One of the ways that we find contentment in today’s world is to set goals for ourselves and, ideally, achieve them. We try to make some specific amount of money, or visit a specific country, or read a specific number of books. Goal setting may even be part of therapy, as we work together to find and create goals that make sense for your core values.
Goal setting is both admirable and important, and giving up on goals or failing to complete them can be a source of unhappiness. But one issue that can arise is believing that the goals we create now are critical for our happiness in the future. Goals are important, yet what is also important is adaptability to the changes in where we are in life, who we are in life, and what we really need to be happy.
Our Goals and Our Lives Change with the Seasons
When you were a child, you wanted to grow up and be an astronaut or a fireman or the President of the United States. At the time, even without realizing it, you set a goal. Then you grew up. Life taught you more about who you are and what you wanted to achieve based on your life experience.
We look back on our childhood and we know that times change. The dreams we had as kids are (probably) not within our reach, and we are not the same person that we were in our youth. But, as we become adults, many of us start to think that the goals we have now should be treated as some type of necessity. Now that we’re adults, we start to convince ourselves that this is who we are, and our goals now are the only goals we’ll have that will make us happy.
The truth is that we are always changing. For example, in our college years, we may have been focused on finding a job that made us more money. Then we got a job and our goals could have changed to something like having children or spending more time with our families. Our life changes all the time. Our goals need to be able to change with it.
Seeing and Assessing Our Personal Goals
Our life goals are not meant to be static. They change regularly, even if you do not achieve the goals that you originally set. We are always growing and changing, and while we may still hold on to some of the goals and dreams we had in the past, we also need to be willing to reflect on who we are and what we really need to be happy. If we hold onto our past dreams, and do not look at what will make us happy in the now, then we’re going to miss out on opportunities to make ourselves happier that are more in line with who we are in the moment.
So while we should have goals, and we should work hard towards those goals, it is also very important to remember that our goals can change as our circumstances do. There is nothing wrong with seeing our goals as temporary – writing them with a pencil, and not a pen – and reviewing where we are now and what we really want to achieve. If you need help with achieving your goals, contact Flourish Psychology, today.
It’s healthy to have goals in life. Being able to set an expectation and then achieve it can not only be beneficial to our financial status or social status, but can also be invaluable to our personal mental health and sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, by measuring our success in goals rather than ongoing progress, it can be all too easy to lose sight of what matters and beat ourselves up over not accomplishing those arbitrary goals that we’ve set for ourselves.
For example, if we want to put a certain amount of money into our savings but fail, we ignore the amount that we were able to save at all. Or if by the time we are a certain age we want to purchase a home and are not quite ready for a mortgage by then, we can fail to see the fact that we are in a financially stable situation and almost ready to become a homeowner.
It can be a real danger to set life goals as our baseline, because this only allows for success or failure, and ignores the wide variety of accomplishments that exist in between. When a specific goal or need is focused on by one of our clients to an unhealthy amount, it can be difficult to remind them that many life goals are arbitrary, and that that is okay.
What Makes a Life Goal Arbitrary?
We find people set guidelines like the purchase of a home, and then often say that they will only view that accomplishment as successful if they reach that life goal by a specific age. Age is a very understandable standard for a life goal. “I want to buy a home by 35,” has a very clear success or failure factor to it. With this type of goal, if you own a home before 35, you have succeeded, and if you do not, you have failed. It feels easy to plan for and easy to digest.
But if you were to purchase a home by the time you turned 36, that would not be any less of an accomplishment. Becoming a homeowner is no easy task by any means, especially not when an age restriction has been placed upon it.
This is the core issue with forgetting that life goals are arbitrary. Using them for direction can be a fantastic motivator, but life goals lose a lot of their value when we forget that the “life” part is more important than the “goal” part. Life happens, and being able to adapt and still succeed is just as much, if not more, of an accomplishment than any “buy a home by age X” restriction.
Can Life Goals Still be Important?
Another issue with life goals is whether not they’ll actually make us happy at all. So often these goals are based upon external concepts of what success means, and we have not taken the time or introspection to know if they will actually make us happy. Sticking with the homeowner concept: “Will buying a home actually make you happy?” is an important question we asked many of our clients.
Will you live a happier life spending 10 years as a comfortable renter, or will spending 5 years saving every penny so that you can become a homeowner earlier bring you joy? What if you decide that instead of owning a home, you want to travel instead? What if you want to move? What if finding a new job out of state will make you happy? If that’s the case, then not only would homeownership “by 35” not be possible, but it would also be a mistake – it would take you away from what would really make you happy.
