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Unrealistic Goals Lead to More Anxiety Than Accomplishment

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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. According to 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 later 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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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 young women 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.

Journey Home Can Help

Journey Home is a small residential treatment program for girls 16 – 21 years old. This is a program enforces a community-based treatment option for young girls. 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. Young women 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!