What to do when your goals feel out of reach

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You’ve set goals and established supporting routines to reach them. Now, maybe you’re just a few days away from your initial target date and it feels like you’re miles away from what you wanted to achieve. Sound familiar?

Maybe life threw some curveballs your way. Or maybe your initial goals were too big. Failure happens. There’s a silver lining here:  we can use these disappointing setbacks to regroup, reflect, get our momentum back and get back on track. The first step is to be honest about how we ended up here.

“There are three steps to busting out of a slump. The first is: stop the bleeding,” Alex Auerbach, Raptors team psychologist, says. “You first need to stop going in reverse. You need to figure out how to put this on pause. Just enough time to do step two: release.”

Release will be different for everyone. It could be a few deep breaths in the moment to break up a downward thought spiral. For others, it could be journaling. Auerbach suggests that if your slump is long-lasting or has happened before, it could be helpful to talk to someone. That might help you  let any anxiety and negativity go so it’s not carried forward into the next step.

“The third step is to refocus. To realign your vision, your focus, your attention back on what really matters to you. Ideally, you’ll focus on a small win that you could get right now,” Auerbach says.

That “win” can be anything: ticking a task off your to-do list, sitting down for a healthy meal, getting coffee with a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. The key is it needs to be achievable in the short term.

“Just like losses accumulate momentum, wins accumulate momentum,” Auerbach notes. “Try refocusing on a small step  that's in service of something really important to you. Something that signals to you that you're making good progress and you're back on track.”

Auerbach also recommends mindfulness. Try noticing how you’re feeling in your body and what thoughts are racing through your head. That mental noting can be enough to slow the moment down and help you redirect your energy in a more positive way. Mindfulness, Auerbach says, can be preventative.

“In a slump or after a poor performance, mindfulness helps us catch that negative thinking,” Auerbach explains. “It helps us catch the physiology that's tilting in the wrong direction. It brings our attention back to what matters and back on the more positive side.”

Prolonged meditation in the moment isn’t always possible. Mindfulness is. Think of it as a quick way to self-coach yourself out of further spiraling when you fall short of a goal.

Being honest when we fall short of our goals also means knowing ourselves. What kind of encouragement do you need to get back on track?

“I know for me, I don't really like a lot of positive reinforcement when I'm working out,” Raptors team physiotherapist Amanda Joaquim chuckles. “A lot of popular apps tell you how great you are, how beautiful you are. That doesn't work for me. I like the opposite. I like being told – you gotta work harder.”

This type of tough coaching isn’t for everyone. Joaquim recognizes that it can even be unmotivating for some people. But if it feels as if you’ve hit a wall in striving for your goal, reach out for help.  Joaquim says it’s about “figuring out what drives you and what pushes you”. Learn what kind of outside support you need. That way, you’ll be able to identify the reinforcements you need to reach your goals.

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