Let go of your unattainable goals. It may improve your mental health


Do you still beat yourself up about a long-term project you haven’t completed? Maybe it’s a passion project that didn’t seem feasible when the pandemic began, or an academic goal you haven’t been able to get back into the classroom to finish. I, for one, have many. 

The bulk of research around reaching goals tells us to keep pursuing them and never quit. Many of us believe we are bound to see results when we put our heads down and just commit. Letting a goal go by the wayside can feel shameful or like giving up. But new research found that holding onto unattainable goals may have a negative effect on mental health. 

In a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Emotion and Motivation, over 200 participants reported their levels of life satisfaction and psychological distress, alongside their pursuit of active goals and “frozen goals,” or those that have been put on pause as a result of the pandemic. Participants answered questions about how committed they were to their goals along with how often they ruminate about them. The most common frozen goals related to leisure or hobbies, followed by career, academic, and social goals. Active goals, those that people were in the process of working toward, were typically fitness, health, financial, and career or academic goals. 

The study found that the greater number of frozen goals people had on their plate, the more they experienced symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Further, when people ruminated about their frozen goals, or held onto them too tightly, they had more psychological distress and lower life satisfaction. The difference is between commitment and working toward a goal versus “compulsively thinking about a goal,” which can be harmful, says Candice Hubley, researcher on the study and behavioral scientist at the University of Waterloo. 

“When we think about well-being and success, we are so often focused on ways to increase goal commitment [and] increase goal engagement,” she says. “This work highlights an important and sometimes overlooked part of the story. It is also important to be able to disengage from goals, to know when to walk away.”

The study also found that increased anxiety was associated with goal unattainability, and that being committed to a highly unattainable goal was linked to a higher risk of depressive symptoms. 

“If a goal is truly unattainable, maintaining commitment is harmful because you are investing time [and] effort into something futile,” Hubley says. “These resources can be freed up by abandoning the goal and investing in other goals and pursuits. Holding onto unattainable goals likely increases self-doubts and sense of failure as well, contributing to the negative mental health outcomes.”

The ability to disengage with a goal reduced rumination and didn’t impact commitment to active goals. 

So maybe it’s time to adjust our goals rather than ruminate on the ones we haven’t been able to work toward and stop being so hard on ourselves. This is especially relevant as over 27% of people’s goals in the pandemic were frozen, according to the study. Instead of moving that long standing goal to the next day’s list, maybe we cross it off altogether, free up our time and engage in the goals we see ourselves progressing toward. 

“We can ruminate about the things we cannot do, or we can loosen our grip and disengage more fully,” the authors write.


Image and article originally from fortune.com. Read the original article here.