Sticking With Goals When It Gets Tough

A notebook open to a page with the prompt "what's the solution?"

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

We’ve all been there: The goal we set for ourselves weeks or months ago seems to be at a stalemate. Whether there’s been a life-changing event that’s altered your course or you just feel like you’re running out of steam, it might feel like the thing you want to achieve is just too far out of reach.

Sticking with goals (even when it gets tough) takes a little bit of strategy, but it’s entirely possible. 

This is the case with even the most serious of goal setters. 

While it’s true that your goal planning is an important part of the process, we often don’t take into consideration what the long haul will look like. After all, there are so many factors that can impact our course.

The planning stages — if they’re done right — can help alleviate some of those blows

S.M.A.R.T goals are a good starting point: 

  • S - Specific and precise: You should be able to outline the goal in a sentence or two.
  • M - Measurable: How you will quantify your process.
  • A - Achievable: Don’t aim too high, make sure it’s something realistic. 
  • R - Relevant: Make sure your goals fit you and your lifestyle.
  • T - Time-bound: Give yourself a deadline and a plan to get there.

But what happens when you start off strong, but then a few weeks or months down the road, your progress seems to stagnate or you don’t see any measurable success? 

It’s time to recalibrate. 

Get honest about the reality of what you want to achieve 

One of the most important things to remember about goal-setting is that it’s all about psychology. 

“The research on self-control shows that willpower, for all its benefits, wanes over time. As we try to make ourselves study, work, exercise or save money, the mental effort to keep focused and motivated increases until it seems too difficult to bear,” writes David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University

Studies also show that the commitment to willpower can actually have a negative effect on health. Being committed to reaching your goal might come with stress that’s hard on your body, which is, in all, counterproductive. 

This is not to say that you shouldn’t stay committed to the goals you set, but if you’re reaching a point where you’re either feeling burned out or losing interest, it’s time to look back at the goal itself and your plan to achieve it. 

It can be helpful to write this out. Start at the beginning. What is your goal? What was your original plan? What parts of the plan are working and what parts aren’t? You may find that you need to stop forcing the work as hard as you have been. That perspective can often help you see things more clearly. Or, perhaps looking at your plan shows a dead giveaway as to where you need to make modifications. 

Be brutally honest with yourself about where you’re at and whether the timeline you set is realistic. If not, it’s okay to make adjustments. 

Making smart(er) adjustments 

It can be frustrating to have to make changes to the goal planning that you worked so hard on in the beginning, but it’s necessary in almost all cases, even if we don’t realize it. Life happens, things change and priorities come and go. In nearly all goals you’ve ever set, you’ve probably had to change course at least a little, it just seems more monumental when it’s something out of your control or requires bigger changes. 

Don’t be afraid of changing the plan in order to meet your goal. There are even ways that you can adapt your process that don’t feel like an entire redirection:

  • Ask for help: Whether it’s a professional connection or a friend, talking about your goal can help you unravel the difficulties. They’ll probably bring a fresh perspective that can nudge you in the right direction. 
  • Make it public: Accountability can be one of the best ways to get back on track. You may have suffered a setback, but it doesn’t have to be the end. Tell somebody about your goal; the minor act of doing so will give you a sense of motivation. 
  • Set micro-deadlines: Take smaller strides. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel will help you keep going the whole way. 
  • Check in regularly: It’s easy for weeks or months to go by without realizing where your progress is. Put a check-in on your calendar so you approach your goals with the same urgency you would with any other meeting. 

Plan for the unpredictable 

It seems impossible, right? Creating a blueprint for all of the factors that may be affecting your goal work doesn’t sound plausible, but when you’ve reached a point when you know things aren’t going smoothly, you can start strategizing back-up plans. 

Using the phrase “if___, then ___.” is a helpful exercise that prepares you for any kind of challenge you may encounter along the way. Instead of pivoting when you’ve hit the roadblock, you already have a plan – this even works when you are already in the midst of a tough time. 

For example, if your goal is to save a certain amount of money, but you get hit with an unexpected expense and you know you’re not going to be able to stay on course, you can use the if/then method to help you start making a plan. If you don’t meet your weekly saving goal, you will cut back on eating out next week. If the bill is more than expected, then you will re-examine the budget for future weeks.

This will help you shift course more easily, especially when it feels easier to just give up. Challenges and tough times are a part of goal-setting. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have to plan in the first place. 

You got this!

Written by Kara Mason.

Share Pin it
Back to blog