High achievers and perfectionists are experts at setting and accomplishing goals. This can have huge advantages and lead to increased productivity and success. However, sometimes, setting and achieving more and more goals leaves us feeling unfulfilled rather than accomplished. We can become obsessed with goals, always finding something bigger and better to strive for. I invited Dr. Caitlin Faas, a psychologist and productivity expert, to write this guest post about how personal development and goal obsession don’t necessarily make us happier.
Do you feel like you’re obsessed with goal setting and sometimes make too many goals? Goal setting is a struggle for many people, but today I want to talk to all the overachievers who are setting and accomplishing goal after goal. As with most aspects of personal development, a healthy balance of goal setting and self-acceptance is needed.
There are endless materials about how to set goals, including making them SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Other literature recommends writing your goals down and posting them somewhere you can see on a regular basis. You’re probably nodding your head, “Yes, yes, of course I know how to make goals.”
Then there’s actually sticking with those goals and accomplishing them. Deliberate practice, committing to a regular schedule so you don’t have to decide, finding an accountability partner, and tracking the progress are all components of helping yourself follow through. Many overachievers have these processes mastered for multiple domains of their lives.
Followed a meal plan for one month – check. Ran a half-marathon – check. Read five books – check. Got the kids to bed on time – check. Cleaned up the kitchen every night over the summer – check.
One goal is never enough
The problem for overachievers is what happens after you attain your goal. Do you find yourself going back to old habits? Or are you so afraid of sliding backward, that you just set the next goal for yourself? “Well if I ran that half-marathon, now it must be time to run a full marathon,” many runners tell themselves. “Full marathon done? Okay, time to see if I can run three marathons in one year.” There’s always more to achieve, so your goals just keep going higher and higher until something changes – sometimes triggered by an injury or a special event.
Achieving goals isn’t always fulfilling
Setting and achieving more and more goals can leave overachievers burnt out and frustrated. “Why did I have to make that goal in the first place? I was happy in the middle of the process, but now that I’ve achieved it, I’m don’t know what to do.” It can become addicting to keep setting new goals, trying to improve yourself, or finding new domains in your life to “accomplish” next. Add a layer of perfection on top and the entire experience can be maddening.
Adam Alter, Ph.D. has an entire chapter dedicated to goals and these issues in his book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” He argues that our smartphones, Fitbits, and other technological tracking devices have changed how and why we set goals. We’re not looking for intrinsic value as much anymore, we’re looking for the Fitbit to light up and give us an external reward when we’ve hit our 10,000 steps. Also, let’s make sure we beat our friends while we’re at it because social comparison is so easy and rewarding. We’re all talking about goal setting much more than we were 20+ years ago.
Tips for setting fulfilling goals
So what’s an overachiever to do? The next time you’re thinking about setting a new goal, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to complete this goal? Is it for myself or for others? Is it because I don’t know what else to do?
- Is it actually necessary to attach a goal to this process? What if I just did it, without an outcome in mind? Would I enjoy it more?
- How can I start this activity without adding social comparison to it? There will always be someone better at this activity. Can I purposefully avoid worrying about that?
- How is my self-esteem wrapped up in this goal? Is it possible to feel productive, accomplished, and worthy without setting or achieving this goal?
These questions should help you stop and think about your goals in a meaningful way, rather than ruthlessly making the next goal and conquering it. You’re already good at goal setting and following through. Now take the time to examine the process more closely and be clear about why you’re doing it.
About the author:
Caitlin Faas, Ph.D. is a recovering, overachieving goal setter herself. She’s an assistant professor of psychology and coach who helps busy professionals integrate graduate school seamlessly into daily life with career direction and productivity hacks. Download her guide for reclaiming your time and conquering your to-do list here. You can also follow Caitlin on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
© 2017 Caitlin Faas. All rights reserved.