Keeping on track with our goals

Keeping on track with our goals

At this time in January, it is not unusual to hear people say it has been difficult to persevere with the goals they set at the start of the year. Not that the goals are no longer of value, but that we may experience some resistance to change and have difficulty setting boundaries to protect the time necessary to pursue them.

To persevere with our goals, we need to find a new routine that includes time to work on them. We need to let go of the work pattern we were used to. Embarking on a new project, such a degree or a business, learn a language or an exercise routine, requires that we create a space in our day to fit in our project.

In the beginning, while the activity is a novelty, it engages us, and it seems manageable. However, soon other commitments take our time and energy. We reason that work or family are more important, so we excuse ourselves from practising the language or taking time from our studies.

When starting a business, it can be challenging to manage our time, as there are many aspects to its development. It can take more time and energy than we expected as there will be aspects we cannot control and affect our work.

Focusing on what we cannot control, can increase our level of stress. Whereas, when we focus on what we can control we can start to problem-solve to manage the stressors and make progress (Maier et al., 2006).

What prevents us from persevering with our goals?
Sometimes external factors hold us back, such as financial concerns, unexpected events, or ill health. However, we are more likely to be held back because we find it hard to protect the time to work on our project when dealing with work and personal commitments.

We decide to take on a new project (study/business) because we believe we can do it and maintain our motivation by focusing on the benefits. However, it is puzzling to us when we notice we are not doing what we set out to do, increasing frustration and lowering motivation. These feelings can erode our determination to persevere with our goals.

Learning to deal with the uncertainty of how things will develop is essential to our ability to follow through with our goals. As human beings, we like to have certainty – to know that our hard work will give us the results we want.

We know life is full of uncertainty. We can understand this. However, when we are facing a challenge, we can experience self-doubts which can affect our resolve to continue. Acknowledging that this is part of the process, and that focusing on the progress we are making, will enable us to get through and achieve our goals.

The physical and mental demand required to achieve a long-term goal means that we need to develop a system to maintain our energy level so that our efforts are sustainable.

And it is not just getting things done, we want to do them well. We worry about not meeting our expectations, disappointing others and ourselves. It is understandable when we wonder whether we can dedicate months or years to achieve our goals.

A lurking feeling of unease can manifest an underlying fear of failure, as when deciding to do a degree or a new business, we make a significant commitment to allocate time and finances for a long period.

What can we do to manage challenges and keep on track?

Acknowledge the challenge: Paying attention to our assumptions – what difficulties do we anticipate? Are there alternative ways of viewing the situation? Often, reflecting on how we feel about dealing with uncertainty can help to identify what is the key factor causing tension. Keeping an open mind allows us to identify possible ways forward.

A long-term goal can seem daunting at first, but if we break it down into smaller chunks, it becomes more manageable. As we complete tasks, and we observe that we are making progress, our motivation and determination to persevere will be reinforced.

Create a support network: We know we are responsible for our decision to engage in a long-term project. It is an individual choice and commitment. We need contact with others who understand our purpose to maintain motivation and keep well.

We can create a buddy system to discuss ideas and benefit from different perspectives, as these can stimulate creativity and identify solutions. Having a safe space to explore, set specific tasks to work, can be a helpful strategy to manage pressure and keep track of our progress.

Develop self-awareness:  Having a good understanding of our values, our feelings and finding ways to maintain our energy level, enable us to maintain confidence in our ability and in the possibility of a good outcome.

Being aware that we are human beings, accepting our emotions and learning to manage them enables us to strengthen our sense of self-efficacy, trusting our ability to learn and develop new skills (Bandura, 1997).

Be curious: When we notice we have not done the work, rather than self-criticise, we can ask “What happened?” The question directs our attention to move past the frustration and focus instead on what we can do next to make a positive change (Eurich, 2017).

Take time to reflect: When we pay attention to how we are doing things, noticing what we are thinking and feeling allows us to learn to keep us in the present. It breaks the cycle of negative thoughts and restores our motivation to keep going.

For example, instead of asking ourselves, “Why didn’t I do the work?”, we can ask, “What are the factors that prevented me from doing what I planned to do?” Using “What“questions can help us identify the obstacles so we can plan what to do differently next time.

Often, when we feel tension and frustration, our attention is on things we cannot control. Reflecting allows us to acknowledge them and then direct our attention to the things that we can control and prepare to do something constructive.

Look after yourself: When we are tired, it is harder to persevere with our efforts. Our brain monitors our energy level and will calculate how much energy we can spend and when we need to replenish.

Once we restore our energy level, we can allocate it to energy-intensive tasks ((Feldman Barrett, 2020).

We can restore energy by taking time away from screens and pause for a moment to look out of the window or go for a short walk. It helps us to tolerate frustration and restore hope that with our efforts, we can make progress (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).

Practice self-compassion: We know how to be kind and supportive of our best friends, so in the same way, we can treat ourselves with kindness as we go through a challenging time (Neff, 2011).




Eurich, T. (2017) Insight. How to succeed by seeing yourself clearly. London: Pan Macmillan.

Feldman Barrett, L. (2020) Seven and a half lessons about the brain. London: Pan Macmillan.

Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.

Maier, S.F., Amat, J., Baratta, M.V., Paul, E., Watkins, L.K.R. (2006) Behavioral control, the medial prefrontal cortex, and resilience. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 397-406.

Mayer, J.D., Salovey, P, & Caruso, D.R. Emotional intelligence. New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, September 2008, Vol 63, No 6, pp503-517.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.

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