Why Long Term Goals Can Do More Harm Than Good

Kelly Coffey

Q: Helpful or not helpful – To envision the thin / healthier self you hope to become / become again? You know, like when people tell you to make visionboards or dreamboards of your long term goals? Do they really work?

A: In a word – Unhelpful.

Envisioning a future goal puts our focus on the future, and what that does is to base the action we’re taking today on instrumental motives 1, which are often, also shame-based motives. Looking to some distant, future outcome makes it hard, if not impossible, to stay motivated, because these far-off goals act as a constant reminder of the progress we haven’t made yet, and that, friends, makes us feel like crap.

Want a 1 ingredient recipe for failure? Feel bad about yourself.2015-02-16 16.19.22

In order to take good care of ourselves today, it’s more helpful to work on developing acceptance and love for where we are and who we are TODAY. If we’re constantly being reminded of where we want to be, the underlying message is that we’re not good enough as we are. Believing we’re good enough, believing we’re worthy of love and attention and resources, that’s what empowers us to take amazing care of ourselves consistently over the long term.

Practice cultivating acceptance and love for yourself as you are, and treating yourself with as much respect as you can muster today. Keep that up for a year or more, and you’ll be in a way better place than any vision board would’ve gotten you.


  1. There are two kinds of motives: internal motives, where the action we take today is directly related to the goal, like eating a meal in order to satisfy hunger, and instrumental motives, where the action we take today isn’t readily relatable to the goal, like eating a meal in the hopes that, a year from now, eating that meal will have contributed to weight loss. Studies show that internal motives are much more effective than instrumental motives. A study of some 11,320 cadets in nine entering classes at the United States Military Academy at West Point revealed that, compared to internal motives, instrumental motives are crappy, often unsustainable motivators.
Showing 3 comments
  • Kay Anderson

    Okay, so you might laugh. I did a vision board of all my inner critic quotes and images. Then, as I sometimes do, I set it on fire. Burning it was HUGE and allowed me to move forward. Two years ago, I did a vision board for my body. It DID NOT have any pictures of skinny beautiful bodies or faces. It DID have peaceful, loving images of the full life I wanted to create. It DID have phrases out of a magazine like “Find the RIGHT fuel for your body” and “Embrace joy.” So, yeah, just like ANYTHING, I can use that tool to either tear myself down or build myself up. I cannot do a vision board about what my body will look like further along on this process. I can’t pigeonhole myself this way, because my thinking about possibility is sometimes limited by my experience. What if further down the road, I end up in a situation/body,health plateau WAY BETTER than anything I could imagine right now? I pick THAT ONE! Love you, Coffey!

  • Lynn McLean

    Yep, this is exactly what I needed. Thanks, Coffey!!

    • Kelly Coffey

      My pleasure!

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