“I want to be the lead in the musical.”
“I want to crochet a blanket over Christmas break.”
“I want to graduate with a 3.5 GPA.”
I don’t think I realized that I was actually setting goals. I saw it as simply evaluating what I wanted to. I don’t remember making to-do lists until my first job after college when the mass of small responsibilities became too much for my brain to hold.
Now? I’d panic if I ever accidentally deleted my to-do list. I’ve made countless pages of long-term and short-term goals. Part of me gets near-sexual satisfaction checking off a goal as completed. Oh, what’s that? Too much information? Soooooorry. 🙂
Almost exactly a year ago, I realized that I might be too far on the pendulum swing toward my Type-A tendencies. I was born an extremely Type-B girl and learned to function as a Type-A thanks to difficult and stressful jobs in my 20s. When I looked back on my teenage years and early 20s, I realized I had been juggling a *lot* of different hobbies, jobs, school, and obligations with little or no stress. But in adulthood, stress and anxiety seems to follow me everywhere I go, no matter how few my responsibilities at any given time.
A major component of my more recently developed stress and anxiety comes from, surprisingly, making goals. I have an almost militant reserve to complete every item on the to-do list, make sure every goal written down manifests. I’ll write down the smallest items on my to-do list, like “Text Stephan back” or “Research if wrapping paper is recyclable,” all the way to the biggest, like, “Edit book.” (You know, just edit a book. No problemo. I’ll do it after I clean out the litter box.) Clearly, there are big jumps in my goals and to-do actions which can, and more often than not, becomes overwhelming. I can knock off two or three things on the to-do list while that big task simply looms, bothering me and holding me hostage to its size and long-term commitment.
Watching a big goal hover over you every day, I’d argue, can incite a negative reaction instead of a positive one. While completing one’s goals usually makes people feel great, not being able to check a time-consuming one off the list for months or even years can make a person grow apathetic toward it. Which was exactly what was happening to me.
So, last year around this time, I made one goal. Stop making goals.
It forced me to live in the moment instead of in the future. “What do I want to do today?” replaced the question, “What do I have to do today?” Instead of beating myself up for not taking steps toward a big goal, I enjoyed focusing on what was in front of me that needed attention, time, and care.
I wasn’t able to cut loose my to-do list. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully let go of it (my preciousssss). But at least now, I’m able to split my goals into smaller, easier to-do items that don’t intimidate me nearly as much as those big, looming goals did.
If you’re finding that setting goals is sapping your energy and leaving you apathetic, try taking a break from it. Enjoy what’s in front of you at the moment, take care of the immediate things that need your attention. When you’re ready, you’ll come back to some of those long-term goals with new enthusiasm.
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”