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Avoidant Goals – What Are They and Why is it Important to Know

Goal setting is a process of thinking of things we want to achieve and how to achieve them. Frequently, however, people get focused on things they want to avoid and set goals based on their fears. Today we will examine the language used to set goals and how this is important to making the goal achievable, providing ongoing motivation for the process, and improving the overall feelings of positivity towards the goal being manageable.

WHAT IS AN AVOIDANT GOAL?

Avoidance goals are goals that focus on avoiding or eliminating undesired outcomes. Avoidance goals are a type of goal that focuses on avoiding negative outcomes rather than achieving positive ones. If people anticipate they will not be capable of doing the task or it won’t be enjoyable, they frequently word the goal as an avoidant goal. Setting avoidant goals can cause more psychological stress and sometimes are less effective than goals formulated as a means to approach. Approach goals are goals focused on going for a positive outcome that emphasizes one being capable of completing the task.

EXAMPLES OF AVOIDANT AND APPROACH GOALS

Let’s take the example of the student first for clarity and definition. If a student is striving to not fail a test, that is an avoidant goal to avoid a bad outcome. The approach goal would be for the student to study to get an A on the test. In the first goal, the student is fearful and does not have confidence in their ability. In the approach goal, the student immediately shifted their attention to feeling more capable and less fearful. The goal is focused on positive outcomes. Here are some other examples:

AVOIDANT

  • STOP SMOKING TO AVOID LUNG CANCER
  • STOP EATING JUNK FOOD TO AVOID GAINING WEIGHT
  • STRIVING TO NOT FAIL A TEST
  • AVOID PROCRASTINATION TO MEET DEADLINES                       

APPROACH

  • EXERCISE REGULARLY FOR IMPROVED HEALTH
  • VOLUNTEER WORK AT A LOCAL CHARITY TO HELP OTHERS
  • STUDYING TO GET AN A ON THE TEST
  • SAVE MONEY TO BUY A HOUSE                         

WHY DO WE SET AVOIDANT GOALS

There are many reasons people set avoidant goals. The most common of these is fear of failure or trying to avoid negative consequences. When we establish goals that have these emotions attached to them, it can be counterproductive. They automatically create more stress and anxiety and frequently focus our energy on the wrong things. This can lead to fatigue and feeling discouraged right from the start. In fact, procrastination has been linked to avoidant goals due to the psychological response they generate.

HOW TO OVERCOME AVOIDANT GOALS

  • Reframe your goals in a positive way vs. focusing on what you want to avoid.
  • Break your goals down into smaller steps and keep your goal worded realistically. This makes it manageable and prevents overwhelm.
  • Focus on the process not just the outcome. If you are taking steps day by day, your progress will come more easily.
  • Celebrate your successes! Stopping to acknowledge your progress helps build momentum and motivation for future goals.      

CONCLUSION

Being mindful of moving from avoidant goals to approach goals can significantly improve the process of setting and achieving goals. The positive approach keeps our emotions focused on what we want vs what we don’t want. It creates space to think about the task at hand in a new, creative, positive way. Pursuit of your goals becomes more enjoyable and achievable without being attached to negative emotions. Taking time to set an approach goal from a positive standpoint or reword those old goals into positive outcomes will be time well spent towards successful results.

Reviewed By:
Steven Shampain
Written By:
Bethany Keith
Casey Merrill

Casey Merrill

LPC-MHSP

Christal Pennic

Christal Pennic

LPC-MHSP