Goal Disengagement

The ability to quit fully is a valuable tool to living well. Successful people have developed this important life skill to know how to quit and how to persist. Sometimes a goal doesn’t deliver what we expected and doesn’t fit into our new priorities. Learn to articulate your goals and anticipate when to change them.

When we fail to meet our goals it can be a very daunting time. Failure can damage our confidence and self-esteem. The hardest goals to quit are the ones that look successful on the surface, but leave us feeling unhappy.

Goal disengagement is a series of steps that involve:

1. Freeing the mind from its previous engagement
2. Managing negative emotions
3. Creating new goals
4. Changing behavior to correspond with the new goal

Consciously putting quitting into the mix alters our perceptiion in meaningful ways and begins a process that will ultimately prepare us to let go of an unattainable goal and to articulate new goals.

Research has demonstrated that the most effective way to treat failure is to find the positive lessons in what occurred.

The positive lessons that Guy Winch, author of “Emotional First Aid” suggests are:

1. Failure is a great teacher. What would you do differently next time?
2. Failure provides new opportunities. What opportunities might failure possibly present?
3. Failure can make us stronger. In what ways can failure make you stronger?
4. Some failures are also successes. In what ways could you view your failure as a success?
5. Failure makes futures successes more meaningful. How much more will success mean to you now that you’ve encountered failure?
6. Success is not always necessary. Can you identify ways in which you derived satisfaction as you pursued your goal?

Persistence can prevent us from moving on and setting new goals. It does this by not letting us give up completely when we fail to reach our goal. It also stops us from reframing the situation, imagining a new goal and reinventing ourselves. The more time, money and energy that we have invested in a goal, the greater the personal responsibility we feel and the more likely we will persist.

The authors of “Mastering the Art of Quitting”, Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein, suggest that the only way to set new goals and open up to new possibilities is to let go of old goals entirely. Quitting frees the mind and permits growth, learning and promotes the ability to set new goals. It is a healthy response when a goal can’t be reached. Quitting involves letting go of the familiar, staking out new territory, living through a time of ambiguity and dealing with the emotions of letting go of something important.

Take a moment to evaluate whether your goals are working for you or against you. Consider if you have to change certain aspects of your life. While goals give our lives meaning and structure it is rare that we will achieve all of them. Learn to be flexible when you need to so that you can meet whatever challenge you’ve been facing.


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© 2009 Rosemary Smyth & Associates