Are Your Goals Helping You or Hurting You?


I used to think goals were good, period. As long as I had a mission I was working towards, that was enough and I rarely stopped to ask myself "Are your goals helping you?" When I think back to different missions I’ve had in my life, with the gift of hindsight I can see big differences between the goals that were helping me and the goals that did more harm than good. There were the goals that came from a place of possibility and a desire to stretch myself. Then, there were also the goals that came from a scared place, a place of “not enough” and feeling like I needed to be more or different to be worthy.In her book Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, Geneen Roth talks about the difference between these two types of goals. She calls these types “questing” and “striving”.The difference between questing and striving is important, she says. The kinds of goals we aim for define our experience of life and have a huge impact on whether we end up creating the things we want. Are your goals helping? It depends on this difference.

Stagnation through Striving

Striving goals come from a place of not enough. They usually start with something like "I'll feel happy/confident/secure/fulfilled/loved when..."When we strive, we are self-protecting. We are protecting ourselves from the unfairness of life. We are also protecting ourselves from the uncomfortable and challenging feelings (like frustration, pain, hurt, rejection) that are part of the course of being human.We get to channel those feelings into our striving for that particular thing, whether it’s a thinner body, a better job, a nicer house, a new car, a different lifestyle, a relationship, or something else.Here’s the catch: because striving is self-protection, we’re also working very hard not to get those things. Because if we do, then that protection will be gone.We'll still be feeling the uncomfortable feelings and having the challenging experiences. Without our striving goals, however, we don't have anything to channel those experiences into, nor anything to pin those feelings on.We have to accept them as part of life.As Geneen writes, we can get so obsessed with wanting that we never get down to actually living.

Growth through Questing

Questing is an expression of courage and vulnerability. A quest stems from an intuitive belief and trust in the expression of what we’ve glimpsed in ourselves but not yet touched. Questing, comes from a desire to be our best selves and to have that obsession-based energy available to us for work and relationships.Questing stretches us. Striving squashes us.Geneen suggests the following exercise for getting clear on our own goals and whether they’re questing goals or striving goals:Create the following lists:1. Things I want that I don’t have (a new car? a thin body? A relationship? A Baby? etc.)2. Things I’ve wanted that I’ve gottenNow respond to the following journaling prompts:3. Wanting allows me to… (What does it give you? How does it help you? Does it give you a pleasant fantasy, a goal to always be working on? Does it protect you from disappointments by keeping you locked into a fantasy?)4. How my life would change if I got those things? Go down your list and next to each item you want write a brief description of what would happen if you got it. Be specific and honest. If you feel that having a baby would give you the chance to really love for the first time in your life and in doing so would complete you, write that. Don’t hold back, no matter how dreamy or romantic or ridiculous your imaginings sound. Better to get them on paper and look at them instead of holding them inside as vague, dreamy impressions.5. How my life has changed now that I have what I wanted? Especially note things that have brought long-lasting happiness.6. Look over your lists. Check reality against fantasy. Think about people you know who have gotten the things you want. Are they happy? Do they have what you think having would bring you? And what about the things you already have? What happened to the wanting when it changed to having? Do you think next time will be different? How?Are your goals helping you or holding you back? How do you tell the difference between questing and striving when it comes to your own goals? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.Further reading: Why your goals aren't working (and one simple change to fix it) & balancing goals and self-care.