5 Ways to Make Goal Setting a Positive Experience

Do you have goals you would like to accomplish? Have you given up on goals or didn’t enjoy working on them in the past? Do you want working towards goals to be a rewarding experience? Have you tried goal setting before but end up fizzling out?

Goals bring meaning to your life by helping you identify areas where you’d like to improve and drive you to fulfil your ambitions. When you spend time making changes to be happier, you prove to yourself that you have control over your own life and emotions – this is very empowering.

Accomplishing goals takes effort, dedication and planning. You’re more likely to accomplish goals when they have a specific end result, your progress can be measured, they’re achievable (rather than unrealistically ambitious), relevant to your current situation, and time-sensitive. But setting goals that will enrich and fulfil you requires more than a practical approach. If you choose a goal that isn’t aligned with your values, adopt a restrictive mindset, or your goal isn’t rewarding, you’re less likely to enjoy working on your goal or be satisfied with the outcome.

If you consider the following approaches to goals, you can learn a great deal about yourself, feel more fulfilled, and have a positive experience.

1) Consider your values to align goal setting effectively

The goals you decide to work on should reflect your core values. Core values are the beliefs and principles that guide your decisions and behaviour. They reflect what you think is most important to living a rich, moral and satisfying life. You’re proud of yourself when you demonstrate your values and admire others who share and exhibit them. Therefore, for goals to be rewarding experiences that make you feel proud of yourself, the goals you choose and how you accomplish them should align with your values.

This could be someone who values independence wanting to become self-employed, someone who values adventure and self-discovery saving up for a hiking trip, or someone who values family and relationships trying to become a better parent and partner.

While it may sound obvious that your goals should reflect what’s important to you, it’s easy to base your goals on what would make other people happy by setting goals on what you think you should want or what you see others doing. You could think you should be a homeowner so you set a goal of saving for a down payment and finding a house to buy. But if you prefer the freedom and flexibility of renting and don’t really want to buy a house, you’re unlikely to be motivated or enjoy the effort that goes into this goal.

It’s also possible to accomplish a goal in a way that goes against your values. If you want to save more money because you value financial security, you could start doing as much overtime as possible, even though this means you have less time to spend with your family. If you value relationships, then your pursuit of your goal is compromising your ability to honour other values.

Choosing goals that reflect your values will make you feel proud of yourself as you work on them, and you should have an easier time staying committed because they’ll be rewarding. If your goals are based on other people’s values, you’ll likely have to use a lot of willpower to work on them and not find them enjoyable or satisfying.

2) Focus on what you want to accomplish when you invest in goal setting instead of what you want to avoid

How you frame your goal – the way you describe it to yourself then set rules and conditions for how you’ll accomplish it – plays a strong role in your chances of being successful and how you’ll feel about the process.

Goals come in two types – approach and avoidance. Approach goals focus on what you want to accomplish or add to your routine, such as going for a run twice per week, learning a new language, or saving a set amount of money every month.

Avoidance goals are about not doing something, such as spending less money, going on social media less often, or not drinking as much. You give yourself a behaviour you have to avoid and measure success by how rarely you do that behaviour.

Avoidance goals are typically negative experiences because there aren’t many opportunities for positive outcomes. You may feel accomplished if you spent an entire day without doing what you’re trying to quit, but you can also become stressed and frustrated by always trying to avoid certain situations and behaviours. Without clear measures of success, there are only things to avoid and regret, rather than behaviours to seek out and feel rewarded for accomplishing.

Fortunately, most goals can be framed as accroach goals, even if your aim is to give something up. Instead of telling yourself you have to stop spending so much time on Facebook in the evenings, ask yourself what you would like to do instead. This could be spending at least one hour reading, watching a show with your partner, or anything else you think is a better way of spending your time. That way you can congratulate for doing what you want to do more often, instead of only trying to prevent a negative outcome. This makes working on your goals a more positive experience.

3) Choose healthy ways of accomplishing your goals

Even if you set an approach goal that aligns with your values, it’s still possible to work towards a goal in a way that’s unhealthy. You may get the final outcome you want, but in a way that hasn’t enriched your life or made you a better person.

A number of people set goals to lose weight. Improving their appearance and confidence is often a big part of the reason why they have this goal, but they typically want to feel better and be healthier as well. You can lose weight by replacing meals with energy drinks to cut calories and accomplish your goal of weight loss, but your health will be worse than it was before so you only achieved part of your goal.

How you accomplish your goal can honour your values or force you to make sacrifices you might not be comfortable with, so consider what you want your life to be life afterwards as you plan your approach.

4) Enjoy the process rather than focusing only on the outcome

Goals need to have an outcome that you’re working towards, but reaching this final result shouldn’t be your only focus or the only time you’ll celebrate.

Some goals are very ambitious and can take years to finish. And certain types of goals, such as those on self-improvement and how you treat others or yourself, don’t have an end date.

Almost all goals can be broken down into smaller steps with milestones to work towards. By recognising your progress and feeling accomplished even if there’s still work to do, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed or believe that finishing is impossible. This will make working on your goal a far more positive experience.

5) Give yourself permission to change your mind about your goal

As you’re working on a goal, you can discover that it isn’t what you actually want and change your mind about wanting to complete it.

In these circumstances, some people believe they’ll be failures if they give up, or the time and energy they’ve already invested in their goal will be wasted. But this isn’t true. Working on goals often reveals a great deal about yourself, what’s important to you, and what makes you feel fulfilled and proud of yourself.

When you began working on your goal, you might not have known what you wanted to accomplish or what would make you happy. For example, someone could think they want to be a manager at their job so they work on getting promoted. But as they start taking business and leadership courses, putting in extra hours, and seeking out more responsibilities, they realise that what they actually want is to help people with their careers. So rather than trying to become a manager, they give up this goal and pursue a career as a mentor instead. Technically they gave up on their goal, but only because they realised achieving it wouldn’t meet their needs. If you find yourself in a similar position, you can be much happier and fulfilled if you recognise that giving up your goal may be what’s best for you.

Time spent working on goals is rarely time wasted, even if you change your mind about finishing. Most goals require learning new skills and developing new habits which can be useful in other areas of your life unrelated to your original goal. If you have a goal of finishing a marathon so you start getting up early to stretch, go for runs in the evenings, and eating healthy, these are still useful habits even if you decide that finishing a marathon likely won’t be as rewarding as you imagined.

Rather than thinking of a goal you chose to quit as a waste of time, you can celebrate what the experience taught you, both about yourself and as skills and habits.

Goal setting, making goal setting a positive experience

Goals have the potential to make you feel fulfilled and proud of yourself. But this isn’t always the case. If you pick a goal that isn’t aligned with your values, doesn’t give you many opportunities to feel rewarded, or that doesn’t reflect what you really want, then working on your goal can be not only unenjoyable but harm your mental health as well.

By choosing a goal and an approach that honours what’s important to you and has an encouraging and flexible approach, working on your goal can be a positive experience that teaches you useful skills and a great deal about yourself and your values.

Goals have the potential to make you feel like a better version of yourself and give you a greater sense of agency over your life, but getting these benefits requires a healthy approach.

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