by Lynne Klippel
Tina decides she will loose 10 pounds by Christmas. She starts eating nutritiously and walking after work. Three days later she eats a hot fudge sundae, is overcome by guilt, and decides to give up on her weight loss goal.
Jessie sets a goal to pay off her credit card bills. After a stressful day, she goes shopping with friends and purchases a $300 jacket with her credit card.
Ted sets a goal to earn a promotion at work. However, he begins to take long lunch hours, procrastinate on projects, and avoid his manager.
Jerry’s goal is to have a deep, honest relationship with his wife. He promises himself to never lie to her again. On Thursday, Jerry becomes very annoyed with his wife. When she asks him if anything is wrong, he says nothing and starts to read the newspaper.
How many times have we set goals and given up on them? For most of us, giving up on the goals we set for ourselves is a common behavior. We want to reach our goals but something always seems to get in the way.
I used to think I was lazy, undisciplined, or weak when I failed to meet a goal. Even though I had great intentions, a written goal with action steps, and detailed ways to measure my progress, I still could not seem to meet my goal. I read piles of goal setting books, followed all the directions exactly, but still feel short of my goals.
What I did not know was that I had a shadow goal blocking my progress. Shadow goals are competing goals that are set by our unconscious mind. They usually are related to safety or getting our way. When we get stuck and do not make progress on a goal, it is because we have a shadow goal that is pulling us like a magnet in the opposite direction.
Let’s examine the shadow goals of the people listed in the examples above:
- Tina: I will eat whatever I want to eat whenever I want to eat it.
- Jessie: When I see something I want, I must have it.
- Ted: I am fearful of the unknown so I will avoid change at all costs.
- Jerry: I will do whatever I have to do to avoid a confrontation because they scare me.
Do you notice how childish these goals sound? That’s because most shadow goals are formed in childhood in a response to an uncomfortable situation or to fill an unmet need.
We’ve had these shadow goals for so long that they don’t even register on our radar screens. Yet, our shadow goals are always with us, blocking our progress and keeping us stuck.
So, what can we do?
Are we eternally at the mercy of our shadow goals?
The good news is that we can overcome our shadow goals.
When you are having trouble meeting a goal you have set for yourself, follow these steps:
- The first step in eliminating your shadow goals is to admit to yourself that you have them.
- Then, shine a light on the shadow by asking yourself what you really want. This step can be tricky as it takes some digging. Talking the situation over with a close friend or coach is helpful. Keep asking yourself what you want in the situation until you get to the very bottom of it.
- Recognize your shadow goal. It will usually be childish or concern something you want to have or avoid.
- Once you’ve found your shadow goal, ask yourself if you choose to have that goal for yourself now that you are an adult.
- Consider the times in your life where you did not get what you wanted or avoided a painful feeling. Identify the resources that you have now as an adult to successfully handle disappointment or discomfort.
- Remind yourself that you are safe and that disappointment and discomfort are emotions you can handle.
- Lastly, choose a goal to replace your shadow goal. Make this goal something that feels comfortable and achievable.
Here are some possible replacement goals for the people in our examples.
- Tina: I will make conscious decisions about the foods I eat.
- Jessie: I will enjoy admiring beautiful things but will not impulsively spend my money.
- Ted: I will be open to change because I trust my common sense and skill will help me cope.
- Jerry: I will tell my wife the truth because she loves me and wants me to be happy.
It is possible to eliminate our shadow goals. It may take some time and practice, but the effort is well worth the price. Once we are aware of our shadow goals, we can replace them with goals that we choose from an adult perspective. Then, when our shadow goals are out of the way, the goals that we set will become the goals that we meet.