Are you suffering from goal overwhelm?
Goal overwhelm: a condition of paralysis caused by having many goals and ambitions. Can also be caused by being “multi-passionate” or highly driven.
- Not knowing which goal to pursue or focus on
- Working simultaneously toward multiple goals
- Making very little progress toward any goal
- Feeling overwhelmed, scattered, or out-of-control
- A very long to-do list that’s never completed
- Intense feelings of obligation or being “stuck”
- High levels of stress and dissatisfaction
- Lack of social life, sleep, rest, relaxation, or self-care due to an overscheduled lifestyle
- Physical symptoms may include fatigue and headache. Bouts of illness such as the common cold or flu may become more frequent.
Treatment and Prevention:
- Talking it out and spending time with supportive friends, family, or mentors
- Stress-management techniques such as meditation, exercise, journaling, etc.
- Ultimately, focusing on fewer goals
Wait. What? Fewer goals? Yeah, that’s right.
But how do you decide which goal to focus on?
Assume that you love and are totally committed to all your goals. You want them all and you’re willing to do the work it takes. They align with your core values. You’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll and are excited to do some mega goal getting! The idea of someone telling you that you shouldn’t go in on all your goals makes you feel like NOOOOOO. Hellz no.
Oh hellz yes.
Oh hellz yes, this is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. It’s a lesson I still struggle to live by because I want to do all the goalz.
But there comes a time in every goal getter’s life when you gotta learn…
How to Prioritize Your Goals
Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? I wrote some stuff about it here. Basically, Maslow’s idea was that there’s a basic level of needs that must be met before we can turn our attention to the next level.
Lindsay’s Hierarchy of Goal Getting (ha) is reminiscent of that, but simpler cuz mine only has three levels.
First-level goal getting
First things first, yo. A goal getter needs food, water, and air to breathe. Shelter from the storm is always good, too. Yeah, these needs are not always fun or exciting, but if they’re not met, you’ll find it difficult to focus on reaching next-level goals.
Examples of first-level goals:
- Getting a place of your own or moving out of a living situation that’s abusive, negative, or drags you down.
- Keeping a job that covers all your monthly expenses.
- Health insurance coverage so getting sick or injured doesn’t bankrupt you
Starting a vegetable garden? Not a first-level goal unless this will be your only source of food.
Being protected from the elements—you know, being clothed—is usually essential, but dressing in head to toe Gucci or whatever the kids are wearing these days is not a first-level goal.
Self check (before you self wreck): Do you have a place to sleep at night and do you know where your next meal is coming from? Are you paying all your bills on time? Do you feel safe and secure in your current environment? Do you have what you need to maintain the health of your beautiful human body?
Sweet, onto the next level…
Next-level goal getting
Here’s where you set and get goals that help you reach a longer-term place of happiness and meaning in your life. When you reach these goals, you’re that much closer to the living embodiment of your core values. Next-level goals have a big impact on longer term quality of your life.
- Career goals like starting a business or becoming an astrophysicist, or making a living from your art
- Relationship goals like sharing a happy healthy relationship with your twue wuv or maintaining a positive and loving relationship with your friends and family
- Health and fitness goals like getting in shape or quitting smoking
- Money goals like paying off debt or saving money for a down payment on a house
Self check: Are you on track to get where you want to be in life? To be on track, you have to have some kind of idea or plan for where that even is for you. Are you spending your time on activities and goals that move you in the direction of the lifestyle you want?
If you’ve met your first-level goals and have tackled some of your next-level goals (or are in the process of doing so), welcome to the bonus level! Here you’ll find bucket list goals, fun goals, things or experiences that make you happy but are not absolutely necessary.
If you die without achieving these goals, yeah, that would kinda suck. You might mourn the lost opportunity a little bit. However, NOT reaching these goals doesn’t detract from the overall meaning you derive from life. You can still be proud of yourself and feel satisfied with life even if you haven’t conquered all your bonus-level goals.
- Learning to play the bass guitar
- Taking that Caribbean cruise or backpacking through Europe
- Owning a set of matching Louis Vuitton luggage
- Reading the entire works of Shakespeare
Self check: You’re ready to take on a bonus goal when your basic needs are met, you’re on your way to the life you love (aka your best life) and you have time and money left over to piss away on the extras that make life even more fun, interesting, and exciting.
Remember, too many goals = goal overwhelm
So how many goals should you take on a time? That depends on you. Grrr, I hate vague answers, too, so allow me to elaborate.
How big are the goals? Big goals are ones that need more time, energy, and resources, so there should be fewer of them at any one point. Like maybe one to two.
Also consider how many little goals you’re pursuing. A lot of a little is still a lot (say that ten times fast, ha).
What’s your goal getting bandwidth?
You’ll probably only learn this from experience, i.e. from trying a bunch of goals at once and then failing to meet most of them. Harsh reality: not all goal-getters are created equally. Some of us will cruise toward goal overwhelm at a quicker rate than others. Some can shoulder a bigger goal load.
I’ve come to the painful realization that I tend to get overwhelmed pretty quickly if I have more than one big goal I’m working on a time. It’d probably be best for me to just focus on one thing at a time, but the very idea is anathema to me and sounds hella boring. My strategy now is one big goal, a few smaller goals. I’ll let you know how that goes.
My dearest honey bunches is super methodical in his approach to goals and really does focus on only one at a time. He’s constantly reminding me that it’s okay to not be doing a million things at once. He also seems very confident in his goal getting and rarely suffers from goal overwhelm. I gotta say his slow and steady approach is really calming and refreshing to me since I tend to want it all yesterday. Can you relate?
When to focus on next-level goals versus bonus-level goals
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the goals that drive us toward the lifestyle we crave and the fun extras that bring joy to our lives.
Let’s say you’re someone who really values freedom, adventure, and learning, travelling around the world might be a lifestyle that you aspire to. You might set next-level goals to pay off debt, save up money, and create a flexible career that allows you to travel and live all over the world.
On the other hand, having a bucket list of travel destinations is different. You want to experience other lands, cultures, and cuisines. But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get to see the world.
Think of it as a lifestyle vs. an experience. In the grand scheme of things, one is more essential than the other.
Combining next-level goals and bonus-level goals
Go ahead and pursue next-level goals and bonus-level goals at the same time. Take that trip, but place your focus on the goals that make the biggest impact on your life over the long run.
This year I’m focusing on growing my blog so I can ultimately build a business out of it. That’s a big next-level goal. I had no idea how big until I started doing it. And then I have my bonus-level goals like learning Spanish. It’s something I do for fun, so I devote just 15 to 20 minutes a day to it. That’s it. Bonus goals are lower level priorities so they don’t get as much of my time and attention.
Still can’t decide what to prioritize?
Answer this burning question: If you could only do ONE thing right now, what would you do?
Just one. That’s it. What’s most important? What is essential? What’s going to have the biggest impact on your life?
I’m not saying you should only do one thing (although as I mentioned above it’s an approach that works well for some), only that this question should help you hone in on what you want most.
Goal overwhelm sucks. Been there, done that—enough times to write this super long blog post about it.
Are you suffering from goal overwhelm now? Tell me about it in the comments. Want someone to help you prioritize? Sometimes we’re too close to our goals, or in love with the idea of them, and an impartial third party can help sort things out. Comment or contact me so we can chat about it cuz I’d love to help.