The Case for Putting Things on Hold

A planner open to a prompt page and two black pencils

Sometimes the best thing to do for your goals is to put them on hold.

This probably sounds contrary to everything you’ve heard about goal setting. After all, goals take time, hard work, and effort to achieve. Aren’t we supposed to stick with our goals no matter what?

But there are going to be moments in your life when you need to take a step back and reshuffle your priorities. Maybe a family member has become ill. Or your partner has lost their job. Or you’re going through a big life change like a move or a separation. Or maybe you’re just not feeling inspired about your goals. 

During these times, it is more than okay to put things on hold. And don’t worry: pressing pause is not the same thing as abandoning your goals. It’s a chance to get your life in order and gain a sense of security. Later on, you can always return to your goals, and you’ll be in a much better place to do so. 

How you can tell if you need to put things on hold 

Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It’s the idea that we need to meet our fundamental needs first, like food, water, and safety, before we can strive for higher tier needs such as happiness and purpose. 

It makes sense. It’s hard to feel motivated about our dream goals when we’re feeling anxious about finding a job or paying the rent. Taking care of your basic needs should always be the number one priority. 

Here are some other situations in which you’d want to put your goals on hold:

You’re feeling “blah” about your goals. We all go through periods when we feel ambivalent about our goals. That doesn’t mean that your goals aren’t worthwhile. Taking time off and tending to other parts of your life will only make you more excited about your goals later on. 

You’re feeling burnt out. If your work is making you feel stressed, anxious, and/or exhausted, it could be a sign that you’re burning out. Make sure to take care of your well-being first. You’ll feel re-invigorated when you return. 

You’ve experienced a huge setback. While it’s definitely important to stay resilient and bounce back after failure, there is also something to be said about taking a breather after an intense challenge. Rejection and failure can take a huge mental, emotional, and physical toll. It’s okay to give yourself a break and put your work on hold. You’ll come back even stronger and more refreshed. 

You’re coping with an emergency. Whether it’s a sudden lay off, natural disaster, or a family member’s illness, an emergency situation can throw you off course and feel extremely destabilizing. You need to ensure your safety and security first before attending to the non-urgent parts of your life. 

You’re going through a life change.  You’ve relocated to a new city or started a new job or ended a long relationship. Use this time to regain a sense of stability and routine. 

What to do when you put things on hold 

Putting your goals on the backburner might feel awkward and uncomfortable at first —especially if you consider yourself a go-getter or high achiever. What do you do with yourself? How do you spend your time? Here’s how you can navigate this new and unfamiliar terrain. 

Write it out. While you’re putting things on hold, use this time to write in your journal and explore what’s going on internally. How does it feel to take a break from your goals? What emotions are coming up for you? Is there something different that you’d want to pursue? Journaling is such a great way to get to know yourself better and figure things out. 

Make self-care a regular practice. When’s the last time you ate a nourishing meal? Or wore something that made you feel confident? Or listened to a beautiful album just because? If you’ve been juggling lots of obligations, you may have neglected your basic self-care needs. Make a list of things that make you feel happy and at peace. Maybe it’s a long walk in the woods. Or baking a cake. Or making a collage. Now do those things. 

Do something that centers you. Mindful activities like meditation or knitting can help you focus on the present, instead of worrying about the future. A grounding exercise can be particularly helpful when you’re going through a transitional time. 

Manage what you can control. If you’re going through a tough time, focus on the things that are within your control. For example, we all know how daunting a job search can be, but remember that there are always things that you can do. Maybe it’s sending an email to friends and loved ones asking for their help. Or reaching out to a former colleague and getting their advice. Or requesting general meetings with recruitment officers. Taking small, concrete steps will help you regain a sense of control. 

How to re-integrate your projects or goals 

Maybe you’re feeling more settled in your new home. Or you’ve gotten a new job. Or you’re just itching to get back to work on your goals. What’s the best way to get yourself up to speed?

Gather some new tools. The smell of a new notebook. The silky smooth ink of a new pen. There’s nothing like a fresh set of tools to get you excited about your work. Upgrade your current stock of pens, notebooks, and office supplies to get that giddy, back-to-school feeling again.

Understand that progress might be slow. Be prepared for progress to be sluggish at the beginning. Try not to be discouraged. It’s like going back to the gym after it’s been a while. You’re reacquainting your muscles to those old habits and routines. Whether it’s restarting a writing project or developing a skill, you’ll gradually start to feel a sense of rhythm and confidence again. 

Celebrate your mini achievements. Maybe you were able to run for two minutes without stopping. Or you brainstormed some marketing ideas for your business. Make sure to recognize these achievements and take them all in. These achievements will help you remember why this goal is so important to you in the first place. 

Written by JiJi Lee.
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