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Too Many Goals: When To Stop Chasing Goals, How To Do It, and Why You Need To

too many goals; how to avoid overwhelm; when to take a break; high achievers guide to pausing your goals

If you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you’re striving to accomplish, consider pausing your pursuit of success to rejuvenate your soul. This article will guide you through when it is time to stop chasing your goals, how to take a break from your goals, and how you’ll benefit from stepping away from your goals momentarily.


Are you one of those people who is always working toward one of the many goals in your journal? Constantly thinking about what’s next, how to be better, where your life is headed, and how you’re going to change the world?

Ever get the feeling that you’re running around in circles but not really getting anywhere?

In December of 2018, I had just read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and was totally inspired to achieve some pretty big goals! I had written down my life goals, my 10 years from now goals, my 2019 goals, my bucket list… everything I ever dreamed of doing was captured on a thousand pieces of paper around my house. It was great – my entire future was defined.

I then found myself feeling the need to work on this list of goals every second of every day.

The kids are eating breakfast? Better sneak a blog post in there while they munch.

Everyone is in bed and it’s time for me to get some shut-eye? Better use the quiet time to write a best-selling book.

My husband is loading up a movie for us to watch on date night? Better plan our next big trip, and enter a mountain bike race, and sign up for a new class, and find a community organization to volunteer with, and research how to scale businesses, and find a new house to move to, and leap a tall building in a single bound.

Related post: Are You Working On The Right Goals?

It was exhausting.

I was living in the future and not enjoying the present moment. I had such laser focus on accomplishing the 15 things on my list, but I never prioritized having fun in the process, and it led me straight to burnout.

Related post: The Ultimate Guide to Setting Goals and Achieving Personal Growth

Not because any one of my goals wasn’t something I wanted, but because all of them put together created this constant state of ‘go-go-go’ and very little time to enjoy the ordinary moments in life.

Who has time for painting and photography when the real work of achieving and accomplishing needs done?

BRENE BROWN

The book I read immediately after Rachel Hollis’ was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. It was a complete 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. Brene wrote of a concept called ‘the hustle for worthiness‘ where we focus on achievement because we struggle to believe in our worthiness… so we seek to earn it.

We resort to constant perfectionism, planning everything out, saving the world, and 60 hour work weeks — anything to keep us busy in order to avoid the vulnerability and uncertainty that comes with pausing and being yourself.

When I read the following quote in her book, it really struck a chord with me.

Joy happens in the ordinary moments. Sometimes we are so busy chasing the extraordinary that we miss all the joy.

BRENE BROWN

Honestly, after reading 2 drastically different books, both by authors I admire and respect, I wasn’t sure what to do with the information.

I was very much conflicted.

Do I go go go and accomplish amazing things and leap tall buildings in a single bound while changing the world? Or do I find joy in the ordinary moments, gratitude for the life I lead, and happiness in the every day with my family?

It seemed like one couldn’t happen alongside the other, and something had to give.

In order for me to be able to find the right balance, I felt that I needed to get some space from my goals.

A purposeful break to unwind and recharge and spend time noticing what actually brings me joy, not what I think I should aim for.

So if you are currently going through the same whirlwind of over-achievement, and are feeling a little burnt out, here are 6 signs that it’s time to take a break from your goals, how to go about doing it, and what I learned from my experience.

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You can’t recall the last time you did something unproductive

There are seasons in life that call us to go above and beyond in accomplishing things to keep life going smoothly — summer time for the soccer mom or exam time for the university student. But the majority of the time, you should be able to devote at least a few hours a week to something entirely unproductive.

  • Building puzzles
  • Playing peekaboo with your kiddos
  • Painting the sunset
  • Photographing nature
  • Watching Netflix
  • Reading a fiction novel

Whatever your version of relaxation looks like, it should be present in every week.

Related post: Self Care Is Critical: 10 Ideas To Start Today

If you want to be able to show up as the best version of yourself, it is so important to build time into your week where you can recharge.

