Setting goals is part of our DNA as human beings. Goals move us in directions that are important to us. They make us grow. And they make us happy when we accomplish them. When we do not, goals have a wonderful way of making us feel useless and very unhappy indeed.

The issue is often not the goal, although yes, choosing meaningful goals is instrumental to our happiness. The problem often arises with our approach to goal attainment. We believe that as long as we have the right steps to get there, we certainly will. If we do not, then obviously we did not follow the steps correctly and the fault is all ours. It is hardly the best strategy to pull ourselves out of the disappointment of not getting what we set out to achieve. It anything, it worsens the blow.

I remember how much easier it was in my younger days to go after the goals that I set myself. The resilience and energy of youth, the positivity bias of a passionate mind, the novelty-seeking of a stage in life kept me actively overcoming hurdles to goal attainment. But youth does not last. Time alas is the most impersonal of all human commodities – it refuses to attach to anyone.

And yet it leaves behind a story in our minds that plays back to us in often negative voices when we embark on new missions in later years. Yes, goal attainment gets harder as we age, because the stories that spun themselves in our earlier years are now finding a voice that is louder than our passions.

As I crossed the first 3 decades of life, I realized that my goals needed more than good intentions and drive and so I padded them with the right steps and felt confident that I was well on my way to success. If only it were that easy.

Having steps to goal attainment is not a problem in itself. It becomes so when we believe that the path to success is linear and the steps are the only ones that lead to it. The truth is that reality is rarely picture perfect. And it did not take me long to realize that life was very different to my projections on paper. Every step I took gave rise to unforeseen obstacles and unplanned diversions from the path. And because I was not mentally prepared for the difficulties and the delay, the anticipated smooth sailing soon turned into emotional turmoil.

You see, having a perfect strategy had become my sanctuary. In its safe quarters, I was the heroine of my story and life ran smoothly. Once I would step outside, reality was vastly different. I could deal with the gap between the present and the anticipated future. What I could not handle was the chaos and messiness of the path to get there. The reality of the struggle seemed to take me by surprise and I felt both daunted and deterred by it. I had an uneasy feeling that something had gone massively wrong and began to seriously doubt my own abilities…

What I have learnt in the many failed attempts and the many successes thereafter, is that success is no walk in the park. No baby learnt to walk steadily and gracefully on their first attempt. The road to success is laden with obstacles, and according to motivational psychologist and author, Dr. Heidi Halverson, Ph.D., unless we learn to visualize them along with the outcomes, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Being aware of the obstacles prepares us in the face of adversity.

Yes, that is the one thing that has been my greatest saviour. Being prepared in the face of obstacles not only helps in overcoming them, it also builds our confidence to brave whatever challenges we meet along the way.

The reality is that success is an iceberg, sitting atop a mountain of failures. A strategy based purely on steps does not take the pain of roadblocks and hurdles into account and fails to prepare us mentally and emotionally to face adversity. Our brains are wonderfully adaptable structures that arm us with our inner strengths when they know the ride ahead is rocky. If we remain oblivious to that fact, we deprive ourselves of the very tools that will help us overcome obstacles and persevere ahead with patience and determination. Using our inner strengths of perseverance, hard work, creativity and hope builds them like muscles and enhances our capabilities in positive ways.

Best of all, the benefits of having fought hard and fair to achieve our goals far outweighs the ease of being handed our dreams on a silver platter. For one, it builds self-efficacy – the belief we have in our abilities. And secondly, it builds happiness. We cannot help but savor our struggle and our success – and the moments spent in savoring, however brief, go down our memory and change the neural structure of our brains for the better. The person we become is not only successful, but capable and positive, and confident to take on new challenges in literally never ending spirals of growth and flourishing.


Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you visualize the obstacles along the way when you set goals and the steps to achieve them? Does it make you feel more confident to take on the journey?

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