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More PsychNotes: Performance, Success and Goal Attainment

January 13, 2016       

What Are Reasonable Goals?
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Goals need to be carefully assessed to determine they are what you want to do, not what you should do. Unreasonable goals cause increased stress. By eliminating the “should” goals, you are more likely to develop reasonable goals.

Some people believe we have to have “shoulds” so as to do what is required of us. But that is a dismal view of humanity because it implies people only do what is necessary because they must. In contrast, I think that most “shoulds” are either unnecessary or have an underlying desire. For instance, a parent might believe that he should make breakfast every morning for his children. However, this may actually be a desire: “I want my children to eat a healthy breakfast.”

When you think of something as a demand it feels more stressful. When you think of it as a desire you feel better about yourself. Try it out. Take a should and reword it into a desire and see how it feels when you say it out loud: “I have to make breakfast for my kids” vs. “I like making breakfast for my kids because I know it starts out their day in a healthy way.” Usually the body feels different physically just by thinking of something in a different way.

Sometimes, though, shoulds are only unnecessary demands. In the case of a person believing she should make her bed every day only because that is what she has been told to do, she may examine that behavior and ask if it is what she truly desires. She might conclude it is not the way she wants to spend her time. In such a situation, she could eliminate the should from her life.

Goals are not demands, they are something that you desire in your life. If you are feeling pressure from a goal it may be helpful to examine it and think about it in a different way—or get rid of it.

For example, if you were trying to meet the expectations of a demanding boss, you could consider why that goal is important. If it is only because you have been taught to believe that you should always meet the demands of authority, you might want to determine if it is necessary. Sometimes, such a demand may not have been the intention of the boss but an internal expectation and when a person lets go of it they may find the boss isn't so demanding after all.

On the other hand, if you have a demanding boss but see meeting the expectations of the boss as attached to a desire or goal you have such as increased pay or a promotion, you are more likely to cope with the stress of the demands. Changing the concept changes the degree of stress experienced: “My boss is so demanding—I can't take it!” to “I want to meet the expectations of my boss because it will help get my promotion” or “Meeting the expectations of my boss makes me better skilled.”

Successful people develop reasonable goals. By pursuing desires rather than demands their effort is more productive and they are less stressed.

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

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