Without those periods of ‘play‘ we become anxiety fueled balls of tension that, may or may not achieve our goals, but will certainly be miserable doing so.

The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.

DR STUART BROWN

If you haven’t had time to just be in a while, it’s time to step away from your pursuits and reevaluate the balance you want to strike between productivity and play.

ANA MCRAE

Pick up a hobby you abandoned long ago and schedule it into your calendar this week.

Then do it just for the sake of doing it, without any of the guilt associated with taking time away from your to do list.

Related post: How To Simplify Your To Do List To The Essentials

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You are constantly rejigging, revamping, and modifying your goals

Sure, it’s important to periodically reassess your goals to ensure you are still headed in the right direction, but if you’re constantly tweaking what you decided just the other day, it’s a sign that you don’t really know what you want.

I’ve read goals I wrote down a few months ago and laughed that some things were ever on my list.

This came from a lack of clarity around where I truly wanted to be down the road.

Taking a break from setting goals gives you time and head space to mull over your thoughts and get a sense for who you want to be and the life you want to lead.

Related post: Finding Your Purpose With 10 Questions

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Your goals are written everywhere, but you can’t remember them

If you have so many goals that you can’t tell me exactly what you’re working toward at any point in time, without checking your notes, you’re spreading yourself too thin.

You won’t make exponential breakthroughs in any area of your life if you’re moving an inch at a time in a thousand directions.

ANA MCRAE

Focus on what ACTUALLY matters to you RIGHT NOW, and don’t set more goals until you’ve achieved it.

The rush that comes with hitting a big goal that you’ve set will fuel you to take on more challenges until your life is so fantastic it is unrecognizable.

This is what fires me up as a life coach: helping people break out of the boxes they’ve put around themselves so that they can build lives exploding with joy.

On the other hand, the overwhelm that comes with feeling like you have to work so hard on so many different things will keep you in a downward spiral.

What’s your ONE thing?

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You don’t think about anything other than the next thing on your list

This kills enjoyment of every day life.

If you don’t have the head space to think about what to do with your friends this weekend because you’re too focused on the 19 things you feel you ‘must‘ accomplish today, you will burn out.

Think about it, you’re not on this earth for long, and your to-do list really is not that important. Yes, you need to take care of yourself and yes it feels great to make progress toward something you care about.

Focusing your life on your goals and your lists and your plans is pointless if you miss out on the authentic moments that matter in the end.

We can learn the value of ordinary moments from people who suffered tremendous loss: the memories they held most sacred were the ordinary, every day moments.

BRENE BROWN

It’s okay to have a list, but have a life too.

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You look at your list of goals and you aren’t jumping through the roof with excitement

Your goals should set your heart on fire every single morning.

If looking at them fills you with dread, you aren’t doing it right. Work with a coach.

It was December. I was eager to get a solid list of goals set up so that I could hit the ground running in the new year, ready to kick January’s butt. I drafted a first set of goals, looked at them, and thought ‘these aren’t cool enough.’ They need to be bigger, more important, and more amazing. I drafted the second round of goals, looked at them, and just thought ‘meh.

If you’ve got a page of goals and when you look at it you aren’t jumping up with your fist in the air, you haven’t identified the right goals.

You’re focusing on impressing people around you instead of following your version of an amazing life.

I get it.

Sometimes it can be hard to admit to ourselves that we don’t actually want the corner office and the 9-5 life with a house and a white picket fence. I was there too. But until you give yourself permission to dream authentically, you will not experience a life exploding with joy.

Take a break from the process of setting goals, and live your life for a while.

See where your spare time leads you, what interests you, and the things you actually enjoy spending time on.

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You have a goal to set more goals

This is the killer, be all end all sign that you need to stop what you’re doing, tear up your to do list, and escape for a month.

If one of your goals is to set more goals, you are headed down a slippery slope.

You are equating your self worth with the number of things you accomplish.

