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mental barrier stress

I’ve tried different goal setting strategies over the years.

I used to try setting New Year’s resolutions (because isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?). Most of these New Year’s resolutions would revolve around healthy eating and exercise. But, they’d fizzle out by February. 

My problem wasn’t that I didn’t know how to set goals or create a plan. I tried to do those things, but I couldn’t seem to achieve my goals.

Looking back, here are a few of the reasons why I lost momentum: 

  1. The goals I set didn’t matter. I didn’t like the life I was living at the time. Exercise and healthier eating weren’t actually going to make me happier. Doing these things in the name of “self-care” was a bandaid solution that prolonged my unhappiness.
  2. These goals were not things that I wanted. These were goals that society told me that I should set. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I let society dictate it for me. 
  3. Lastly, I was completely exhausted. I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on “elective” self-improvement. I was too busy trying to climb the corporate ladder.

Things started to shift for me in 2018 when I took my 6-month career break to focus on recovering from burnout and mental health issues.

I had neglected myself and what I wanted for so long. This led to a mental breakdown and the realization that I needed to radically reimagine my life and figure out what I wanted. 

Before I could do that, I had a lot of learning (and unlearning to do).

Before I could start building a life I truly wanted to be living, I needed to do three things:

  1. I needed to figure out what that life would look like and what would uniquely make me happy.
  2. I needed to recover from burnout so that I had the energy to take action toward that vision.
  3. I needed to make a lot of mindset shifts and work through limiting beliefs that kept me from creating and moving toward my vision. 

In 2020, I finally felt like I hit my stride (and I continued to grow more confident and consistent over the course of the year).

During this year, I accomplished more than I could have imagined was possible. Building on my blog and writing, I built a business facilitating workshops and small group coaching programs. The program grew quickly. Within 9 months, I decided to quit my job and take the leap to entrepreneurship

These shifts did not happen overnight. In fact, they have been a continuous process for the past 3 years. 

Over this time, I’ve made mindset shifts that have enabled me to:

  • Envision what I want my life to look like
  • Focus on my mental and emotional wellness and well-being (i.e. to feel good)
  • Build confidence to take steps forward even when the outcome was uncertain
  • Enlist accountability and support along my journey.  

If you are struggling to set and achieve your goals, I’d encourage you not to look for goal setting systems first. Instead, I’d encourage you to consider if there might be something else holding you back. 

Mental Barriers that Hold Us Back from Achieving Our Goals

I recently surveyed this community to learn more about what kept people from setting and achieving their goals. I had over 80 people complete this survey (thank you if you were one of them). From this survey, I heard 4 key barriers over and over again. 

1. We don’t know what we want.

There was a clear consensus for why the majority of survey respondents either don’t set goals in the first place or don’t follow through. It’s because they don’t actually know what they want. 

We all know what society tells us our goals should be (i.e. advance our careers, to be thin and fit, and to take the Instagram-worthy vacation, etc.). But, so many of us don’t know what we uniquely want out of life.

This was certainly true for me. For so many years, I felt like I was on autopilot. I thought that if I achieved what society defined as successful that I’d be happy. I focused on advancing my career, losing weight, and taking luxury vacations to escape my daily life. 

Unsurprisingly, these things made me even more miserable. I was climbing the wrong ladder

When we follow society’s script for success and don’t know what we uniquely want for our lives, it’s very hard to set goals that we’ll be motivated to achieve.

If we do achieve them, we’ll be left with an emptiness and wonder, “Is this it?” What is the point of setting and achieving goals if I’m still going to feel empty and miserable?

2. We are exhausted and burned out. 

This is a big one and the second most commonly cited reason why people have a hard time achieving their goals.

We have an epidemic of busyness in our country and world. Many people think that they need to be hustling 24-7 so that they can climb the corporate ladder or increase their side income. We say “yes” even when we don’t want to and overcommit to activities outside of work as well.

woman exhausted burned out

I used to work 50 hours/week and say “yes” to every request because I wanted to climb the corporate ladder and make more money. I was exhausted and my life felt meaningless.

And, how did I respond?

By adding more things to my life. I decided to join a board of directors for a local nonprofit. I joined a book club because I wanted more connection with others. I got up before the crack of dawn to exercise. I added more and more things to my life and became even more exhausted.

Some of these commitments have naturally lessened as a result of COVID. Yet, there are still many people who feel busier than ever (or at least still too busy). I’ve heard from so many people that they feel like they always need to be “on” because they are working from home. There’s no natural transition from work to their personal life, and they are working more than ever. 

Being drained and exhausted is like trying to moving through a dense fog. It’s very challenging to see more than a few feet in front of our faces, so we start to move slower and slower until we get completely lost. 

Being exhausted and burned out often means that we’ve lost touch with ourselves and what we want. In the rare cases where we have an idea of the direction we want to go, we are too exhausted to explore it. Every step feels like a chore. 