Let Life Get in The Way
Even when we are able to take time and decide what we truly need to be happy, it is important that we don’t put too much of a fixed concept on those life goals. Adapting to our experiences or surroundings and then altering our expectations is an essential part of finding happiness in life. Allowing our goals to shift and change with our own personal growth is a fantastic way to create accomplishments that mean something to us.
Rather than viewing life goals as predetermined requirements for happiness, we can view them as the simple goals that they are. And goals change. By taking what makes us happy and combining it with life goals that give us a sense of accomplishment, we are able to adapt to life, rather than letting it “get in the way”.
As a society, we are starting to at least acknowledge and recognize the importance of self-care. Each of us needs to learn to take time out of our day to care for ourselves. Not only does self-care make us happier, but it also makes us better parents, better lovers, and better friends. Self-care, in that sense, isn’t just about the self. The more we care for our own mental health, the more we can give others our whole self.
Still, for better or worse, self-care is an industry. Many companies try to offer products and services with the claim that they’ll help you feel better about yourself. In a sense, they’re not wrong. Anything you do for yourself can help you regenerate your energy levels and protect yourself from being overwhelmed. But what does the science say about self-care?
Self-Care That is Supported by Science
Anything that refreshes you and gives you back a sense of health and wellness is worth considering. But there are absolutely some activities that are supported by science. These include:
Sleep – More than anything, if you can find time to sleep restfully, you are going to instantly feel more energized and emotionally/psychologically healthy. The chemicals in your brain that affect mood and wellbeing are all directly impacted by sleep. Sleep longer and better, and you’ll feel much more refreshed.
Exercise – Physical activity also can be directly linked to sleep. There are countless reasons for this. Exercise affects our production of “Good mood” hormones. It “burns off” extra energy to tired your body (which ultimately tires your mind) and improves cognitive functioning, among many other benefits.
Healthy Eating – You’ll notice that many of these are about having a healthier mind and body, and that’s because there is a direct link between how your body feels and how your mental health feels. Healthy eating is another example. Filling your body with vitamins and minerals while avoiding things that make your body feel worse (like fried foods) helps to nourish your brain in ways that improve psychological health and emotional wellness.
Moments of Silence – Life can often feel very overwhelming. One way to address this is to take a few moments of silence – with NO technology – to sit and allow your mind to tire out and refresh. Sometimes, all you need for self-care is to literally do nothing in silence so that you can process everything around you and let it melt away.
Journaling – The diaries that many of us kept when we were younger are actually backed by science. Journaling is very healthy form of self-expression that evidence shows reduces cognitive burden, enhances cognitive ability, and helps us process life’s events.
Other forms of self-care may not be backed by science, but are still beneficial. For example, doing your nails and hair, dressing nicely, and performing other activities that you enjoy can be amazing forms of self-care. They may not be highly researched, but self-care is a very individual experience. Just be sure to assess how you feel when it’s over to know if these are activities that work for you.
You are who you surround yourself with. That’s a core belief that is passed down from parent to child – that you have to be with the “Right Crowd” in order to be happy and healthy, and that there is a “wrong crowd” that can make you negative or cause trouble.
The idea of a right or wrong crowd is, unfortunately, an often coded term used to denigrate a group of people that someone doesn’t find acceptable to their family. But the idea that you can surround yourself with people that hurt your mental health is absolutely backed by science.
Negative Friends Cause Negative Feelings
If you are someone that struggles with negative thinking, one of the first things to do is examine who you surround yourself with. That is because studies have shown that we are, in many ways, a product of our immediate environment. The people we choose to have close to us in our lives can affect our emotional reactions and our way of seeing the world in many ways:
Emotions Are Contagious – Studies have shown that people that find themselves in the presence of negative people are more likely to feel negatively. There are many studies that show that both positive and negative emotions are contagious, and so negative friends can influence our moods in a negative way.
Self-Perception Changes – Who we surround ourselves with also affects our self-perception – that is, it affect the way we see how we and our friends compare to others. If we are in a group of negative people, we might view others as more positive and accept the identity of negativity.
Poor Social Support – Negative people do not often offer the same level of social support as positive people. This can create an environment where a person doesn’t have the support they need to turn around negative thinking and address their own naturally occurring thoughts.
Reinforced Negative Thinking – Our friends are also responsible for reinforcing the validity of our thoughts. If we thinking negatively about someone or something, and our friends tell us that the negative thinking is valid, then we have the validation we need to continue to think negatively in the future.
Sometimes, the issue is simply relationship satisfaction. If you are with people that think and speak negatively, you may simply just not be very happy. That, in turn, creates an environment where you feel negative more often.
