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The goal guilt trap and how to escape it

Don't get caught in the goal guilt trap now or ever.
Don't get caught in the goal guilt trap now or ever.
Svilen Milev,

As January creeps toward a close, many people are experiencing the same feeling: guilt. Are you feeling guilty for not taking enough action toward your New Year’s Resolutions? Are you beating yourself up for falling off whatever wagon you had proclaimed to ride on for the year? Are you caught in the goal guilt trap?

Whether it is losing weight, dating more, writing the final page of your book, learning a new language or some other resolution, succumbing to the goal guilt trap will stifle or completely prevent your progress. You know you’re falling into the goal guilt trap if at some point during the day – maybe it’s when your morning alarm goes off or maybe it’s at night as you’re setting that same alarm for the next morning – you feel a pang of guilt for not having spent time working toward your goal.

How to escape the guilt

People around the world are struck with guilt because as the New Year rolled around they over-promised and now are under-delivering. They vowed to lose 12 pounds this month or to work on the next great novel every day, and they haven’t. Almost one month into the year, how can they turn around what they perceive as failure?

1) Rename failure as feedback and course correct

Assess how the month went and learn from it. Remember, self compassion has many benefits. What were the wins? Where did you fall short? Was your goal realistic to begin with? What can you fix moving forward?

2) Set realistic (not idealistic) expectations moving forward

If you were never taking steps toward your goal last year, is it realistic that you will, all of a sudden, take action every single day? For instance, if you never set foot in the gym last year, is it realistic that you will exercise at World Gym in Pacific Beach every day this year or even six days a week? No. One trick is to set your expectations for, let’s say, four days a week and then set aside time on your calendar for five days a week. That way, you have the choice of slacking off one day, working late or feeling sick and still reaching your weekly goal. You’ll be sidestepping the goal guilt trap. The bonus is you’ll feel ecstatic on the weeks you do follow through all five days!

Another pitfall is to assume you can do everything. When you try to juggle too many goals at once, you fall into the goal guilt trap as soon as you drop one of them. Instead of working toward all of your goals now, stagger them throughout your calendar. Some may need to be set aside to evaluate for next year. For example, you may want to focus on your exercise and diet plan for 4-6 months until you have made significant progress or reached your goal and are maintaining. Then in the summer, sign up for classes at the Language Door School in Kearny Mesa. As your classes are winding down, you can use your new-found time to write a few times a week and go on dates more frequently.

3) Course correct periodically

After you’ve made changes to maximize your success and had a chance to try them out, reassess your actions and progress in another 2 weeks, month, 3 months, or other reasonable amount of time. Compare your results with your intended results, decide if you’re taking the right amount of action and check for any unnecessary guilt. Then, course correct and move on knowing to set another status check date for the future.

The goal guilt trap can lessen or completely stop your progress. Instead of falling into or staying stuck in the goal guilt trap, do the three steps above to reach your goals this year. You’ll benefit from the joy of making guilt-free progress and seeing your results.

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