When to Stop Trying So Hard

03/30/2015 11:34 am ET | Updated May 30, 2015
Jason Homa via Getty Images

We are taught that setting goals is a good thing. It helps us to be productive to have a specific, tangible achievement in mind with a rock solid end date. This is how we measure success. But when do we stop trying?

Setting goals gives us that kick in the butt that we often need to get moving because if we have a deadline, then we are committed and accountable.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that our goals need to be SMART goals.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

But what if setting goals actually keeps us stuck rather than moves us forward? What if in setting SMART goals, we are actually neglecting the most important part of the process? Could this neglected part be the magic key that unlocks the door to a life of almost automatic continued achievement and happiness versus a life of striving, pushing, desperation, and force?

If this sounds at all intriguing, read on.

Why Do We Set Goals?

We set goals because we experience things in life that cause us to realize what we don't want, and ultimately, what we do want. This is called contrast. Contrast causes us to set goals all day every day. We do it without even consciously thinking about it.

We may not write them down, but our thoughts are constantly weeding through things that happen, making decisions on what we like and want more of, and what we dislike, and want less of.

We are taught that in order to achieve a goal, we must define it very clearly. This is where the idea of setting SMART goals comes into play.

We write down whatever it is that we want to achieve, because we believe that in achieving that goal, we will then be happy.

Then we take that a step further and we visualize it, we write affirmations about it, we lay out our plan on how we will get there, and then we get busy and wait for it to happen. How exciting... or not?

Have you ever set a goal, and you feel good at first, but then after a little while of it not happening, it becomes less of a motivator, and more of a, "Oh my gosh, I've got to make this happen or else" kind of feeling?

You know, that sick-to-your-stomach dread kind of feeling.

THIS is the key part of the process that is so often overlooked - the feeling that a goal creates inside of us.

When we think about a goal -- why we want it, when it will come, etc - the reason why so many people have trouble is because when they try to get specific about things they do not understand, they end up getting in their own way. They end up trying way too hard.

Here are seven things to remember when setting your next goal.

1. The art of allowing.

Goal setting is about having a clear understanding of what you want, and then allowing it to come into your life, not forcing it.

If a particular goal makes you feel good, then it's helpful and is the right approach, but if it just reminds you that something that you have been wanting for a long time hasn't happened yet, then it's keeping you stuck.

Define the goal in a way that makes you feel empowered rather than desperate. There is a big difference.

2. Taking action is only productive if it makes you feel good.

I know that it sounds hoakey, but it is ingrained in us so deeply that we've got to work hard and be determined and keep pushing and keep pushing if we want something to happen. This is not the case.

I tell you from personal experience that there has been so many times where I wanted something so badly that I pushed and pushed, like trying to move a giant boulder up a steep mountain.

It was so hard and took so much energy. This type of goal setting is exhausting, isn't it? There is a better way.

3. Focusing on a goal from a mindset of not having the goal, is contradictory.

This is the foundation of the phrase "trying too hard," which is a tough thing to wrap your head around, because the whole reason to set a goal is because we DON'T HAVE whatever it is that we want.

But I encourage you to take a step back from what you have been taught and hear me out.

When we focus on something that we want, and we have that feeling in the pit of our stomach that makes us acutely aware that we don't have it yet... that we are so far from where we want to be... that we are not good enough yet... that there are so many things that need to fall into place for what we want to achieve to actually happen... we are undermining our progress.

More than any other thing that we perceive as standing in our way, this is our biggest obstacle - WE are our own worst enemy!

Force negates.

4. Rather than thinking "it's not here yet," think "won't it be nice when..."

Say each of these phrases out loud. They feel very different, don't they? Granted we all have deadlines, commitments, and things that we have to do, that is part of life.

But how we think about our timeline is what matters most. If we are overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety as the time ticks by, we are screwing up our mojo.

5. Find a way to be satisfied with what is, while being eager for more.

If you set goals from a place of not having, and you keep feeling like you don't have it, you are holding yourself apart from allowing it to happen.

What is helpful is to think about the things that are going right. Focus the majority of your attention on those. We are so much more productive when we work from a place of inspiration than when we work from a place of tension.

6. Processes are good, but overdoing them isn't.

Processes are great tools, but when you take them to the extreme, they contradict their purpose. What matters most, above anything else, is how we feel when going through the process.

7. "Set it and forget it."

Ron Popeil really did know what he was talking about. Set a goal, know that the right circumstances will come into your life to allow it to happen... know that you will act from a place of inspiration and good feelings to allow it to happen... and then just let go.

Realize and accept that you don't have all the answers, nor do you have to.

How do we know the best way for us to get from point A to point Z? We are so busy pushing that rock up the mammoth mountain that we neglect to see that maybe there is a better way.

This is what I mean when I say that when we try to get specific about things we do not understand, we get in our own way. For most of us, this is both the most challenging and the most freeing task of all.

We are taught to be problem solvers. We could have nine things going right and one thing going wrong, and we choose to give that 1 thing our undivided attention.

Think about what happens when we do this. It slows everything down.

We are so scared to take our attention away from the things that are not going right because we are afraid that if we do, they will get worse rather than better.

Instead of spending all of your time and energy on the things that aren't working, just let them go. Stop putting emotion into the things you would previously worry about and instead focus your emotion on the things that are going right.

Reconnecting With Your Inner Voice

Try using these steps the next time contrast causes you to realize you want something more out of life.

Start listening to your inner voice, to your feelings. Paying more attention to your good feelings and less attention to your worries. Be determined to have fun and be happy rather than determined to "succeed," and I bet you will see that happiness brings success automatically.