10 min read

Mentally Healthy Goal-Setting

Be careful to set goals out of love for who you are. Not to get away from yourself.
Mentally Healthy Goal-Setting
Photo by Greg Rakozy / Unsplash

This post was originally published on Medium, where I'm currently posting about building a fulfilling, self-attuned life you can actually connect with.

If we all had a nickel for every time we set a goal then gave up halfway through, capitalism would look very different for us, wouldn’t it?

We try everything to overcome this, too.

  • We write them down.
  • Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to be extra specific and clear.
  • We add them to our calendars with reminders
  • Use habit trackers
  • Get accountability buddies
  • And more.

Yet somehow, this whole “goals” thing seems to be really tough to crack for a lot of people.

It’s not tough for everyone, though. Some people get it “right” and seem to nail almost every goal they set.

What do they have that the rest of us are missing?

Is it money? No. Not universally.

Are they smarter? More disciplined?

Again, no.

It took me a long time to crack this nut, and it turns out, it’s simpler than any of those things.

So much simpler it seems obvious. Like it’s been right under our noses this whole time.

The Missing Element of Solid Goals

I’m one of those people who can't go into the grocery store hungry. If I do, I'll buy too much food because my eyes are “bigger than my stomach” in those moments.

Inevitably, I end up wasting half the produce. And it turns out that no, I didn't actually want 3 other things I thought I wanted at the time, either.

This is the simplest example of what prevents us from succeeding at a goal.

What I mean is, we fail at our goals when we set them according to something outside of reality.

The best goals aren't grounded in today’s imagination-fueled excitement. They're grounded in the truth.

And we're running around here thinking we're bad at achieving our goals because we're lazy/dumb/broken or whatever. When the truth is, nobody taught us how to set honest goals to begin with.

Nobody achieves dishonest goals. You aren't bad. The goal was. And setting honest goals is a good skill that fixes this.

And don’t get me wrong, we got this baseline of dreaming our goals up from somewhere.

“Shoot for the stars to land in the clouds” is a whole school of thought on this and it works for some people.

If you’re still reading, I imagine you’re not one of the people it works for. Which means you might be one of the people its hurting. And it hurts a lot of us.

Because setting and abandoning our overwhelming goals over, and over, and over again works to erode our sense of self trust and confidence over time.

After a while we don’t even take our own goals seriously, or we don’t take ourselves seriously enough to achieve them. And we feel lost on how to turn it around.

This puts a huge damper on our quality of life.

Setting and achieving goals is one of the basic things that helps us feel a sense of purpose and personal achievement. Setting and achieving goals helps us trust ourselves, have confidence, and feel a sense of personal competency that we can take care of ourselves.

Not being able to do this, not trusting ourselves to do this, can fuel depression and low self-esteem.

But nothing’s wrong with you. Or me. We just need a different angle. That’s all.

The New Way

See, I get my dopamine hit from actually achieving my goals. From making a promise to myself, then keeping that promise.

It feels good. I feel proud of myself. I appreciate myself. Then I feel more up to the challenge of setting another goal than I would be if I’d given up on it.

To boot, every time I achieve a goal, I have a little extra dose of confidence going into the next one.

So the next goal tends to be a little more challenging than the last one, because confidence is a currency that buys us that. Our stamina for challenge increases with our sense of self trust.

As long as it's — again — based in reality.

Then, round and round I start to go, racking up wins.

Not because I shot for the stars and landed in the clouds, but because I shot for reality and landed where I intended.

I’m not just talking about “Ambition”.

When I say reality, I don't mean the reality of what you're "capable of".

No no.

I mean the goal is based on the reality of your personality, your values, who you are, how you really feel, what you actually feel motivated to do, and what your honest situation is right now.

The umbrella question I ask myself is:

Do I see me — who I actually am in this moment — completing this goal?

If the answer is “yes”, and I have the time & energy, I’m willing to set it.

If the answer is “no”, for any reason, including but not limited to "I don't fucking want to..."

Then I don’t set the goal. I do other stuff instead, including but not limited to:

  • Adjusting it to make it more realistic for current-day-me
  • Save it for later
  • Or realize “this actually isn’t aligned with who I am at all” and throw it out.

I'll do any of those things before I set the goal. Because setting myself up for failure hasn’t led me to success a single time.

It defeats me. It frustrates me. And it hurts my ability to trust myself.

So why keep doing it when I can just as easily come up with realistic goals that set me up for success, build my self confidence and self trust, and still keep me progressing in life?

The Question: Who Are You, Really?

Most of us are guilty of shooting for the stars when the stars aren’t just far out, they’re plain out of character.

We “want” to be gym bros because that’s what the cool kids are doing, when the truth of our own character is that we’re more of the forest fairy typeThe gym is overstimulating, the forest is challenging and fun and calming.

If this is you, frolic 10 miles through the forest if you need to, boo. Who told you hiking babes aren't just as cool as gym bros? Do you know how many adventures hiking babes get to tell their friends about!?

Find your true goals that fit your true values and align with your genuine motivations. Especially do this if you’ll be happier there, and more willing to complete the goal.

Isn’t that the definition of living a successful life? Doing challenging and meaningful things that actually bring you joy and fulfillment?

Set goals where the work feels like that^ as often as possible.

"Makes Sense, but I Thought Goals Were Supposed to be Seriously Challenging."

