You want to run a marathon, but also build more strength in the weight room. You’d like to spend more time with your partner and land that traveling consultant job. Setting more than one goal is usually a good thing. But if they don’t sync up, they can get in the way of your happiness (and lead to an action crisis).
“Conflicting goals can make you feel like you’re not making progress, because every step toward one is a step back from the other,” says Shefali Raina, a New York City-based executive coach. You may want two disparate things (i.e. you’re on track for a promotion, but also dream of quitting to pursue a passion project), or not have the time or energy to tackle both. This struggle can take a mental toll: According to a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, people who reported having incompatible goals were more likely to feel sad or anxious than those who didn’t.
Below, experts provide tips on how to align your ambitions.
Picture success and failure. Write down the goals in each area of your life. To figure out if one of them should take priority, sit in a quiet place as if you were meditating. Visualize taking the steps to reach one of them, and your emotions after achieving it. Then imagine not pursuing it. Go through those scenarios with the other goal, says Eileen Lichtenstein, CEO of Balance & Power career and success coaching in Uniondale, New York.
Say you don’t have enough time to train for a marathon and hit the weight room regularly. You may picture those runs as a slog, and feel relieved when you think about deferring your entry. This probably means that your heart’s not in the race. Consider making strength training your focus, and postponing that marathon until next year. It can feel tough letting go of a goal, but remember that you’re moving forward with the other one.
Find your motivation. If you’re still feeling torn, think about the reason you set each goal in the first place. For example, quitting your job to pursue a passion project would lead to adventure and empowerment. “Understanding your motivation can help illuminate the most satisfying path,” says Raina. You may conclude that you’d rather channel your energy into an exciting side hustle.
Get specific with solutions. Parsing out the details and setting rules can help manage any overlap that still exists, says Raina. If you travel for business but also want to share more time with your loved ones, spell out how much time you’ll spend on each. For each Saturday or Sunday you work, you’ll take a Friday off later in the month. Communicate this clearly to everyone at home and in the office.
Recognize red flags. You’re normally driven, but you keep procrastinating. That’s a sign of hidden conflict, says Lichtenstein. Wanting two opposing things can leave you feeling confused. You may be less enthusiastic than usual, and reluctant to take action.
Practice self-compassion. You may feel guilty or sad about not reaching every goal, even if it conflicts with another one. “At the core, our self-worth is connected with achievement,” says Raina. Offset this by remembering to treat yourself with kindness. Keep aiming high, but don’t judge yourself if you have to change or even let go of an ambition. You may actually find that you have more momentum toward your goals if you approach them this way—and you’ll feel happier when you reach them.