Redefining the Success and Crafting Healthy, Impactful Lasting Goals

How do we reshape how we see our goals and redefine success?

Some of the biggest impacts I’ve made in my life were less about the act of doing a tangible activity and more about shifting a mindset. 

I’ve done therapy; I’ve read self-help books, taken medications, I’ve journaled, I’ve prayed, I’ve screamed into both the “void” and my pillow. Yet, still the days occurred where I felt this pressure. So much so, I could tangibly feel it on my chest, this deep, long, clinging anxiety. When I took a step back, I realized why my efforts were failing.

I felt dissatisfied with all the work I’ve done, and hopeless to what I would eventually do. Therefore, the actions, the work, felt powerless. It felt useless. Like a hamster running on a spinning wheel. Yet, those are powerful methods. So they were working. But if I didn’t change how I measured their progress, I would never feel or recognize progress. It didn’t matter how much I journaled, or what I told my therapist. If I didn’t change how I defined success, and how I processed daily experiences, I was always going to feel unsuccessful.

So then, I went on a mission of redefining success. In that mission I’ve come to understand that most of us were not taught the correct definitions of success, and with modern technology and media - it would stay that way. I am TOTALLY a fan of all kinds of media. I am a fan of education. However, it’s so important to take inventory of how these tools have downsides, not just upsides. 

The biggest downside is we are mass exposed to millions of successes, all mixed together, in our face, beautiful and loud. We aren’t exposed to these individuals' full process of creating the perfect photo, or how many years it took another to body build. 

We are constantly measuring our process against the final product and the output of that is a feeling of inadequacy. I do this everyday. I look at people I admire, am jealous of, or gain inspiration from and with every post, article or book I feel more of a failure. So therefore, when it’s time to work; workout, write, read, practice - half of my headspace is seeped in anxiety. The other half is baked in doubt. This makes for a challenging ecosystem to create habits. This makes the body want to say heck no and run in the other direction. Which for me is usually the process of Netflix and pizza or hiding under a blanket.

Social media has made its mark on me. It’s made some irreversible cuts, deep into my creative body, the place where I identify myself. I’ve come to see that this is not a battle I face alone, and in fact, many people also hold the same battered heart against the noise of platforms. But I’ve come to realize that an even more important element, besides how we view ourselves through this social lens, is then how we actually treat ourselves. We’re allowed to have intrusive, negative, thoughts while looking at our morning Instagram feeds. But we’re not allowed to then treat ourselves as unworthy throughout the day. As people that are not beautiful. As beings that have no creativity. As forgotten. It’s imperative we let those emotions and thoughts pass, and come back to reality. A very real world where we are loved. A real world where we do good work, we are seen, we are chosen. A real world with sweet smells of chocolate baked goods, and the smell of basil. A world full of hugs, and flowers in grocery stores, and thrift books. The social world is so cold, glass on our fingertips. I much prefer a good conversation and a warm cup of coffee over it. Even with a side of momentarily feeling unfinished.

I get it, this sounds like a lot. How do we even treat ourselves as worthy? How do we stop comparing?  

First we need to realize we’ve been taught a lot of things about success and how to measure value. In school, success was the beacon of a student's experience. Everything was graded, even friendships/social life, participation, and speed. When we are released from the school atmosphere, we use similar applications to judge ourselves. But this time, there isn’t a single teacher grading you, it’s the world. So of course, social media, and yourself, are the gradebooks. The world is also your rubric. Which is your Instagram feed. You might find yourself saying: This is how I should be doing, this is how I should look, this is how my life should be at insert age, time, season, etc. 

But if those “final products” on social media don’t show us the process, or maybe even the truth (i.e. editing, staging, manipulating, selecting the best outcome), how do you define success? Is using this gradebook healthy? Do you have to do what you’ve always been taught?

No. You have the power to set impactful, actionable goals that will actually get you success. That success is defined by you and it takes into consideration, your body, your mind, your lifestyle and desires, not anyone else's. I like to call this, “making goals in a room with no mirrors.” 

When we decide we have a goal, what is the decision we’re ultimately making? 

We are making a goal to be different then who we are today, in the future, under a certain set of consistent steps and standards. Now, growing and “becoming” new isn’t bad. It’s expected. It’s irreversible. It’s designed. 

But, what if we set the goal with the intention of being in a different place then we are today, and who we become on that journey, is just part of the process, not the reason? In that way, we are not looking at what the outcome looks like, but why we want an outcome.

Why are you setting the goals for you? Not, the goals being set because you want to become someone else.

You need to make your goals in a space that is not about comparing who you are now with where you “should be,” (aka, a room with mirrors). Rather, believing that you are worthy and deserving of achieving something simply because it’s close to your heart, it will make you healthier or stronger, etc. 

When we build goals and thoughts off of this idea that we are not good enough today, we are invalidating our present self. Our present self is who we live with everyday. This present self will not be gone tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the “new today” and suddenly, you’re still left unsatisfied and discontented. 

If we decide that we’re goal setting because we are unworthy today, then all we are doing is telling ourselves we will be unworthy tomorrow. Almost no big goals can be achieved overnight. They are a series of steps over weeks, months, maybe even years. 

If we condition ourselves that we are not successful or good until we hit that rather large benchmark, like writing a new book, or losing sixty pounds, even when we get there, we will have open wounds of a lack of self care and validation. It will leave you starving. We will pursue our goals with a sense of vigor that will lead to burnout, to exhaustion, to cutting other important things like mental wellness, and social time. It will ultimately lead to us quitting.

Now I want us to think about how we define renewal.

When we want to renew something at a library, it usually means it’s because we need more time with it. We appreciate the work, or want to dive deeper into the book, or maybe are even re-reading it. We’re not renewing it because we want to throw it out, tear it up, or re-write it entirely. We renew it because we want it. We think it’s valuable. Habits, and repeating steps to achieve a goal is renewing something over and over again.

When we decide to renew something it should be with the intention of stepping deeper into who you already are, not redoing it entirely. Social media often makes me think I need to hit the redo button; with my feed, my style, my hair and so on. So then I become a constant consumer. Not someone setting goals.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by goals too. Sometimes we are in seasons of life where a lot of “micro” changes are happening.

Your work bosses have you set new goals for a new quarter. Your teacher gives a new big essay project and a series of tests. Your parents decide to rearrange all the rooms or decide to not have family dinners in front of the television. We’re in a time where a lot of micro changes are happening, and we are sometimes caught in the crossfire, so we feel the agitation. We feel the rubbing of these changes, and mostly, the anxiety of them. 

Change happens at your own pace, and you are the grade-giving of your life. So, how are you grading yourself?

Written by Sarah Edwards. Want to get to know me? Say hi!

This article was originally posted for Set Apart Magazine at

Disclaimer: Sarah Edwards is not a certified or licensed mental health professional. Rather someone sharing real life experience and findings for others to find commonality and seek actionable steps needed for them. 

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