5 falsehoods we tell ourselves that stop us reaching our goals

Image by gustavofrazao (Gustavo Frazao)

This month, I seem to be spending a lot of time helping people a) set their goals for the year and b) stay on track to getting them. Often I find that setting the goals is the easier bit – well, we all have dreams, right? But when we stop and think about the previous year’s goals it’s sad to see how many people can’t even remember what they were, let alone if they were achieved. If we want to get serious about getting our goals, we need to pause for thought about what stopped us before. It’s at this point that we start to hear our inner critic, that toxic track in our head, doing us down.

Before we get into what our inner voice says and what we can do about it, it’s important to acknowledge that our inner critic is holding us back for reasons it believes are important. It actually has a positive intent: to keep us safe from harm. This includes failure, particularly if it’s visible to others. And when we’ve listened to this inner voice, taken its advice and given up before we’ve really got going, we can unconsciously install all kinds of admonishments, discouragements and gloomy predictions that will persist in blocking our progress when we try – now and in the future.

It’s time for a system update.

Here are 5 of the most common untruths we can habitually tell ourselves – and what to say instead:

1. “I’m too young/old to do that”.

This one’s often about fear of others’ disapproval and as we’re pretty hardwired to seek approval, it can be powerful. Let’s say you want to get promoted this year and your inner voice is telling you you’re too young to even ask – indeed, “They’ll probably laugh at me!” Of course, there’s not a lot you can do about your age so your inner critic gets an easy win. No longer: for one thing, in the UK age is no reason to deny anyone opportunity at work; to do so is potentially discriminatory. Your inner voice is on shaky ground if it’s trying to stop you on age – but how about inexperience? That is more likely to be valid – yet the good news is it’s something you can fix. What experience do you lack to get promoted, and how can you ensure you get it? This might mean a skill swap, a secondment or a side hustle where you take on a project within or beyond work. So rather than simply ‘get promoted’ you can now adjust your goal to include ‘get the experience to enhance my promotion prospects’ and form a plan of action.

2. “I can’t afford it”.

This one could be about guilt – or it could be that there really aren’t the funds after essential costs have been taken care of. If it’s the latter, I’m not going to encourage you to take on a debt burden, so what other ways are there to go about this? Is there anything you can barter, swop or sell? An enterprising young person I met funded his training by working evenings and weekends in our local supermarket, and is now well on his way. If you want to learn Spanish you may be able to barter time teaching English. You may be eligible for a bursary if you want to study. If you can’t afford the gym, form a running or walking club. If you’re feeling guilty about the money, discuss it with those who’d be affected, such as your partner, and clarify what you’re prepared to do to make your goal financially viable.

3. “I’ll look an idiot and my friends will make fun of me”.

See ‘seeking others’ approval’ in point 1 above – it’s hardwired. So now what? You’ve got some options: don’t tell your friends about your goal and just get on with it; think of the new friends you can make when you try something new; question how vital those friends are if they laugh at you when you’re trying to achieve something – might they fear your success could show them up?

4. “This always happens to me”.

This one’s an out and out falsehood – yet very pervasive, and persuasive. We try new things, they don’t quite work and we give up, telling ourselves that’s how it always goes. The bad news is that ‘always… me’ can be hardwired to quite an extent, but the good news is that when we face up to this we can learn new ways of looking and effectively rewire our default responses. Start by questioning: ‘always?’ ‘never?’ ‘every time?’ ‘everywhere? ‘nowhere?’ These universal ways of seeing the stuff that just happens can be moderated, for example from, “This always happens to me” to, “It happened to me this one time. Next time I’ll…”

5. “I haven’t got time”.

Stop saying you haven’t got time – all that achieves is you start to believe it. What you probably haven’t got are the right priorities. You’re doing something else instead of taking action to get to your goal. Bingeing on box sets, hitting the snooze button, dawdling around your emails. If you repeat the old behaviour, you’ll get the old results. If you want to make a change, make changes. Going to an evening class, watching less TV, getting up earlier, staying focused on what’s really important – all these things require us to stay focused on WHY we want to achieve this goal. Develop the habit of checking in with yourself and asking, “How is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to my goal?”

You may also find this post useful: 10 great quotes on goals.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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