Addressing Mental Health Through Lifestyle Changes
If you have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, it is unlikely that “new friends” is going to make a big change. But if you’re looking to make your life better, identifying the behaviors of the people you surround yourself with and acknowledging the effect they may have on you can be a big help.
As we navigate the new year, one of the things that we may look for is an opportunity to enhance our relationships, from friendships to romance to how we connect with our coworkers. As human beings, relationships play an important role in the way that we see ourselves, and when we reflect on the new year, it is often how our relationships progressed and the experiences we enjoyed with others.
However, often, in order to find and grow in these relationships, we often have to focus on ourselves, and to do that, you may want to ask yourself what it is that makes you interesting.
Qualities of an Interesting Person
There’s a cliché in the dating world that you are more likely to meet someone when you spend time working on yourself. But this isn’t entirely untrue. That is because when we take on activities for ourselves, we also answer an important question: What makes us interesting?
When we take on activities for ourselves, we are able to:
Maintain interesting conversations. The more experiences we have with cool, fun, or unique things, the more we are able to give other people an experience as our friend or partner that they cannot get from others.
Grow our self confidence. When we engage in activities for ourselves, we often find that we grow our self-esteem and self-confidence. This helps to make sure that we’re feeling our best about who we are, making us more fun to talk to.
Find like-minded people. When we engage in activities that we enjoy and are learning from, we also meet people that are interested in the same activities. These are people that likely share your traits – people that will be more interested in you, and vice versa.
“Finding ourselves” by taking on new hobbies and activities and prioritizing self-care has benefits that extend far beyond ourselves. It makes us more interesting to others, and helps you find and meet people that you connect with better.
As we embark on a new year, it also has the added advantage of making life more fulfilling, slowing down time, and ensuring that – at the end of the year – you can look back fondly on who you are and what you accomplished.
Therapy to Help Increase Motivation and Self-Esteem
Still, despite all these benefits, it can be hard to give yourself the motivation to engage in these activities. Poor self-confidence, low energy, stress – these are all issues that can hold you back from committing to activities that will enhance your life. If you’ve been struggling with these issues, call Flourish Psychology today to learn more about our therapists or to schedule an appointment.
There are some people that can talk to anyone. If someone is in a room with them, a friend or stranger, they can fearlessly walk up to that person and start a conversation, with no timidness or hesitation in their voice.
But not everyone is that social, and some people struggle to have conversations – especially with people they do not know. Often, these individuals are described as being “shy.” Sometimes, however, these individuals are struggling with social anxiety disorder, and their shyness is actually a form of moderate to severe anxiety that would benefit from treatment by a mental health professional.
Yet how do you know if it is shyness or social anxiety?
Shyness and Social Anxiety Similarities and Differences
Shyness and social anxiety share many common traits. Both make it harder to socialize with strangers or groups. Both can make it more difficult to have the relationships you want, or participate in some of the activities that you want to enjoy.
But there are key differences between the two, and most of them relate to the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that occur during social situations.
Shy people can often motivate themselves to be social with only a little bit of self-talk.
Shy people may feel a little bit of anxiety, but it is fleeting and easy to manage.
Shy people often still go out and participate in social activities.
Shy people do not necessarily feel significant shame or embarrassment at being shy.
On the other hand:
Social anxiety tends to cause moderate to severe anxiety at the idea of being social.
Social anxiety comes with a lot of negative self-talk.
Social anxiety causes increasingly severe physical responses in social situations.
Social anxiety leads to many negative emotions and overthinking about the experience.
Social anxiety is difficult to overcome, and can get worse over time.
Social anxiety makes people avoid possibly enjoyable social situations.
A person that is shy may feel like they want to talk to someone but have a bit of a hard time speaking up. A person with social anxiety is often fearful about talking to that person, worried they’ll embarrass themselves, and may experience severe anxiety that prevents them from engaging with others.
Still, while the two are different, they are not entirely unrelated. Shyness can lead to someone developing social anxiety disorder if their shyness starts to negatively impact their life, and what we call “shyness” could be a form of mild, manageable social anxiety that has the potential to worsen depending on life experience. It may be a personality trait, but it may also be a form of social anxiety that is currently manageable, but could develop into worse symptoms over time.
Evaluating and Treating Your Social Anxiety
It is difficult to live with social anxiety. It is even more difficult to live with social anxiety here in Brooklyn and NYC, as our area is densely packed, brimming with events and social experiences, and often requires socialization in order to navigate the busyness of the city.
At Flourish Psychology, we believe that what matters most is helping you achieve your goals. Whether you have social anxiety or you’re just feeling shy and want a bit more self-confidence to be social, we want to be here to work with you, helping you achieve these goals and live your life the way you want to live. Contact us today to learn more.