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Embracing 2024: Finding Balance Between Goal-Setting and Present Happiness

Happy New Year! The new year is such a great time to break out of old habits and set new goals for ourselves! Sometimes all we really need in life is a fresh start, and a new set of numbers at the end of the date seems like the perfect excuse we were all waiting for.

So in this blog post let’s discuss the science behind goal setting and how it effects our overall happiness. Is the only thing standing between us and our happiest life a good goal and supporting follow through?

If you’re like me and have 19 planners and 27 SMART goals for each week, then you’ll want to keep reading, because this one is for us: The imperfect perfectionist, with the almost perfect balance of ambition, anxiety , and general confusion what we’re supposed to be doing right now.

Welcome to 2024 to everyone Happy, Happy-ish, or anything in-between. Here we go.

So before we talk about goal setting and it’s many nuances, let’s start, as I often do, with getting us all on the same page.

What is a goal? Oxford Dictionary defines it as an aim for a desired result. And who am I to argue with very smart people about something I don’t care too much about. So let’d go with that; an aim for a desired result. That’s really all it is.

And as we’ve all learned since grade school, having goals is a good thing. It gives you a purpose and helps you to lay out a path for whatever your desired result. One study from the University of Basel, even showed that just the act of setting a goal can make people happy, even if the goal was never achieved. The reason for this, is the thought of creating a more ideal future state is just enough for us to feel excited and happy about it.

So really it wasn’t about achieving the goal at all, it was about assessing their own capabilities and being about to envision what their future looks like. This is further supported by one of the study’s key findings which stated that people who characterized their goals as attainable ended up showing higher overall cognitive well-being.

So I hate to be this person, but in the new year, I’ve already told you a lie. I told you that this post was about Goal Setting but really it’s about Balance. I know. I know. You’re hurt and appalled by how I would ALREADY mislead you, but hear me out, because similar to every romcom ever made in the 90s, in end it’s all gonna tie back to someplace comfy and predictable. Just stay with me here.

So now that you’ve been sufficiently warned, here comes the plot twist. John W. Traphagan a professor from my UT Austin (Hook ‘em HORNS), writes that while goal setting is good, if not done correctly it can actually do more harm than good. The basic point he makes is that by setting goals to often or by being too fixated on these goals, we may loose sight of our image of our present self.

He writes, “Anxiety arises when the future becomes constantly contrasted with the present and we live our lives primarily aimed at a future that may never come to be. Our identities then become expressed in terms of that future, rather than centering on who we are in the present”

So in goal setting is absolutely a great thing and all the experts agree, but if you’re like me and believed that happiness lies somewhere on the other side of achieving a goal that we have set for ourselves, then I think it’s time for a change in 2024. So this year, I am going to be setting a lot of great goals for myself, and I’ll work hard to get to that imagined future state. But, in all the times in-between, I’ll keep in mind that Im worthy of happiness regardless of whether or not I get there.

Who knows what this year holds for all of us. Maybe it’s great, maybe it’s awful, but almost definitely it’s new.

Either way, im not going to wait to find out, I'm going to pursue my own happiness right here, right now. And though it might not be an easy journey, I hope you’ll join me.

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