How to Make Goal-Setting Less Stressful

Setting goals can give you a sense of direction and encouragement to live a more purposeful life. When you set your goals, you not only create a roadmap but also a referencing tool that you will use to track your progress as the (new) year progresses. That’s great, right? 

On the flip side, setting goals can be overwhelming, if not stress- or anxiety-inducing. Exactly why does this happen, and how can you make goal-setting less stressful? 

Did you know that your brain reacts to the goals you set? When a goal seems large or unrealistically ambitious, this can trigger the fight-flight-or-freeze part of your brain, known as the amygdala. When this happens, it becomes hard to envision yourself achieving the goal. 


Setting goals also implies a change in any aspect of your life. This often entails learning a new skill or habit while unlearning some habits that can get in the way of achieving your goal. When you start fixating on how or whether you will be able to accomplish this, this can create unnecessary pressure or anxiety. 


Sometimes, you may be comparing yourself to others. This turns your goal-setting into some sort of competition with others – particularly those you think have it way easier. You may also just want to be on the same level as they are. This can all cause stress, especially when you start thinking about all the things you need to do to get to where others are.


Some ways to simplify your goal-setting

  1. Set SMART goals.

When your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and have a clear timeframe or are timebound, this makes achieving them easier. It also lets you know when you are accomplishing what you set out to within in due time. 

Once you know what your goals are, break them into smaller, sub-goals. This makes them less overwhelming and more achievable. 

List all the tasks you’ll need to do to accomplish your sub-goals. These should be accomplished in a short period, say, a week, month, or so.   

If you want to start reading books in 2024, here’s what your SMART goal would look like: 

Specific: I will read one book every month next year.

Measurable: I will spend 30 minutes each day reading a selected book, so I can complete it by the end of the month.

Attainable: I will set aside 30 minutes before bedtime when I am relaxed and my daily routine isn’t affected.

Relevant: Reading will increase my knowledge of self, open me up to others’ experiences, and it will also be a great way to unwind. 

Timebound: By setting aside 30 minutes a day to read a book, I’ll complete it in a month. This will ensure I have read 12 books by the end of 2024.

  1. Set your goals for YOURSELF.

If other outside pressure influences the goals you set, it’s no surprise this can cause stress. It can even cause feelings of jealousy or resentment when it starts looking like you won’t measure up to those you are comparing yourself to.

Focus on your journey, and align your goals with values that ensure your personal growth. A good way to help you do this is to ask yourself why you want to achieve a specific goal. How will it help you? What does it say about you as a person? 

Some points to remember 

When you set your goals, remind yourself that slip-ups are part of the process. Life can happen, and things may get in the way, making it hard for you to stick to what you set out to do. It’s OK if this happens. Don’t give up or beat yourself up.

Sometimes, you will need to change your goals. Things can change, and you may need to adapt to that change or take advantage of new and unforeseen opportunities. 

You may also need to evaluate your goals as the year progresses. This will help you determine if they’re still relevant, realistic, or even rewarding.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to reward yourself when you hit a milestone. This can reinforce positive behavior and motivate you to achieve your SMART 2024 goals. 


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