Goal-Setting and Reaching Goals

Goals for Stress Management and Personal Happiness

Mountaintop climber
You can reach those goals, and keep running with them. It's easier than you may think. Buena Vista Images/Stone/Getty Images

Goals matter. Setting the right goals, having a plan to reach those goals, and following through on what is required to reach or maintain those goals, can make the difference between having a happy, fulfilled and less-stressed lifestyle, and, well, not having one.  Goals can also be a source of stress, however, which is why many people forgo setting new years' resolutions entirely--it's difficult to keep going after your goals if you don't reach success with them, and it's easy to miss the mark with your goals if you don't know the best way to go about setting them and working toward them.

 Here's what you need to go after your goals in a way that creates less stress and more success.

The Role of Goals and Stress Relief

What we experience as ‘stress’ is really an interaction of events that happen in our lives (stressors), and our thoughts and resulting emotional reactions to those events. The way we perceive our stressors, and our emotional responses to those perceptions, are what trigger the body’s stress response, leading to the experience of ‘stress’. Therefore, a significant goal of stress management involves examining our thoughts about our stressors, which can change our feelings and our stress responses. Another goal of stress management involves minimizing the stressors we experience in a typical day. Both goals are important, and both require some forethought.

The Role of Goals in Personal Happiness

Another area of life that’s closely linked with stress and stress management is personal happiness and fulfillment.

The growing field of positive psychology has been examining what factors contribute to happiness and resilience (rather than just studying unhappiness and pathology), and have identified several goals that, if met, can lead to greater overall happiness, fulfillment, and resilience to stress. So, rather than only setting goals that minimize or manage stress, setting goals that lead to the opposite of stress can also be an effective route to a less-stressed lifestyle.

What goals to Set

If you’re feeling stressed to the point of being overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to focus your goals more toward minimizing and managing stress. If you’re feeling general stress, but nothing too severe, and are finding a general lack of fulfillment and happiness, it’s a good idea to set some stress management goals, but also focus on goals that promote happiness and meaning in life. Either way, stress relief should come from your goals, but it’s a matter of degree. It’s a good idea to become aware of which goals will lead to both outcomes. Below are some different categories of goals you may set. I’ve listed them according to the order in which they’re often most helpful, but you may want to review them all, and pick one or two that really speak to you.

How to Maintain Goals

Some goals are short-term: acing a test, finishing a project at work, or finding a great relationship.

However, many goals that will help with stress management, happiness and resilience tend to be ongoing, long-term goals: regular exercise, maintaining relationships, practicing meditation on an ongoing basis. These goals can be somewhat more challenging, but very rewarding to maintain, and are ultimately what can lead to a better life experience. There are a few tricks to maintaining goals or adopting healthy habits:

  1. Set the right goals
  2. Take small, concrete steps
  3. Reward yourself along the way
  4. Consider slip-ups to be part of the process

Maintaining goals can be a little more involved than that, but this is the basic process. Most people abandon goals because they set their goals too high (or the wrong goals for their lifestyle), try to do too much in the beginning, don’t congratulate themselves for making progress toward their goals along the way, and give up if they have a slip. Reaching goals in a realistic way—even if it takes a little longer—can mean the difference between sticking to goals and reaching goal after goal, and giving up early, abandoning goals altogether.

Read more on maintaining goals.

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