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How to overcome anxiety and pursue your dreams

How goal setting can become an issue

Ever since I started to learn the basics of goal setting, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that it presents. Set a goal, and you’re likely to achieve the things you want.

I encountered the basics of goal setting while studying sport psychology during my second year at the university (not surprisingly, goal setting is one of the most important psychological interventions for athletes — and other high performers alike).

However, after a while I learned — through frustration and anxiety — that it was not as straightforward as I initially thought. It involved a whole lot more procrastination and frustration.

If you’re anything like me, anxiety fills your body — with aching back pain and restless legs — when you’re procrastinating on your dreams. Isn’t it a familiar scenario? You’ve set a goal — the task at hand is just one rung on the ladder you’ve decided to climb — yet, you can’t force yourself to climb it.

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition.” — Alain de Botton

Goal setting is a push-pull procedure.

The goal setting theory might contain a solution to this problem. The basics of the theory is as follows:

“Set a specific, high goal and the result will be high performance. This is because the specific goal that is chosen focuses an individual’s attention on goal-relevant activities. Individuals exert far more effort for a higher goal than they do for an easier one, and they persist in doing so until the goal is attained.However, the beneficial effect of the goal–performance relationship only occurs if the person has the ability to attain the goal, is committed to goal attainment, receives feedback on goal pursuit, and has the requisite resources to pursue and attain the goal.” — Gary P. Latham

 

As you can see, the benefits only occur under certain conditions. You need to have the ability, the commitment, and the resources to attain your goal. In addition, you also need to receive feedback on your process.

Any anxiety you feel, is the result of setting a goal that is significantly higher than what your current abilities allow for. Yes, you need to set a high goal, but if you set it too high — performance anxiety will occur, and procrastination will follow.

There’s a solution to this problem, one that will end your anxiety and move you closer to your dreams.

  1. When you’re initially setting a goal, set the highest goal that you can think of. Be specific and aim as high as possible, as this allows you to exert more effort. In addition, your goal must be so desirable that it makes you want to commit to it. E.g., “I will create a client-based business, so that I can work on my own terms.”
  2. Set smaller goals that you can accomplish on your way to the main goal. These sub goals will provide frequent feedback, which in turn will provide motivation. E.g., “I will acquire 100 clients by the end of the month.”
  3. If the sub goal — or the initial goal — brings about too much anxiety, set a learning goal to alleviate it. A learning goal is a deviation from the goal-pursuit. It should focus on the discovery of strategies, procedures, and information — that allow you to improve your abilities and gain more resources. E.g., “I will learn a new strategy which I can use to acquire clients.”
  4. When you feel like you’ve acquired the sufficient knowledge and/or resources, continue with the pursuit of your main goal.
  5. Adjust as you go. Push when you feel like you have the resources and the abilities, pull away if you need to learn. Repeat this process as many times as you need. Also, don’t be afraid to adjust your main goal. As you continue to achieve your sub goals, you will get a clearer picture of what you’re capable of. You might want to set an even higher main goal.

These are the basics of it. It should minimize the anxiety and procrastination, which in turn will make it easier to accomplish your dreams.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps. “ — Confucius

To summarize the process:

  • Set a specific, high goal, to which you can commit.
  • Set sub goals to gain feedback and motivation.
  • Set learning goals when there’s too much anxiety.
  • Adjust as you go, with a push-pull procedure.

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