I’ve already laced up my shoes. It’s time to go. The mile goal for the day is farther than I’ve run in years, and I’m physically prepared to conquer it. But I’m still sitting on my bed, staring at the door, wondering if I should take off my shoes and stay home.
I was experiencing Goal Achievement Paralysis, and if my conversations with friends and family members are correct, I’m not the only one who struggles with it. In the case of my decision to run a half marathon, Goal Achievement Paralysis struck because I’d failed in previous attempts to train for a race when I was injured. But it can (and does!) get in the way of many other kinds of goals as well.
You may be experiencing Goal Achievement Paralysis if you:
- have all the external means to reach your goals (ex. money, time, and other resources)
- feel you will never get there
- are tempted to (or already have) stopped trying
Because I know I’m not alone in my experiences with this debilitating setback, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned about Goal Achievement Paralysis and how I’ve combated it in the past:
Pause & Reflect On What’s Holding Us Back
Whenever I’m feeling helpless or overwhelmed in my attempts to grab ahold of goals, I always take a step back and think. Oftentimes there are underlying reasons why we are feeling stuck that we won’t recognize unless we really reflect on what’s going on internally.
I’ve found that a lot of the time, my Goal Achievement Paralysis is based in some kind of fear. It’s tempting to simplify this fear by saying we feel we “just won’t be able to do it,” but it’s important to dig a little deeper than that to get at the real, concrete root of why we are afraid of failure, such as:
- I’m afraid to train for this half marathon because I’ve failed at it before, and I’m worried that another failure will speak to my inabilities as a human being.
- I’m scared of traveling abroad to Paris because I have never been that far away from home, and I’m worried I won’t be able to handle separation from the familiar.
- I am worried about reaching out to my brother to create a better relationship because I fear he will reject me.
Even these examples above could be granted greater depth. To continue to find depth, I always ask myself “why.” For example, consider this breakdown of how someone might unpack their reasons for worrying about reaching out to their brother:
“I am worried about reaching out to my brother.” Why are you worried? “Because I fear he will reject me.” Why do you fear he will reject you? “Because I have felt rejected before in other relationships I’ve had.”
We could go on and on with these “why” questions, and I think it’s good that we do. Once we identify our fears around our goals and why we have them, we can start to work at overcoming these fears and achieving our aspirations.
Consider The Outcomes
As soon as we’ve locked down our fears and understand where they come from, it’s time to undo them. I like to do this by asking myself three questions intended to help me get over my fears and get going:
- Consider the worst case scenario: If I start to strive for this goal, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
- Consider the best case scenario: If I start to strive for this goal, what’s the best thing that could happen?
- Consider the chances of each scenario occurring: What’s the likelihood that this scenario will happen? What about the other one?
Once we’ve established the best and worst case scenarios, we can decide whether it makes sense to move forward or not.
For example, if the worst case scenario when I train for a race is that I end up being unable to do it, there isn’t a ton of loss there. If the best case scenario is that I complete the race and accomplish one of my goals, that’s a motivation to try. Plus, the likelihood that I do finish training is high while the likelihood that I don’t is pretty low.
Get Equipped & Get Started
Now it’s time to start striving. But it would be unrealistic to expect that fear won’t start creeping in again in the middle of working towards our goals. So I like to arm myself with some phrases or reminders I can keep on hand whenever worry strikes.
For example, I often use these phrases in the middle of running when I start to get tired and wonder whether I’ll be able to finish:
- “What, just because you’ve never done it before means you can’t do it at all?”
- “Do what you can. That’s all you can do.”
Other people like to have reminders on their walls or small tokens in their pockets that remind them of their ability to succeed and their decision to keep going.
After equipping ourselves with reminders of the mental attitude that will sustain us when the going gets rough, we’re ready to start. I always ask myself what I can do today or tomorrow to begin on my journey towards my goal. Then I go do it, no excuses. This helps me take that first step, and once I’ve done that, I can’t stop.
We are human beings with the capabilities, intelligence, and internal means necessary to achieve big things. We can’t let fear get in the way of living well.
I can’t wait to hear all about what you do!
What’s kept you from achieving goals in the past? How did you overcome it, or how will you overcome it in the future?