3. We are afraid of an uncertain outcome.

“If I don’t set goals, I can’t fail…”

I read statements like this over and over in the survey responses. This definitely resonates with me. I used to only set goals that felt 100% achievable. I didn’t want to fail and disappoint myself and others.

This is part of the reason why I hate SMART Goals. Not every goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. If they do, it means that I’m going to shrink the goal down to something that’s no longer inspiring. 

I suppose I can understand the idea of SMART goals in a work environment. When they are tied to salary increases, we want to know we’ll achieve them since our livelihood might be at stake.

Setting goals that are 100% achievable holds us back from exploring big dreams. 

4. We don’t know what steps to take. 

Sometimes, what paralyzes us is not knowing how to do something. If we don’t know anyone who has taken the path before, it’s hard to know what steps to take. 

woman confused stressed

When I was first starting my business, I was confident that I could design a transformational learning experience for my clients. However, I was terrified by trying to “sell” my program.

I felt like I needed to know everything in advance. When I didn’t know something (which was most of the time), I agonized over every detail. This led to a lot of unnecessary stress, and things took way longer than they needed to. 

If we assume we need to have all the answers and don’t, analysis paralysis can keep us from moving forward. 

Mindset Shifts I Made that Helped Me Achieve My Goals

Over the last three years, I’ve shifted my perspective around so many of these mental barriers. These four mindset shifts have helped me to learn how to pursue my goals in a way that is not only effective but also feels good. 

1. Give My Overflow

One of my coaching clients recently said this phrase, “give your overflow.”. It really resonated with me. This is exactly how I’ve been trying to live my life since my experience with burnout in 2018. 

coffee cup overflow

This phrase is laden with an important assumption. To give of ourselves to help others or work toward our goals, we need to take care of ourselves first. It means that we are so full of energy, vitality, and joy that we can give the overflow to the people around us. 

This tells me something really important. It’s important (and I might even say vital) for us to feel good. To do our best work in the world, we need to feel good doing it. 

In 2018, I read a helpful book called the Desire Map. The idea behind this book was simple. If we can discover how we want to feel, we can create goals and take action steps that will allow us to experience those feelings more often. 

After reading the book, I can up with my “core desired feelings”, which were:

  • Energized
  • Balanced
  • Adventurous
  • Authentic
  • Creative 

Then, I started designing my life so that I would experience these emotions on a regular basis. Using these desired emotions as my guide, I made a number of changes.

First, I eliminated everything in my life that didn’t support these feelings. I quit my full-time job that caused my severe anxiety in the first place. I decided not to go back to work full-time. I resigned from a nonprofit board role. I pared down unnecessary commitments like participating in a book club and keeping up with former colleagues. Setting boundaries at work became incredibly important. 

By eliminating these things, I freed up time to have more balance and to pursue things that would add value to my life. I explored my creativity through writing and photography. I learned to be more mindful and support my well-being through meditation, yoga, and journaling. I consistently started sleeping 8 hours each night. Finally, I had the energy to focus on the things that were really important to me. 

I know that not everyone is in a place where they can make such drastic shifts, but I do believe that we can all make small shifts that will make your life better.

It took a long time to get to a point where I felt like I was overflowing. When I did, everything felt easier. Things flowed, and I felt like I actually wanted to do them. This allowed me to discover the kinds of activities that energized and engaged me without being burdened by exhaustion. 

2. Build a Growth Mindset

Building a growth mindset means that you “believe that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.” Having a growth mindset allows people to relish challenges as learning opportunities. 

A growth mindset is contrasted by a “fixed mindset.” This means that you believe you “believe that your basic qualities like intelligence or talent are simply fixed traits.” Having a fixed mindset usually means that someone will shy away from challenges because they don’t want to expose their weaknesses. People who ascribe to a fixed mindset might even not do their best work so that they’ll have an excuse for why something failed. 

People with a growth mindset know that they will learn most by doing. They know that there is no way they can anticipate every challenge. Those with a growth mindset actually know that they can’t know what challenges might arise until they get started. 

In my life, I’ve seen that when I approach everything as an “experiment,” I can learn so much about the task at hand and myself. If something doesn’t work out as planned, I can evaluate it to see what I can learn from the situation about what I want to do differently next time.

I can also pay attention to how each experiment makes me feel. This helps me use my joy and curiosity as a guide for how I want to move forward with each project.

Each step forward helps me learn more about myself and the task at hand and opens doors to new opportunities and relationships. 

3. Cultivate an Abundance Mindset

One reason a lot of people don’t take action to change their lives is that they fear that the next thing won’t actually be better. This is a symptom of a scarcity mindset. When we are so worried that everything we’ve built will suddenly fall apart, we need to hold tight to what we have (even if it’s not great). 

Cultivating an abundance mindset means that I believe there are many possibilities that will both provide me with what I need and bring me joy.

