When goal setting goes south: If the pressure of accomplishing to-do lists seems too much, give these five remedies a go

Tips to uplift you when your goals feel out of reach

A big sign saying 'too busy'
Have we become too busy to take a step back and be proud of what we’ve achieved? Credit: Nick Fewings via Unsplash

There’s nothing quite as blissful as ticking off a task from a to-do-list. Whether you’re Type A or Type Z, always on track or forever running late, the subtle tinge of self-accomplishment when completing a goal can be satisfying and easily addictive. 

In a culture that encourages instant gratification, we can often find ourselves caught up in a wild rush for progress, elevating the value of “impulse” and “advancement” until our energy runs dry. 

If only we could do more, be better, go further and get there quicker, right?

Studies show that when we feel even the smallest wave of success, our brains release dopamine. According to Harvard University, this chemical plays a starring role in motivation behaviour and is connected to pleasure and learning, as well as our unique human ability to think and plan. 

While research suggests that people perform better when they have written down their goals, a LinkedIn survey of more than 6,000 global professionals reveals the harsh reality that a whopping 89% of people fail to complete everything on their daily task list. 

So, on the days when you’re drowning in lists and tedious tasks, take heart in the knowledge that you’re not alone. And when you’re failing to ‘keep up’, take comfort in the fact that (almost) everyone else is right beside you.

When the pressure seems too much, consider these five tips to help beat the funk:

1)    Detach and take a break

 As great as goals are, taking a break is just as important. Without rest, it’s impossible to find fresh creativity, original ideas and renewed energy. Believe it or not, intentional breaks can also bring us closer to where we want to be.

2)    Don’t downplay your wins

When working to accomplish goals, celebrate your wins – however big or small. Although downplaying achievements is common, acknowledging these sparks of success releases chemicals and gives us the feel-good, pride and happiness factor, helping us to push forward to the next win.

3)    Celebrate your failures

To the ones confidently pushing the doors labelled “pull”; the ones standing at the intersection of “total mess” and “work of art”; to the self-doubters and self-help naysayers and to the ones who are failing and trying again. Though unavoidable, often costly and sometimes embarrassing, learn to see the silver lining behind every failure. After all, it is a crucial ingredient to success.

4)    Give up the pursuit of perfection

While we seemingly can’t go wrong with ‘simply trying our best’, the pressure to have it all together is greater than ever. Perfectionism, though widely viewed as a positive trait, has some dangerous downsides. By letting go of self-defeating and unattainable standards, we can begin to replace criticism with compassion. Amanda Ruggeri writes for the BBC, “It can be liberating, allowing imperfection to happen and accepting it and celebrating it… because it’s exhausting, maintaining all of that.”

5)    Learn to laugh at yourself

Research suggests laughter has a wide range of positive physiological and psychological outcomes. Jennifer Hofmann, a researcher at the University of Zurich who studies laughter and emotional expression, told the New York Times “laughing at yourself is one of the hardest humour skills,” however the benefits are instantaneous and crucial to a happy life. Some medical providers even prescribe laughter to their patients.