Last month we looked at how to set goals that are S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. The idea of keeping goals SMART is to set yourself up for success. But do you see the problem here? Setting yourself up for success is a high self-esteem thing to do. When you have lower self-esteem, success can feel unnatural. It can even feel “wrong” for you. So right away, when it comes to goals, there’s a conflict: You might want very much to achieve your goal, but at the same time, there’s a part of you that would be too weirded-out if you actually achieved what you set out to do. That weirded-out part may be illogical, but it’s powerful enough to sabotage your best efforts.
When part of you wants something and part of you doesn’t, it’s usually a head vs. heart situation. The head’s job is to think, while the heart’s job is to feel. Low self-esteem is much easier to erase from your head than from your heart. Your head might say, “Hey, here’s a good idea. Let’s do this!” Your heart says, “We’re not worthy of that.” Your head says, “Yes we are. I don’t care how you feel. I’m doing it anyway.” Guess who wins? Your heart. Every time.
Consider the following scenarios. Maybe you’ve experienced them yourself.
Head: “You shouldn’t date that person”
Heart: “I’m attracted to that person.”
Head: “You should eat fewer calories”
Heart: “I want cheesecake”
Head: “This is a great job.”
Heart: “I’m not happy at work.”
Head: “I have a right to my opinion.”
Heart: “I feel guilty for expressing my opinion.”
Which part usually gets the last word?
Your self-esteem lives in your heart, not your head. Your head might say, “I’m a worthy person who deserves to achieve this goal,” but if your heart says, “I don’t feel worthy,” then the goal will not be met. Your heart decides what you’re worth. And your heart gets the last word.
So how do you work with goal setting in the face of a reluctant heart? How do you turn a heart full of low self-esteem into a heart that’s fully on board with achieving success?
1. Pick a goal that’s meaningful to your heart.
Know your heart. Respect your heart. Pick your heart’s desire when choosing a goal to work on. This establishes trust and cooperation between your head and your heart. If you don’t do that, you’re sunk before you begin. Do not pick something you “should” want, like getting in shape or finding a job. Those are both worthy pursuits, but in establishing trust between head and heart, only your heart’s true desire will do.
What do you really, really want with all your heart? Make that your goal. You might need to get very quiet and listen with an openness you’re not used to. But if you pledge to listen carefully, your heart will tell you what it wants. (If your desire is for something illegal or harmful to others, figure out what it is about that thing that you want, and seek an appropriate substitute. Following your heart is not an excuse for bad behavior!)
2. Make working on your goal a priority
If you’ve successfully chosen a goal that makes your heart sing, working toward it should be easier than it has been in the past. However, it always takes effort to achieve a goal. Don’t assume that just because it’s hard means you’re going to fail. Stop thinking that working toward goals is easier for other people than it is for you. It isn’t. It’s hard for all of us. The difference is willingness.
The first time I worked with a personal trainer at a gym, I received a piece of advice that was breath-takingly simple. She was asking me to do just one… more… crunch, and as I lay there thinking it over, not wanting to do it, she said, “Make yourself do it.” Well, I did make myself do it. And I’ve never forgotten the power of that simple advice. Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It,” capitalizes on the same idea. It is strangely, inanely, but unequivocally effective when you are struggling. Try it right now. Make yourself stand up. Just do it. Make yourself do it.
Did you do it? If not, was it because you couldn’t make yourself do it? Probably not. It’s because you chose not to. When it comes to your goals, make the choice to do the work. Build on the trust you established by choosing a goal your heart wants. Carve out time in your daily or weekly schedule to work toward your goal. Make yourself do it.
Now that you’re convinced (I hope!) that you must choose a goal that’s meaningful to you and desirable to you at the deepest level… and now that you know that it’s hard but necessary to do the tasks that will bring a successful outcome, you might want to review last month’s article, “Setting Goals for Self-Esteem,” to make sure your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.