It can be hard to let go of what we know to try something different. As I’ve gained experience and financial stability, I’ve learned that I can take risks to improve my situation. 

To be clear, having an abundance mindset doesn’t mean that you have to quit something that isn’t working without having a clear plan. Although, it could mean this for some people. 

For me, it’s been more of an incremental process.  Over time, I’m building the life I want and slowly shedding aspects that don’t serve that vision. For example, I didn’t quit traditional work entirely to start my own business. In 2019, I didn’t actually have a lot of ideas, so I went back to work part-time so that I had time to experiment. 

Now, I’m confident to take the leap to entrepreneurship because I’ve enjoyed what I’ve been doing and want to expand that into my life. For a while, it was hard to consider quitting my part-time job because it was fine, and I didn’t mind it.

Now, I realized that staying would mean staying in a scarcity mindset. I could give up something fine for the possibility of building something great. 

4. Build a Community of Support

I’ve learned that it’s okay for me not to know everything. It’s also okay for me to not be confident 100% of the time. I can also ask for feedback and incorporate it into what I’m doing. Needing feedback or ideas from others does not diminish my work. 

Building a community of support has been life-changing in helping me achieve my goals.

You might think that the main reason to build a community of support is accountability. In actuality, accountability is only a small part of the benefit. 

community support accountability

Over the last year, I’ve worked with a coach, met weekly with an accountability partner, started a mastermind for new coaches, and took part in an online community for bloggers.

Here are just a few of the tremendous benefits of building community:

  • Being encouraged by people who have a higher level of confidence in your success than you do.
  • Having a deep connection with people who truly understand your struggles.
  • Brainstorming together and generating ideas.
  • Learning from someone else’s success and mistakes. 
  • Providing encouragement to someone else and then realizing, “Wow… what I just said can also apply to myself.”
  • Connecting with others makes everything more fun and less scary. 

We don’t need to figure out everything ourselves. This is exactly why we have a community. 

How to Start Shifting Your Mindset for 2021 and Achieve Your Goals

You might be reading this and feel overwhelmed with where to start. You don’t need to make all the changes simultaneously or immediately. 

If I could go back and do it again, I’d prioritize two things: recovering from burnout and building a community. 

I used to think that feeling completely exhausted and burned out was completely normal. I didn’t know there was another way. Now that I’ve recovered from burnout, I recognize the signs of burnout in most people I come across.

These signs include:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion, such as fatigue, insomnia, increased illness, stress, and anxiety.
  • Feeling cynical or detached, such as isolating yourself from others, negative self-talk, and not enjoying activities you previously found enjoyable.
  • Feeling more apathetic, irritable, and ineffective. 

If you are suffering from burnout, I’d encourage you to focus on 2 things:

  1. Eliminate things that drain your energy
  2. Add recovery activities (i.e. fun or rejuvenating activities that make you feel more energized after doing them)

Second, find or build a community of support. I listened to a podcast interview recently with Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore. She talks about the importance of finding your wolf-pack.” If you can find a person or group who are moving in the same direction you want to go, they can help socialize you and help you figure out your direction. 

Here are a few ideas for how you can get started with this:

  • Set-up a virtual lunch or coffee date with someone who is taking a similar path to where you want to go.
  • Create (or join) a book club or discussion group around a particular topic. In 2019, I wanted to go through the book Designing Your Life with a group. I put out a request on Twitter to see if anyone was interested. Within a day, I had 3 others lined up to be my lifestyle design team.
  • Join a Facebook group or other online community related to something you want to learn. I love the Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook group. It’s been described as “intentionally chill.” I’m also part of a Facebook group dedicated to financial coaching and a paid online community called Online Impact.
  • Find a therapist. I’ve grown and learned so much about myself and worked through burnout and severe anxiety by meeting weekly with a therapist. Honestly, I think everyone could benefit from therapy. Even though I’m doing really well now, having that consistent touchpoint to work through challenges helps to keep me on track. 
  • Work with a coach. I can’t underestimate the progress that I made in 2020 by working with a coach. Being able to learn from someone else’s success and methods was incredibly valuable. Working through mental blocks and my scarcity mindset was even more valuable.

Achieving Your Goals is Where Our Mindset Meets Effective Systems

Creating and meeting our goals requires both the right mindset and the right systems. We can’t have one without the other. 

On Saturday, 12/19, I will be facilitating a new workshop called Demystifying Annual Planning. In that training, I plan to touch on mindset, but I’ll focus more on the actual systems I’ve used over the last year to reach my goals. 

Without the mindset, the systems wouldn’t be effective. Without the systems and organization, it would be very hard to stay on track to accomplish my goals. Our mindset is the foundation and our systems are the walls that support the house. 

I hope you’ll join Saturday’s workshop. 

In the meantime, what mental barriers do you want to address in 2021?

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