Goals: A Double-Edged Sword

When one is in the process of picking up the pieces of a life fallen apart, it is common that the most common advice from friends, loved ones, or even therapists, is that in order to re-align a life and to get back on the track to success is to set some goals. It seems easy enough and is a valuable piece of advice for most people. Goals allow one to express what they want and need out of life, and set the blueprint to follow in order to get those things. Goals give one a little bit of hope that there is a way to rebuild a life. Goals seem like a great idea.

Goals scare the shit out of me.

Well, goals themselves don’t really scare me. What scares me is the very real chance that I will never achieve those goals. What scares me is that I could keel over from a heart attack tomorrow and never get to experience the satisfaction of achieving those goals and reaping the benefits. What scares me is that if I don’t achieve those goals in a specific time, I’m never going to be able to ever again.

These fears are all irrational, of course. But to a person with anxiety and depression, they feel like manacles that restrict me from having the life I want. And as a person who favors meticulously planning things and hates when things go wrong, it’s even worse. I never feel like I can make concrete plans for anything. I love concrete plans. They feel safe. They offer me a satisfying grasp of control over my goals. But real life isn’t like that. Things are messy and fluid. Things go wrong all the time. Each problem feels like a jackhammer blasting a hole through my concrete plans and destroying them. That’s when the panic sets in.

However, I still set goals. I still strive toward something productive and constructive that could improve my lot in life. But I don’t obsess over them. I think about them, put them in the back of my mind, and move on. If I think to much about them, I start planning. Planning leads to setting things in concrete. Then the panic sets in and I second guess myself, leading to me dismissing the goal as unattainable.

So how do I keep my life aiming towards the goals I’ve decided upon without taking the steps to figure out how to get there? First, I prevent them from being concrete. I never write them down. They stay as ethereal spirits roaming my subconscious. When a situation arises in life that could be a stepping stone to achieving one of those goals, the goal drifts to the frontal cortex and I try to justify this opportunity against my goal. If it seems congruent, I continue with the opportunity.

I also try not to tell people about my goals. Telling people my goals also makes them concrete because now there are exterior expectations that I cannot control. This can lead to embarrassment and loss of integrity, both which are horrifying to someone with depression. It just proves that destructive voice in my head right. I don’t deserve to have success because I’m a pointless, worthless human.

The thing that helps me the most is not attaching time limits to goals. This allows me to explore trying to achieve a goal without feeling the pressure of a deadline. It also keeps the goal fluid and adaptable to any disaster that occurs in my life. It is a bit frustrating when things happen that prevent me from taking advantage of an opportunity, but I keep telling myself that there is time and there are other opportunities. It may sound like a bit of a delusion, but I feel that the probability of another chance to advance one of my goals is high.

Setting and striving towards goals is a weird thing. It’s a mental game of tug-of-war between what you want and need to feel comfortable and what is real. Everyone has their own ways of setting and achieving goals, but some might be unhealthy or destructive in other areas of one’s life. I try to avoid those kinds of methods. Over the past few years, I’ve had to re-evaluate how I look at goals and this is the system I’ve come up with. It’s worked so far as my anxiety about fulfilling goals is low and my inner critic hasn’t fully discouraged me from pursuing any of them. It’s just going to take a little longer and require more patience from me to achieve my goals. For my mental health’s sake, I’m perfectly fine with that.