Obsessing Over Goals Is the Opposite of Self-Improvement
Three ways to avoid a classic personal growth trap
I’m a PhD candidate in counseling psychology, studying how context influences mental health outcomes and how this makes us vulnerable to phenomena like impostor syndrome. I’m also a clinician who counsels high-achieving and goal-oriented people working toward mental wellness and self-compassion. What seems clear when I talk to people about their goals is that the goals become the point.
They’re taking their cues from media culture: those “motivational” products with sayings like “You have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé”; Steve Harvey’s viral comment on equating little sleep with success; Michael Bloomberg’s highly questionable professional advice that involves “out-working” everyone else. The uniting idea is that denying ourselves rest, nutrition, and relationships is perfectly acceptable if it results in progress toward the goal.
This obsession with goals feeds our “Who’s busiest?” brag-offs with our friends over brunch and makes us feel guilty about setting away messages for time off. When we focus so much on the goal, we leave little room to engage with the motivations underlying it. By concentrating so intently on what’s next, we distance ourselves from the reason we started the journey in the first place. We’re always trying to be bigger, better, smarter, and well-er, but to what end? Here’s a different approach:
Value curiosity more than action
A checklist approach to wellness (meal prep — check, therapy — check, meditation — check) almost never allows space for being present or interrogating the “why” behind these tasks. I find that many people have internalized the belief that acceptance is conditional and that we must continue to achieve to be worthy of it. As a result, we hitch our value to how much we produce rather than who we are.
Take a moment to consider: Where does your desire to “fix” or change yourself come from, and does this dynamic feel familiar? When we allow ourselves to be present without the pressure of doing, we gain insight and self-compassion.
Try this the next time you find yourself pivoting more toward the do than the be: