Some is Better Than None: Realistic Expectations for Goal Setting

A few years back my therapist discussed the concept of all or none thinking with me. All or none thinking is exactly what is sounds like – thinking that only considers two outcomes – all or none. This is one of those concepts that once you learn it, it shows up everywhere and you cannot unsee it. It is a common response to anxiety according to my therapist and I would reason it is a common response to living. It is all too easy to fall into this black and white thinking but it rarely is true in life. 

I help people set goals, create action plans and then take action. Oftentimes, when goals are being set, we think in all or nothing terms. I will get in all my workouts this week. I will not eat any sugar this week. No room for error – only room for an A+ or you fail. 

This inflexibility is actually worse for us than not setting a goal. If we do not build in flexibility to our goals and plans, we are setting ourselves up for failure. It is why sayings like 80/20 or everything in moderation including moderation become popular. It is because it is not realistic to assume that you will do ALL of something EVERY time. 

I see this when I help people determine how much they need to save for retirement. The number is usually large and daunting and if the full recommended savings amount is not possible, sometimes the person figures it is not worth doing anything. All or none thinking. The conclusion is often some amount of savings that is possible today with a plan for how to get to the optimal savings. 

Setting both base goals and stretch goals

Instead, what if we set base goals and stretch goals? My stretch goal is to work out 3 times a week, walk 5 days a week, and do yoga 2 times a week. Some weeks I nail it. Some weeks, I have “failed’ by Monday at 8AM because I missed my morning yoga class. If I am not careful, I find myself wanting to give up at that point. This is why we need base goals. My base goal could be 1 workout, 3 walks, and 1 yoga class for the week. I build in margin for error and I can still feel accomplished. If I make my stretch goals, even better. 

This practice takes some effort and a lot of presence. We do better with black and white rules and goals but we also fail more often which chips away at our motivation to stick with it. Habits are helpful here but sometimes you need a different expectation for your week. This doesn’t mean that you don’t get anything done. It means you need to focus on getting “something” done. 

If you find that you are consistently setting goals for yourself and not achieving them, you need a new method. Watch for all or none thinking and instead focus on a base goal and a stretch goal.

Tip shared by Jessi Chadd, a certified financial planner (CFP®) and a certified financial transitions specialist (CeFT®). Jessi lives at the intersection of wellness and wealth and enjoys helping people be well in all areas of their life including their finances. For more information on how you can improve your financial wellness, please reach Jessi at Jessi is a co-organizer for Priority Fit Camp. Each week, we publish a health and wellness tip that is shared at the Priority Fit Camp community workout. The free group class happens every Saturday at 7:50 a.m.  

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