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but genuine, true self-acceptance is one of the most challenging things any of us can aspire to.

And, frankly, it's one of the best foundational goals we can set for ourselves. Because it helps everything else about life fall into place with us.

Our aversion to self acceptance makes sense, though. It would force us to do the scary thing of denying social norms we feel safer fitting into.

It would force us to consider a radical thought: “maybe I’m worthy of love as I am, already.”

We’re terrified and skeptical of this, and that’s often why we need to keep thinking up out-of-character pipe-dreams and avoid actual, honest goal-setting.

Setting honest goals requires you to look yourself in the mirror and dare to be who you actually are, first.

Setting honest goals requires you to be, well, honest.

And if that’s not already challenging enough, you can still set goals that are challenging. 

Honest goals don’t exclude a challenge. The point is to make them challenging for you. As in, who you actually are.

Let’s test it.

Pull out one of your written goals (or write it down now), take an honest look at it, then ask yourself:

Does this feel like a dream goal for a different version of me that doesn’t exist?


Does this feel like a challenging decision I can realistically make as the human being I currently am?

If it’s a challenging decision you can realistically make as the exact human being you currently are — you’ve found yourself an actual, honest goal.

If it aligns with your values and vision for your life, requires you to make tough choices, exercise some discipline, set some firm boundaries with yourself, but doesn’t overdo it to the point of defeating you or feeling outside of your realm to achieve it...

You stand a much greater chance of achieving this one.

If the goal you’re looking at does feel like more of a dream or outside of yourself, don’t fret. You set it for a reason. There’s something about this dream goal that does appeal to you and your values.

The key is to figure out why you set that goal. What need is it intended to fulfill?And consider if there’s a version of that goal that’s realistic for who you are, today?

It could be something different but comparable, like the gym/forest example.

It could also be a chunked down version of the original goal.

For example, perhaps your goal is $1 million net worth and that feels far away for your current self-concept right now.

As in, who you are today shutters and feels out of place when you imagine actually, truly having that amount of money in your bank account.

If that amount of money doesn't feel true for you, chances are you're not going to feel safe or aligned enough to genuinely take the steps right now. That’s okay.

It doesn’t mean you’ll always shutter at the thought. This is one where I'd say save that goal for later and work up to it with smaller goals that feel more safe and aligned with your self concept.

Consider a realistically challenging amount you can set for this year. Raising your income by 15% feels challenging but realistic?

Great. Start there.

Put the extra income into investments and interest bearing accounts so you can get used to your net worth growing over time, incrementally.

Now, you’re totally setting future you up to win the big goal, while honoring current-day you at the same time by meetting yourself where you're at every step of the way.

Most "stretch" goals work this way. We just can’t measure them all the same. So try to apply this logic any time you have a big goal you need to chunk down.

And now, instead of just celebrating this far-reaching stretch goal, you get to celebrate a bunch of other chunked down goals on the way to the big one.

Owning this feels much better than flip-flopping between goals that don’t suit you right now, and calling yourself lazy or stupid for it. When the truth is you’re not lazy, or stupid, nor have you ever been.

You just haven’t been practicing self-acceptance in your goal-setting.

I wasn’t either for a long time. No one taught me.

But when you start, you’re going to take off.

Going in blind to who you are is, well, likely the thing that sets most of us up to fail from the beginning.

Or at least it has been in my experience. Because I, like many of us, was conditioned to favor anything but self acceptance.

And healing this has taught me a big lesson about goals:

Be careful to set goals out of love for who you are. Not to get away from yourself.

This includes that $1 million goal. The forest fairy goal. And any other ones you’re cooking up as you read this.

You don’t have to be the other version of yourself you’re dreaming of to deserve good things, love.

You already deserve them.

I mean, look at you. Reading this to take care of yourself. Looking out for future you. Trying to make past you proud.

That’s already worthy of some appreciation. Set these goals for this version of you, right here, that’s doing those sweet things in this moment.

The growth tends to take care of itself after that.

It’s the self-nurturing we have to actively do.

Get Ready for Your Confidence & Momentum Boost

I don’t expect my little love notes and affirmations to totally turn your confidence around, but you know what will?

Taking the advice above.

Setting and achieving realistic goals can significantly boost your confidence. When you get honest with yourself you get to start actually trusting yourself.

And when you set goals that are within your reach and you achieve them, you affirm to yourself that you are capable.

Capable of knowing yourself. Guiding yourself appropriately. Challenging yourself appropriately. And keeping promises to yourself, which is a beautiful form of self love.

You prove you’re capable of setting yourself up to win, instead of feeling stuck in setting yourself up to fail.

This can give you the confidence to set slightly bigger (still realistic) goals in the future, and ongoing, creating a positive cycle of goal-setting and achievement.

How’s that for mentally healthy goal-setting?

Good luck ❤


P.S. This level of self awareness and acceptance can be really, really difficult for a lot of us. Trauma gets in the way. This is the work I do with clients and I've got a couple of spots available.

If you want to see if we're a good fit to work together, hit the bookmark below:

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Also, check this out and add your name to the list if you want:

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If the road to healing is feeling scary, chaotic, confusing, or isolating for you right now, please read this in full then make the decision that feels right & true for you. Healing our wounds isn’t just about trauma or the past. It’s about discovering how to feel more