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New Year Goals and Emotions

Updated: Jan 16


Have you wondered why it can be so hard to keep our goals? Are we just not motivated enough? Does someone have it out to sabotage our incredible plans for change? Are we getting in our own way?


This is not another “how to” blog on how to achieve your goals. I’m here to help you think differently about the roadblocks that keep you from making progress with your goals. Hopefully, you will get some clarity into yourself which can help you make changes to reach your aspirations.


Emotionally Charged Goals


While it is possible for us to be undisciplined with the goals we’ve set, sometimes we have emotional barriers that impede our progress. Goals such as exercising, saving money, starting to date again, or staying on top of the laundry can be emotionally charged for us.


  • The task at hand is more than just a task, it is emotional for the person.

  • Because of someone’s upbringing with judgment and criticism towards them and others, they might be primed to view themselves as a failure for their lack of perfection in work, relationships, or in maintaining an orderly house.


So, when it comes to laundry, seeing your laundry pile up may bring on anxiety for you.


  • You might think that you are a failure for having dirty laundry.

  • You might compare yourself to your tidy mother who seemed to have it all under control.

  • Doing your laundry (or not doing it) seems to reveal a moral failing of yours.

  • The thoughts and feelings that you have when you do laundry can be overwhelming for you.

  • You avoid doing laundry because it makes you feel anxious- and more laundry continues piling up!


Unhelpful Coping Behaviors


White-knuckling- We may try to ignore the emotional discomfort that we feel while trying to change a behavior or reach a goal. Sometimes this works, but often white-knuckling only works in the short-term.


Logic- We try to convince ourselves that we should be able to change. We might think, “I shouldn’t be stressed about cleaning my house, I just need to set time aside to do it”, “I should just eat 3 healthy meals a day instead of snacking all day. I know I would feel better”. The logical thought does not necessarily lead to a behavior change.


Self-Judgment- We berate ourselves for our mistakes. Self-judgment towards ourselves can serve as a distraction from making the behavior change. If you’re busy judging yourself for not changing, you aren’t tackling the task of changing a behavior.


Perfectionism- When we try to avoid making mistakes due to fear of judgement, we might leave projects incomplete or overly fixate on them. We don’t have to feel disappointed with an outcome or worry about failing, because we can write off our half-completed project as “incomplete”—so it can’t really be judged.


Rationalization- Inevitability we make mistakes. Sometimes we use this as an excuse to continue in unhelpful behaviors. “I ate brownies for breakfast so the day is already ruined, why try!” Your goal of eating balanced meals goes out the window when you make your first misstep. It then gives you the excuse of staying off track and brushing off your goal.


Helpful Behaviors


Challenge the Negative Thoughts- Some of these “emotionally charged” goals that we have for ourselves can be less charged when we challenge the negative thoughts that we have about them. We can recognize that the laundry piling up is not actually a moral failing, but rather something that we need to deal with.


Self-Compassion- We can also have some compassion for ourselves for the unhelpful messages we might have received for not having our laundry “under control”. Understanding that you are still reacting in unhelpful ways to those past messages can help you let go of judgment towards yourself.


Get Back on Track- We can choose to get ourselves back on track. Regret can be adaptive for us. It means that we want to change a behavior. If we turn it into shaming ourselves, it only keeps us stuck.


Set Boundaries- Sometimes setting boundaries around these emotionally charged tasks lets you free up some mental energy for other things. If you decide you will only do laundry on Mondays and Thursdays, then you can better let go of the pressure that you might place on yourself to have an empty laundry basket daily.


Refocus- When we focus on the challenge of the task or goal at hand instead of on our insecurities, we could find our work more enjoyable. We can shift our focus onto solving a problem verses analyzing our weaknesses.


Reaching Our Goals Is About Tolerating Our Emotions


Sometimes, what gets in the way of us achieving our goals is not motivation but rather our own difficulty in soothing the anxiety that we experience when trying to achieve them. We can help ourselves achieve our goals when we learn to better tolerate the anxiety that comes from striving towards them.


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