Here’s why reading a post about setting goals freaked me out

This post is by Heather Caliri, regular contributor to The Happiest Home and blogger at A Little Yes. Heather writes about saying “yes” to little things that scare us. You can read all her posts here.

A year and a half ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a Simple Mom post.

“I read this and thought you would like it. But maybe not!” she said.

She knew me too well. I opened the post, and my heart sank.

“I wrote a five-year plan,” the title said. “And you can too.”

I remember sitting down at our table as I skimmed the article. It’s fun to dream, blah blah blah not set in stone blah blah permission to Think Big, blahdey blah blah Join me?

My stomach was in knots by the time I reached the end.

I knew why my friend thought I’d like it. I’d just chirped to her about how empowering my list of goals for the year were. I was all about goals now! I was fearless!

Maybe not. A year’s worth of goals had been daunting, but doable. Thinking about where I wanted to be in five years terrified me.

But why?

I wrote her back. “I liked this, but there’s something about saying dreams out loud that really freaks me out.” I said. “That, however, does not mean it Should Not Be Done.”

I mulled over the idea of a five-year plan for the next week, and I decided I simply wasn’t ready. If the idea inspired dread, than it probably wouldn’t be helpful.

Looking back, I have more clarity about my fear.

I wasn’t ready to take my long-term dreams that seriously. Just as importantly, I didn’t trust myself to do what it took to make my dreams come true.

I want to be clear: I don’t say those words with any judgment. There’s no shame in not being ready. No: admitting to myself that I wasn’t ready was a healthy and positive step. Life goes on without five-year goals.

But a year and a half later, the idea doesn’t scare me as much. I think I might want to try.

What changed? I have seen myself go after the things that are important to me for two years. I have seen myself persevere despite moves, pushback, homesickness, and lack of childcare. I have learned I can trust myself, and that doing so feels amazingly good. And I’ve seen that being intentional is incredibly powerful.

I have goals that seem outlandish, but could be achievable in five years: Writing a book proposal. Making a regular income from my writing. Traveling solo and with my kids. Pursuing activism in issues that are important to me.

(Let me be clear: sharing these things with you is hard for me. It feels arrogant to have big dreams. It feels presumptuous to write them down. I’m ignoring those feelings. I’ve learned they’re a lie.)

My attitude towards myself has changed dramatically since I first wrote down goals. Writing them down gave me permission to become more fully who I am. They gave me permission to live my life with dedication and intention.

I can’t tell you whether setting goals is right for you. (I know courageous, passionate people who don’t seem to need goals—maybe you’re one of them). I do know they’ve been transformative to me. I also know that if more of us were able to name our dreams and take even one baby step a year towards them, it could unleash a lot of power in our world.

But I’m the first to admit that owning your dreams is scary.  I know. So if the idea of one-year or five-year goals make you laugh bitterly, then how about this: start where you are.

  • Choose shorter-term goals. Set goals for a day, a week, or a month.
  • Do less. Try writing down just one goal instead of a dozen.
  • Break it down. Chop each goal into shorter monthly goals, and then break those into weekly goals. Audacious dreams happen one baby step at a time.
  • Read a post on goal-setting. I like these two.
  • Try a micro-goal. Could you commit five minutes a week on something you love?
  • Try intentional, tiny habits. BJ Fogg has a free email course about them.
  • Evaluate past experiences. If you’ve written down goals and not achieved them, spend a half-hour writing about why. What went well? What went poorly? Were the goals realistic and broken into smaller steps? Were they really something you were passionate about?
  • Write down why you aren’t ready to write down goals. Be honest and kind to yourself. What are you afraid of? What stands in your way?
  • Let yourself off the hook. If you’re in the midst of crisis, a new baby, or some other life change, goals may not be realistic. That’s healthy. But I’d challenge you to set a date for a year from now to reevaluate whether you might be ready to move out of crisis mode.

Being intentional is a learned skill. If you’ve never written down goals before, start small, and start learning to trust yourself.

I used to think goal-setters were superstars, part of a club I couldn’t join. But now that I’ve written them down, I see that goals are really crutches to help us stumble forward—imperfectly, in tiny steps. It takes courage to try something new, risk failure, and say your dreams out loud. Goals just give you a helping hand.

I’d invite you to own up to the life you’d really like to live. Not because you need to become someone else—but because being truly yourself in this world is a fearsome act of bravery.

Image credit: Kevin K

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