Is 'goal fatigue' holding you back?


Photo: Getty Images, posed by model

Most days I get out of bed at 5.45am and practice yoga. I do not leap or spring, in fact I’m a zombie until 7am, when BOOM! I feel energised, zen-ified and yes, just a little bit smug. My secret is ‘Auto-pilot’. The lazy person’s way of accomplishing the most while doing the least.

But lately it hasn’t felt like enough. Last week when I couldn’t muster the energy for handstand my teacher gave us a lecture; ‘How can we expect to achieve your goals when we don’t challenge ourselves? Where have we ever gotten on auto-pilot?’ Does 5.45am count for nothing?

In her new book Thrive, Arianna Huffington says that the best way to achieve a goal is to drop it. I’m not going to drop yoga, because my goal is mental health and well-being, not the perfect handstand. But in not perpetually trying to achieve my personal best, was I stagnating and just not noticing?

In a fit of ‘not good enough’, I downloaded a goal-setting/time management strategy. As I scheduled and colour-coded my Career, Health, Money, Personal Growth, Lifestyle, Family and Relationships goals, I felt a rush of elation. All-round excellence would soon be mine!


Two days later my compartmentalised goal-list felt more of a weapon of esteem destruction. If I take the cat to the vet during ‘Business and Career’ goal time, do I work Saturday and cancel ‘Relationships’? In which category does ‘collapsing on couch’ fit?

Now, when I see joggers jabbing on fitness apps recording their vitals or hear Michelle Bridges exhorting us to beat our Personal Bests (at life! In sprints times! In super-food recipes!) part of me just feels ... joyless. Is trying to be our Personal Best at everything stopping us from excelling at anything? In trying to do everything, do we sacrifice the personal goals that matter the most?

When I look at the people who actually achieve the goals that are important to them, they all have two things in common. The first is that their goals are meaningful to them, regardless of whether other people approve. Whether the goal is ‘starting my own business’, ‘write a book’ or ‘Eliza Doolittle myself into a Vaucluse mansion’ – if it’s meaningful to you, it’s worth pursuing. Others may scoff, but who gives a crap? We’re lucky if we achieve our personal goals two, maybe three times in a lifetime. And when we do there’s no better feeling.

The second thing these goal achievers have in common is that instead of doing a stupendous job in all the things, they practiced the stove top method. Picture your life as a stove top with four burners: family, friends, health and work. In order to achieve a goal, you need to turn down a burner. In order to achieve it fast, you need to turn down two.

The caveat is that turning off any one burner completely is counter-productive. There’s no joy in achieving your career goal only to have a heart attack at 40 because you turned off the ‘health’ burner and ate take-away every night. Likewise, being left by your beloved because you turned off the ‘relationships’ burner and they outsourced love-making to a neighbour – that would suck.

The trick is to figure out that one goal that’s meaningful to you – whether it’s a five-year goal or just a 30-day challenge – and for all other areas? Divide your life into categories and –

Behold: the Good-Enough Maintenance Plan™.


“Research has shown that people who try to make massive changes to their lifestyle in order to reach a goal, rarely succeed,” says Dr. Adam Fraser, co-author of The Good Enough Diet. “It is the people who go to ‘good enough’ who consistently get the best results.”

Define your daily ‘good enough’ and stick to it. Mine? ‘Eat greens, no sugar, move and have quiet time’. As for ‘Personal bests, 20 second intervals, goji berries and detoxes’? Meh.


We need them. But hang with the people who don’t need a recap of your last three years. And if you can see them while doubling up on another maintenance goal, like mental or physical health, all the better!


Take an honest look at your body type. What suits you? What doesn’t? My body type is ‘giraffe with cankles’, which means no to capri pants, but yes to boat necks and boots. ‘High waisted is back – here’s how to wear it!’ Forget it.  

Find two or three outfits that make you feel awesome. Buy them in many colours and fabrics.

Finances / Career 

If ‘get master’s degree’ or ‘recover from physical or mental illness’ is your primary goal, then your financial/career goals could be ‘Keep roof above head’ and ‘Don’t screw up’. In that order.

Cooking / Lifestyle 

Does your primary goal prevent you from mustering a crap about natty homewares? Do you watch My Kitchen Rules and think ‘those people look so relaxed about cooking’? No? That’s because ‘Cooking’ means looking up a recipe, buying ingredients you won’t use again for six months, stressing about timing and then photographing the results. ‘Assembly’ means bringing together four or five fresh, tasty ingredients and consuming them, because that is what food is for. Take a leaf out of your fashion book. Find three or four healthy meals in each category that work for you, and rotate.


Alice Williams is an author, university tutor and yoga teacher. In her spare time she enjoys line dancing, wearing singlets and teaching fools to lift their game. 



  • Hmm, you obviously need to have priority. Health is the most important if you want to even be functional to do the rest. Then comes the rest...And besides you can divide the year into periods of career boost, leisure, fitness, relationships, etc.....I always have time off around Xmas and New Year, and always start the year with career goals and achievements, relationships come during the winter, when you are less active and have more time to cuddle...And summer is perfect to increase your activities and get fitter...Here you go.

    Date and time
    April 03, 2014, 9:00AM
    • God I hear you Alice. Trying to hold it all together and get everything 'right' is exhausting. I've befriended 'good enough' of late and it makes life so much easier. We're so hard on ourselves and set such high expectations - letting go a little is incredibly liberating! We let other people off the hook so why not ourselves?

      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 9:22AM
      • Exactly, we often treat ourselves in a way we would never treat anyone else, which includes holding ourselves to highly unrealistic expectations. We need to be kind to ourselves too.

        Date and time
        April 04, 2014, 12:41AM
    • Well said!

      mum of four
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 2:34PM
      • Love the stovetop analogy. Sitting here pounding away at a critical tender for my business, and worrying about the assignment due in a couple of weeks for my masters, makes me conscious of trying not to turn down the family and relationships burners. It all comes down to trying to achieve things that are important to you , but not throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak, and try not to compare yourself to those people who seem to be able to kick goal after career/ financial/travel goal. In your 40s you start to realise that a few well spaced achievements are as good as madly rushing from achievement to achievement without enjoying the day to day interaction with family and friends.You may get hit by a bus tomorrow, so lessen the load on yourself a bit. (not too much though,,,,)

        Pat the Rat
        Date and time
        April 03, 2014, 11:23PM
        • Thanks for this lovely piece of much-needed realism. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the usual tide of information telling us how to be perfect people with perfect lives, which is just impossible. You can only ever do your best and I like the idea of deciding on what's considered good enough as opposed to perfect achievement. By the way if you get up at 5:45am every morning for yoga that definitely counts for something!

          Date and time
          April 04, 2014, 12:39AM
          • Thank you for writing this... I really needed to read it at this time. I can already feel some of the wait lifting of my shoulders...

            Date and time
            April 04, 2014, 2:28AM
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