Less Stressful Ways to Set and Reach Your Goals

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Goals matter. Setting the right goals, having a plan to reach those goals, and following through on what is required to reach or maintain those goals may help you feel greater happiness and fulfillment while reducing stress levels.

Goals can also be a source of stress. They can create excessive pressure and make you feel bad when you don't achieve the goals you have set. This is particularly true if goals are unrealistically high or if you don't have a workable plan in place.

This is why many people forgo setting New Year's resolutions entirely. It's difficult to keep going after your goals if you keep missing the mark each year. It's also much harder to reach your goals when you don't know the best way to go about setting them and working toward them.

Here are some effective strategies that can help you go after your goals in a way that creates less stress and more success.

The Role of Goals and Stress Relief

What we experience as ‘stress’ is really an interaction of events that happen in our lives, our thoughts, and resulting emotional reactions to those events.

The way we perceive our stressors and our emotional responses to those perceptions are what trigger the body’s stress response. This results in the experience of stress.

Because of this, a significant goal of stress management focuses on examining our thoughts about our stressors. By doing this, we can then change our feelings and our stress responses. Another goal of stress management involves minimizing the stressors we experience in a typical day. Both goals are important and both require some forethought.

The Role of Goals in Personal Happiness

Another area of life that’s closely linked with stress and stress management is personal happiness and fulfillment. The growing field of positive psychology examines what factors contribute to happiness and resilience (rather than just studying unhappiness and pathology).

This line of research has identified several goals that, if met, can lead to greater overall happiness, fulfillment, and resilience to stress. So, rather than only setting goals that minimize or manage stress, setting goals that lead to the opposite of stress can also be an effective route to a less-stressed lifestyle.

What Goals to Set

So how do you decide what kind of goals will be most beneficial for you? It's often a matter of looking at what you need or want to accomplish.

  • If you’re feeling stressed to the point of being overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to focus your goals more toward minimizing and managing stress.
  • If you’re feeling general stress—but nothing too severe—and are finding a general lack of fulfillment and happiness, it’s a good idea to set some stress management goals while also focusing on goals that promote happiness and meaning in​​ life.

Not matter what type of goals you are setting, they should provide some degree of stress relief. It’s a good idea to become aware of which goals will lead to both outcomes. Below are some different categories of goals you may set.

How to Maintain Goals

Some goals are short-term such as acing a test, finishing a project at work, or finding a great relationship. However, many goals that will help with stress management, happiness, and resilience tend to be ongoing, long-term goals such as regular exercise, maintaining relationships, practicing meditation on an ongoing basis.

Longer-term goals can be somewhat more challenging. However, these goals are often rewarding to maintain and are ultimately what can lead to better life experience.

There are a few tricks to maintaining goals or adopting healthy habits. Some things that you can do that will help:

  1. Set the right goals.
  2. Take small, concrete steps.
  3. Reward yourself along the way.
  4. Consider slip-ups to be part of the process.

Maintaining goals can be a little more involved than that, but this is the basic process. Most people abandon goals because they set their goals too high (or the wrong goals for their lifestyle), try to do too much in the beginning, don’t congratulate themselves for making progress toward their goals along the way, and give up if they have a slip.

Reaching goals in a realistic way—even if it takes a little longer—can mean the difference between sticking to goals and reaching goal after goal, and giving up early, abandoning goals altogether.

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