axioms that encourage us to “shoot for the stars” or “think big.” There is even a push in business to pursue “big, hairy, audacious, goals” or BHAGs for short. These are well-intentioned ways to encourage us to push ourselves, and they often work in getting us out of our comfort zones; however, focusing too much on the immensity of the problem or task can be paralyzing—especially if coupled with self-doubt or perfectionism.
How to Overcome It There are two keys to dealing with a big, hairy goal. Make sure your goal is SMART, then break it down into smaller, manageable bits over a smaller, manageable timeline. Hannah Braime of the blog Becoming Who You Are outlines a step-by-step plan for tackling goals.
6 Trying to Multitask
The science is pretty conclusive—multitasking is bad for you. What you’re doing is not actually multitasking but “task switching.” The habit slows cognitive processing, decreases efficiency, lowers IQ during task completion, and increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. Though multitasking may feel good (completing small tasks rewards your brain with dopamine), it’s not a winning long-term strategy.
How to Overcome It In addition to scheduling time for checking emails, texts, etc., it can also be helpful to try out some time trackers to help you focus your time. Toggl is a popular free time tracker. If you don’t want the hassle of setting up projects to categorize your time, try the Pomodoro Timer and just commit yourself to only working on one task during a given cycle.
7 Responding Inappropriately to Criticism
Criticism, even when it’s constructive, can be hard to cope with, particularly if the criticism gets to the heart of what you are trying to do. However, if you find yourself getting too emotionally involved with criticism, it can stunt your confidence and potentially ruin your progress toward your goal.
How to Overcome It The first step to dealing with criticism is understanding what kind of criticism it is. There are three types of criticism:
- Friendly criticism, or constructive criticism, is usually delivered with good intent and is tactful, so you can clearly see room for improvement.
- Unfriendly criticism is well intentioned but poorly communicated.
- Malicious or false criticism is delivered with the intention of inflicting hurt rather than creating an opportunity for development.
Once you understand the kind of criticism you’re dealing with, you can practice techniques to processr it correctly, including, among others, focusing on the suggestion and not the tone, not taking it personally, and smiling.
8 Trying to Plan It All in Your Head
If you’re trying to plan a goal completely in your head, you’re gonna have a bad time. You’ll forget things, have a much harder time staying on schedule, and struggle to focus.
How to Overcome It Get it out of your head. Whether on paper or digitally, dump all your ideas, goals, and timelines somewhere else. There are several planning techniques that can be used for any number of different goals or projects, but the most basic and often most helpful is the simple to do list. If you’re not sure what kind of list you need, take our quiz.
9 Getting Distracted
If you are constantly finding yourself checking social media, email, or texts, you are letting your focus slip and using these little tasks to procrastinate. Some research has shown that it can take up to twenty-three minutes for you to recover your focus after a distraction!
How to Overcome It Some of the most common techniques for reducing distractions are to
- schedule “distraction time”
- batch and do small tasks last
- remove yourself from the distraction
In addition to making a few habit changes, you can also get technology on your side to fight distraction. There are several tools for your computer and browsers that will help you manage the amount of time you spend on time-sink pages like Facebook.
10 Having an All-or-Nothing Approach
An all-or-nothing approach is damaging not only because it sets you up for perfectionism but also because you lose the ability to appreciate the progress you make along the way.
How to Overcome It The key here is to focus on what you are able to achieve. On a daily basis, this can be as simple as keeping a “done” list—literally a list where you write down everything you accomplish, even if it wasn’t on your original to-do list. For bigger projects, this can be harder, but try to plan regular check-ins to assess your progress. If you’re prone to all-or-nothing thinking, it’s important that you try to focus on what you have been able to accomplish overall and not just what you have not accomplished.
You’ve got a new idea. It’s exciting, and you want to start, like, yesterday. That passion and energy is terrific. Use it, but make sure you don’t put off necessary planning and research. And definitely don’t try to do an inhuman amount of work in a human amount of time. A bit of planning and balance, even fresh out of the gate, can save you from burning out or even putting too many eggs in one basket.
How to Overcome It Invest some of your creative energy in helpful ways. Conversations about your ideas with trusted friends can help you keep things in perspective. To help preserve balance, Dr. Charles Sophy recommends monitoring a life-checklist, S.W.E.E.P.—Sleep, Work, Eating, Emotional expression of self, and Play.
12 Not Sleeping On It
If you have a big project or a big decision, it might not help to dive in before a good night’s rest. The fact is that your brain needs sleep to dispose of its waste properly. Going without sleep can severely impact judgement and work quality, while good sleep can keep your brain clear and healthy while also helping drive success.
How to Overcome It Unfortunately, for many it’s difficult to get enough rest. In addition to simply blocking off enough time for sleep, there are a number of lifestyle habits that can help you easily improve your sleep.
- Turn off electronics and television at least one hour before bed. Set an alarm to remind yourself—or use iOS’s new bedtime feature.
- Keep away from blue light after dark. A tool like f.lux automatically adjusts color settings on your computer so the light is better for your eyes—and brain.
- Spend at least twenty minutes under natural daylight every day.
- Exercise more.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine and stimulant intake after lunch.
In the end, we all have our own unique obstacles that keep us from completing our goals. By identifying which of the above habits you are prone to and trying to incorporate fixes into your planning, it may be possible to make greater progress on your goals.
What other mental habits can keep you from achieving your goals? How do you overcome them?