Don’t live in a constant state of hustle in an attempt to prove that you are worthy. Take time away from setting and working on your goals so that you can pinpoint the critical few and ignore the trivial many.

There are a billion things you could put on your list, from scuba diving every ocean, to having the cleanest home – what really matters to you?

If you’ve been struggling to define it, working with an experienced life coach can help you cut through the BS and get crystal clear on what you value and how you can pursue it.

I challenge high achievers to overcome perfectionism, procrastination, and indecision so that they can live unbelievable lives exploding with joy. Let’s get you from stress to success.

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So, if you’re experiencing any of the 6 signs above, it’s time for you to step away from being the type-A, goal setter, goal getter that you are.

Let’s talk about how you can actually pause your goals without losing all of your progress.

Understand your WHY: As with any change in life, if you aren’t rooted in the big WHY, you won’t make it through the HOW. I created a “leading change plan” for myself, that essentially consisted of

  1. The pain statement – what’s not working, why do things need to change?

    “My to do list is overwhelming me and taking me away from my values – simplicity, gratitude, adventure, and playfulness. I no longer enjoy playing with my kids because I’m always thinking about the next thing on my list. I don’t prioritize spending time with my husband because my goals are always front of mind. I haven’t painted, done yoga, read a fiction book, made a puzzle, gone out with a friend, watched a movie, practiced calligraphy, or gone sledding in months. I feel so overwhelmed about the amount of goals I want to accomplish that I wake up feeling defeated. I am stressed out because I am spread too thin and don’t know what I really want.”
  2. The vision statement – what’s the outcome going to be, how will things be better?

    “I will cultivate calm and stillness: there will be time for more walks in the woods, more family hikes, more books on simple living, more meditation. I will cultivate play and rest: there will be time for more board games, more sleeping in, more yoga, more movies. I will engage in purposeless activities just for the sake of play: there will be more crafting with the kids, more puzzles, more watercolor painting and calligraphy. I will do things that I actually want to do in order to feel rested, happy, present, and playful.”
  3. The commitment statement – what needs to happen in order to get there, what’s required of me?

    “I will not set any new goals in the next 3 weeks. I will not try to figure life out. I will not worry about work. I will do all the ‘self indulgent’ things on my list. I will practice daily gratitude. I will not implement any new changes.”

In this manner, I was able to remind myself why the way I was currently living was not the way I wanted to continue living, and what I needed to do (or not do) to course correct.

Decide your rest period. How long of a break do you need? It must be long enough for you to reap the rewards and feel rested, but not so long that you’re starting at square one when you get back. I took 3 weeks and felt very well rested and excited to get back to setting goals.

Tear up your to do list. No, really. Go do it right now. This was the most liberating part of the whole process. If anything is still important when you’re back in business, you can create a fresh one then. Most of my things just disappeared because they were never really urgent or important, they were just nice to have once upon a time.

Hold yourself accountable. Tell a friend that you’re taking a break from your goals and make sure they don’t let you stray. If they notice you deciding to try some new exercise program, or meal plan, tell them what they need to do.

Read your leading change plan every morning. It will remind you why you started this in the first place and help to keep you going when you start second guessing yourself and writing more to do lists.

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So now you know WHEN you need to take a break from your goals, and HOW to do that.

Let’s talk about WHAT I learned from my experience

1. I was sooo relaxed

It took a few days of consciously monitoring my thoughts to keep to-do lists and life goals from popping up every time I had a choice of what to spend my time on. After that, I may as well have been on a beach with a cocktail in hand for 3 weeks, I felt that relaxed.

I still had to go to work but it felt like I was on vacation.

My days brimmed with possibility: should I paint? should I read? should I watch a movie? should I go out with a friend?

Now that my schedule was completely free of ‘must-do’s‘, I had so much time for fun and relaxing. I built a 500 piece puzzle just because I wanted to! The day before, it would have seemed like the biggest waste of time imaginable, but not now!

Things like this contributed to an intense feeling of satisfaction with life, and an overall more positive mood!

