Was there ever a goal you were determined to achieve? Was there a point in your life where you stopped pursuing one of these goals? What if I told you that sometimes giving up on our goals can be good for our mental and physical health?
We’ve all been told that being able to commit to and persevere in our life goals is the key to success and happiness. But something we don’t talk about enough is being able to adapt our goals throughout life.
A common example may be switching your university major. For example, I originally started my undergraduate degree with the intention of going to medical school afterwards. But, somewhere along the line I fell in love with psychology. At which point, I decided it made sense to disengage from a career in medicine, and instead engage in a new goal — majoring in psychology.
Now I’m not saying that giving up all your goals is going to bring you health and happiness. Pursuing goals is important for our well-being. However, much research has shown that the ability to disengage from a goal that has become unattainable may be an important strategy.
There has been a lot of research, some from the Personality Aging, and Health Lab at Concordia, which has shown that those who are better able to disengage from unattainable goals have less stress, anxiety, negative emotions and better health.
When does a goal become unattainable?
Let’s take the example of wanting to have your own biological children as a goal. There could be a multitude of reasons why this goal could become unattainable: passing the ‘biological clock’ or fertility issues may unfortunately render this goal physically unreachable.
If we continue to relentlessly pursue this goal, the continued failure associated with not achieving this goal is not going to make us not feel good. We may feel sad, angry or depressed as result of our desire to achieve this goal, and our inability to do so.
Of course, the attainability of many of our goals will not be this black-and-white. As in my degree switching example, another goal may just be more well suited to your aspirations. Likewise, some goals are just unrealistic or a negative life event may render some goals unattainable. For example, if the love Rick Astley pursued was unrequited, then maybe he should have given up.
This isn’t a warning of doom that the key to happiness is to give up all goals. Instead, we should frame the experience of giving up a goal as a chance to find new interesting and meaningful goals to pursue! Indeed, research has shown that people who are better able to reengage in new purposeful goals have been shown to have more positive emotions and feel satisfied with their life.
So, how do we overcome this shift? Some strategies might be putting less effort towards the goal, not thinking about the goal as much or putting effort into other goals.
The important takeaway is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up over not being able to achieve every goal that you set out to complete. Instead, remember that being able to be flexible and adjust our goals is just as important for our well-being. Finally, when you disengage from a goal don’t forget to take the opportunity to reinvest your time into new goals that inspire or excite you!
1. Wrosch, C., Scheier, M. F., & Miller, G. E. (2013). Goal adjustment capacities, subjective well‐being, and physical health. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7 (12), 847-860.
2. Wrosch, C., Scheier, M. F., Miller, G. E., Schulz, R., & Carver, C. S. (2003). Adaptive self-regulation of unattainable goals: Goal disengagement, goal reengagement, and subjective well-being. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 29 (12), 1494-1508.