How to Set New Goals When Your Old Goals Aren’t Working

Deciding to set new goals when you can’t or don’t want to achieve your old goals can be surprisingly difficult! These tips for setting new personal or career goals focuses on how to let go of your old goals without guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

First, here’s one of my favorite quips about setting goals:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” ~ W. C. Fields.

I’m all for striving to achieve your goals…but I also think it’s important to know when to give up on goals that just aren’t working for you. If you want to set new intentions for your life, you might find The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals helpful. And, here are three tips for setting new goals and letting go of old ones… 

How to Set New Goals When Your Old Goals Aren’t Working

Quitting or giving up on old goals has a bad rap because of the stigma attached to quitting. Some of us grew up with those “Winners never quit” and “Nobody likes a quitter” clichés – which can make it difficult to give up on old or unhealthy goals. And, we see people accomplish superhuman tasks – such as finishing a marathon after doctors say they’ll never walk again – and we think those achievements are possible for everyone.

Since some goals aren’t possible for everyone to achieve, we need to figure out how to set goals that represent who we are and what we want most out of life. We need to re-evaluate our goals and set new intentions.

These tips might help you set new goals when you can’t achieve your old ones…

Figure out what changed. Why aren’t your old goals working for you? Or — why aren’t you working for your old goals? Sometimes situations change, making goals unachievable or unappealing. For instance, two years ago my goal was to earn $50,000 a year as a freelance writer. But, the economy changed (print magazines started assigning fewer articles), and I discovered my love of blogging…so I switched my old career goal into a new intention: earning a living as a full-time “Quips and Tips” blogger. If the conditions, motivations, and benefits of a goal changes, then the goal itself may need to be re-evaluated…and maybe even abandoned.  

Reframe your thoughts about not achieving your old goals. How we think about setting new intentions and letting go of old goals changes our experience. Take, for example, someone who is told he’ll never walk again. Dana S. Dunn, Professor of Social Psychology at the Moravian College in Pennsylvania and author of Research Methods for Social Psychology, says, “If he ignores the doctor and tries to return to the same level of mobility that he once had, he’ll become frustrated because he probably can’t. That’s counterproductive. A healthier perspective would be to adjust his expectations, but still keep moving towards the same goal.” In this case, reframing thoughts involves accepting that he now walks with a limp, crutches, or a walker. He’s still mobile, but in a different way. His new goals need to be SMART.

Focus on setting intentions for your life that represent who you are right now. Quitting one goal can open the door for new opportunities! Life coach Susan Wilson describes Angela, an exercise physiologist who returned to university for her PhD. Angela’s interest in school diminished as she found herself preoccupied thoughts of a cross country bicycle tour. To do that, she needed to put her resources – time, money, energy – towards physical training and planning instead of earning her degree. Angela is clear about the difference between quitting one goal to pursue another: “The PhD was important to me six years ago, but it’s not important now.” Setting new goals when your old ones aren’t working can be as simple as that!

If you have any thoughts or questions on giving up on old goals and setting new intentions, I welcome you below…

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2 thoughts on “How to Set New Goals When Your Old Goals Aren’t Working”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, JJ! I’m Canadian too…and I agree that gold medal winners don’t give up on their goals. But, I bet they know how to set new goals when their old ones don’t work, and how to recognize unhealthy or unachievable goals. And yes — they definitely seem to be pursuing their innate gifts and talents.

  2. This is an interesting article. I’m watching the Olympics, and I don’t think the gold medal winners gave up on their goals. But I concede that they are probably good at setting goals that work with their lifestyle and personality and natural talents.

    Though at first I thought the idea of giving up on your old goals was a bad idea, now I see what you mean.

    Go for the gold, Canada!!