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2. I actually enjoyed my days way more

Crossing off things on my list always gives me that much anticipated dopamine rush, but it is often fueled by this anxiety that I must. do. all. things. now. – a very overwhelming way to get things done.

Because I made time for fun and friendship, I was so much happier than any day I spent 4 hours plucking away at my to do list.

The activities I chose to prioritize in my day led me to smile, laugh, and heave huge sighs of relief – you know the kind you get when everything is just wonderful, and you can let all the tension out of your body? That kind.

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3. I improved my relationships with the people around me

Shockingly enough, your to do list can’t become your best friend. Although if it’s all you’re ever focused on, you may as well call it that.

If you give time (our most precious commodity) to the people around you, amazing things happen.

Connection is our deepest human desire. Your life isn’t going to be fulfilling if you achieve all your goals without anyone to share the experience with.

When I gave time to my relationships, things just kept getting better. My husband and I were happier together when I wasn’t writing to do lists for him (shocking eh?). My not-quite-2-year-old daughter could dance better than me, something I hadn’t quite noticed before. I learned about friends’ hopes and dreams when I made time for coffee dates and soul talks.

These relationships are essential because they rejuvenate your soul, and later provide the support you need to strive for great things!

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4. I got some clarity into the things that mattered to me

At some point, I became more focused on the goals and the lists themselves than on creating a life I dreamed of.

When my goals didn’t quite give me the feelings I was hoping for (endless excitement for what could be achieved), I coped by making more goals and hoping that would solve it.

It worked REAL well, in case you can’t tell.

I was looking for those feelings in all the wrong places. My compulsion to create more and more goals drove me further away from understanding what I actually wanted to achieve in life.

When I took time off from trying to figure life out, I naturally gravitated to the things I actually wanted to do. I was reading lonely planet guides and searching for school bus conversions on Pinterest. But wait – travelling the world was no where on my to do list. How did I let that one slip?

Taking a break from the goal setting rat race gave me the time I needed to get back in touch with my real hopes and dreams.

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5. I was able to set goals that really mattered to me

Stepping away from my goals and my to do lists then allowed me to set the best goals I’ve ever set, when my mini sabbatical was over.

  • I knew the kind of life I wanted to live.
  • I set a few goals to move me in that direction.

When it came time to dedicate time to my goals in my calendar, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chase that dream, rather than stressed by the pressure of achieving everything under the sun.

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We’ve all hit a breaking point where we were out of balance in life;

A new year, a birthday, a new month, a new week … these are all wonderful times to reflect on how we want to show up in the world. But the key to living intentionally is being authentic.

Related post: How To Be Happier With Mindfulness

Don’t feel pressured to have the longest list of the coolest goals. Instead, find the balance in creating the life you want to live while enjoying the one you have right now.

I dropped everything ‘productive‘ that I was doing, literally tore up my to do list (which has never been done before!) and indulged in the luxuries of sleeping in, painting, reading, and playing outside with my kids … for 3 weeks straight!

I ate pancakes when I wanted them. I stopped weight training and did yoga (which I enjoyed more). I freed up my head space (by not worrying about the future and trying to have all of life figured out). I focused on appreciating the moment I was in and really experiencing the things I enjoyed doing. I got rid of the guilt associated with taking time for myself when I really ‘should be’ cleaning the kitchen or planning my next career move.

I just did what I felt like doing and didn’t give it a second thought.

Taking a mini sabbatical from my goals was exactly what I needed at a time when I was just going through the motions and trying to cross everything off my list at the expense of enjoying the people and experiences around me.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, unsure of your direction, and stressed about your life, take some time to go back to basics.

Take the pressure off of yourself to get it perfect, and start enjoying the life that you are living right now.

Everything will fall into place, if you can create space for opportunity to fall into.

If you found this post valuable, please share it on Pinterest. Together we can inspire more people to live authentic and happy lives.

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Is there a certain time of year you feel most overwhelmed? Let me know in the comments below!

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