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Not too long ago, I was feeling frustrated. I had been working on some goals related to my health and fitness, but I felt like I wasn’t making much progress. I was starting to get discouraged.

Maybe you can connect with my experience. Have you ever had a goal you were working toward, but you felt frustrated with your progress? Maybe you have been trying really hard, but it hasn’t been working out like you wanted it to. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you are trying your best.

Values and Goals

In situations like these, it is important to remember the difference between values and goals, and reorient your focus toward your values.

What do I mean by values and goals? Values are ongoing patterns of committed action. You can engage your values indefinitely. You don’t “finish” a value and leave it behind. Values keep going through your entire life. Living a healthy lifestyle is an example of a value.

Goals, on the other hand, are specific things you can finish and check off your list. Goals are something you can achieve and be done with. You reach a goal and then you leave it behind. Doing 10 pull-ups in a row is an example of a goal.

Life as a Long Hike

One metaphor that has helped me understand the difference between values and goals is going on a long hike. Let’s say you are going on a hike, and you know you want to head east. Heading east is like a value. It’s a direction that you are heading over the long haul. You never “arrive” at east. It’s simply a direction that you are heading. Also, if you’re on a hike, you may not always be heading due east. You might need to head northeast for a bit, depending on the terrain and the path that is available to you. Then you might make a turn and head southeast. But east is your overall direction.

Let’s say you’re looking eastward, and you see a mountain peak in that direction. Getting to the top of the mountain peak is like a goal. It’s something you can achieve and be done with. Getting to the top of the mountain peak can be helpful because it orients you toward the east. And it can feel fun to get to the top of the mountain peak. But your journey doesn’t end there. If getting to the top of the mountain peak was your end-all-be-all, you might experience a sense of let-down once you got to the top. That’s it—your journey would be done. It’s the same way with goals. It’s counter-intuitive, but it can feel sad to achieve a goal, because it’s over and done with.

Take Home Message: If you are feeling discouraged today because you haven’t reached your goal as fast or as easily as you wanted, think about reorienting your focus on your value. What is the underlying value that is motivating your goal? Focus on the value and keep heading east. Don’t worry as much about getting to the mountain peak as quickly as possible. That’s not the point of life anyways.