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Unrealistic Goals Lead to More Anxiety Than Accomplishment

Home / Transition Programs  / Unrealistic Goals Lead to More Anxiety Than Accomplishment

Having goals is usually thought of as a positive thing. But sometimes goals can be unrealistic and actually have a negative effect. Not always reaching your potential is okay, but overthinking it is a problem. Having goals helps young adults find purpose in their lives, but if their self-esteem revolves around reaching those goals, they can increase anxiety. A recent study by Edith Cowan University (ECU) found that “it’s not failing to make progress toward our ideal self that is problematic but rather the tendency to focus on that lack of progress in a negative way that leads to psychological distress.” Overthinking gets in the way of setting realistic goals and creates impossible expectations to live up to. This reinforces anxiety around never feeling good enough. 

Bridging the Gap Between Your Ideal Self and Your Actual Self

Young adults place a lot of pressure on themselves to reach what they believe are universal milestones marking adulthood and struggle to accept where they currently are in their lives. By comparing themselves to others, they minimize their own strengths and do not give themselves enough credit. Low self-esteem and anxiety may lead to perfectionistic tendencies, but over time, it interferes with their ability to achieve their goals and feel proud of themselves. 

Professor Joanne Dickson from ECU differentiates your ideal self as “the person we ideally want to be, our hopes and aspirations” and your ought self as “the person we believe we have to be-our duties, obligations, and responsibilities.” To a degree, the latter helps us stay on track with our goals but contributes to high expectations.

Some questions to ask yourself about whether your goals are helping you find purpose or causing more anxiety in your life may include: Are your goals realistic? 

Not “are they realistic in general?” Are they realistic for you right now, with whatever else you have going on? Do you have the motivation to work for them? Do you have financial resources and social support to help guide you? Are they your goals or someone else’s?

For example, you may want to get a bachelor’s degree, but you’re not sure what you want to major in, yet you feel pressure to go to a good 4-year school and graduate on time. This unrealistic pressure can result in situations such as failure to launch if you are too overwhelmed to figure out how to take the first step toward your goal. Another negative outcome from that pressure could be enrolling in college, but not completing the coursework. Without taking the time to figure out what you want to focus on in school and how you will complete the work that is needed, you run the risk of jumping into the situation without a clear plan for success. 

Can you break them down into short-term goals? 

Are you looking at the bigger picture or stuck in the details? Often, long-term goals feel overwhelming. You get caught up in the vision that feels too distant or unachievable. Your timeline may be unrealistic. 

You may want to move to a different city after never having lived at home before. You may not have your driver’s license, a job lined up, or know anyone in the city. It’s not unrealistic to want to do this, but if you do a little more research, you may feel more prepared and the idea may feel less overwhelming. 

One way to evaluate goals is to use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal template. When creating goals, as yourself:

  • Is it Specific? Simple, sensible, and significant. 
  • Is it Measurable? Meaningful and motivating.
  • Is it Achievable? Agreed and attainable. 
  • Is it Relevant? Reasonable, realistic, and results-based. 
  • Is it Time-based? Time-limited, time/cost limited, and time-sensitive. 

The S.M.A.R.T. goals template can be an effective tool that provides the clarity, focus, and motivation you need to achieve your goals. It can also improve your ability to reach them by encouraging you to define your objectives and set a completion date. 

How can you be kind to yourself if you feel you’re not meeting expectations? 

This is often the biggest obstacle. Many young adults take pride in the high expectations they have for themselves and get caught up in the appearance of success. They go to lengths to hide their perceived “failures” and “weaknesses,” even though these are part of the human experience. Lowering your expectations may feel like giving up, however, being patient with yourself and your timeline allows you to accept yourself for doing the best you can with what you have at that moment. It encourages you to look for the tools you may need in order to keep moving.

While it is natural to feel disappointed when things don’t go as planned, it does not reflect on who you are as a person. Self-compassion is necessary to gain confidence in your ability to succeed. One way to practice self-compassion is to pay attention to your internal dialogue. When things go wrong or you fall short of your goal, what is the first thing that pops into your head? Instead of jumping straight to negative thoughts like: “Of course it didn’t work out” or “I can’t do anything right”, try giving yourself a little bit of grace. When you try and fail, the simple act of adding the word “yet” can make a world of difference. It turns “I can’t do that” into “I can’t do that yet”. It leaves you open to possibilities in the future and allows you to be more gentle with yourself. Setbacks and failing are a part of life. We can’t expect to do everything perfectly the first time. By changing the way you talk to yourself when those setbacks occur, you are more likely to continue to take those opportunities and chances that help you grow. Instead of focusing on the failure, see it as a learning opportunity for next time. 

How can you reach out for support? 

Knowing when to say no is just as important as learning how to say yes to new experiences and responsibilities. Being able to recognize when you feel overwhelmed and realize that the situation is not hopeless is comforting. Journey Home is a small community of teens on the same path of setting realistic goals and letting go of their anxiety. Mentors offer support in areas related to education, job skills, budgeting, and independent living skills to help you reach your goals and regain your confidence.

For young adults who are looking for guidance around creating realistic goals, a residential transitional program may be the answer. At Journey Home, house parents are assigned to residents to act as their individual “guide” during their stay. A guide acts as a personal role model and support for the individual student. Clients meet with their guide at least every two weeks to review progress on goals in the five core areas. Guides offer support and direction to clients on how to accomplish their goals, assist them in their studies, homework and skill development. If clients need help in writing a resume, completing school assignments, practicing job interview skills, or any other need, their guide is there to support them.

Residential treatment programs can help young women and assigned females at birth to determine their goals and plan out steps they can take to achieve those goals. Journey Home residents who are looking to continue their education can do so at Journey Home. For some students, this means attending a local high school or working remotely on a GED. Residents can also pursue college course curriculum through local college options or online coursework. Other residents work at a local job, typically in retail or local restaurants. Journey Home helps residents through the selection and interview process. Part of the value in both school and holding a job is to reinforce the important life skills of time management, being accountable, and doing something well.

Journey Home Can Help

Journey Home is a small residential treatment program for girls and assigned females at birth 16 – 21 years old. This is a program enforces a community-based treatment option for young adults. It is specifically designed for residents who have successfully completed a therapeutic treatment program but may need more help in transitioning back home. Journey Home West focuses on healthy living, education, responsibilities, and social integration as key components of the program. 

Perhaps the client needs more structure than home provides to ensure ongoing success. Or, perhaps the young adult needs more focus on independent living skills or learning important life skills we call Core Principles to prepare them for the next step in their lives. The Journey Home can be just the right fit for many girls and assigned females at birth in this situation. Young people leave this program feeling empowered, happy, and healthy.

For more information about anxiety and perfectionism in young adults, contact us at (801) 444-0794. We can help today!