What to Expect When Starting Fresh: 3 Goal Setting Insights to Keep You on Track

Forbes magazine (2021, January) reports that millennials are pioneering more career and personal growth goals than any generation. Maybe you are one who had to make an abrupt pivot and decided there was more to do, or that this is just the beginning for you. You made the decision, chose a new relationship goal, completely shifted the career path you are on. Tracking apps, charts, books and journals are readily available to help you map out your progress. So, now what? What about the days and hours just after you made the decision to shift and grow with that business plan or maybe your toes are just dipping into the idea pool and want to look for what could possibly happen when you make that leap? Here are 3 common responses after a major change decision. 

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1. Excitement and Physical Fatigue – what have I done?

Stepping into a new situation is often laced with feelings of remorse and concern for the potential risks of the experience to come. When you make that first move, stepping into the next few days or weeks can bring questions and concerns for what the future holds. Feelings of concern while staring at and sitting in the shiny new decision that feels and smells good can still be part of the experience of change.  In building up the courage necessary to take the step, make the call, ask for the transfer, your body experienced a surge of chemical excitement, adrenaline rush like jumping out of an airplane. Our bodies use emotional chemical responses as we make meaningful decisions to help us move past memories or experiences to build courage to make new ones. 


When you’re running towards the plane’s open door 5,000 feet above ground, your body still sends those chemical signals to push past what your senses are telling you, “Hold on, stop, there’s no ground close by!” Making a decision to change one or many elements of your life can feel similar in your body’s responses to the manual override needed to jump out of a perfectly good plane, and that’s ok.


After the initial push to take the step, make the phone call or set up the business meeting, your body will experience a drop in that short-term powerful motivator adrenaline. Along with this can come symptoms like muscle fatigue, shakiness, brief mental fatigue and even hunger. These are not signs to create more alarm, but rather, the natural processes of your body responding to the important meaning in the decisions that you have made in your life.


Keep in mind-  Give regular care for your body right now. Be intentional with rest and sleep habits, eat regular balanced meals, and make some kind of physical activity a part of your routine each week with the guidance of your doctor. These will help regulate the natural process of build-up and discharge of chemical responses in your body’s processes involved in creating and navigating change in your life. 

2. Overwhelmed in Little Things – too much to carry.

Maybe you have chosen to set a new boundary or open your own business, whatever your new experience there are many kinds of new information your mind and body are now taking in. Often, our old expectations of ourselves, others’ expectations of us, and thought patterns become loud in our internal world. Entering a new workplace, learning their culture and routines or how each area of your own business and its different responsibilities or even locations takes a great amount of learning power and mental energy. Like the first day of school, we are absorbing thousands of new messages and meanings each moment. 


As you are closely focused in the new role at work or details of a move, you may notice feeling overwhelmed by what you previously considered to be “small” details in your immediate world. You may be knocking down goals and setting up new ones in your new work responsibilities but notice you feel stuck making a decision what to eat for dinner. You may notice the desire to withdraw from others, disconnect by watching more TV or social media, or find that you have a quicker temper than usual. At times we even notice feeling so overwhelmed by these seemingly “little details” that we desire to pull back or quit the change we took on. 


These are not, however, signs that you cannot achieve what you set out to.  Your brain is working on creating new neuropathways, like thought highways, and absorbing new information during this time, new brain structure is actually occurring with each new choice and repeated experience of that choice[1]. Like a southern state during a surprise winter storm needs scrambles to send out salt trucks, physical fuel and energy are being routed into your brain and emotions to stay connected, attentive and accessible to the new experiences and expectations that you are engaging in and it is exhausting.  Much like the first day of school melt-down from a kindergartener who cannot handle their emotions or the macaroni for dinner, we have spent so much emotional energy during the day absorbing and creating change that we may find ourselves in need of a time out and reset.


The need for routine in daily tasks can be a big help in supporting your ability to make and sustain the change. Small steps like preparing work clothing or meals the night before and pre-planning any area of your needs can help free up more mental and emotional energy to stay focused and reduce that overwhelming feeling. When our brain and body know from what direction the next bit of information or required response is coming from we feel safer and more in control of those areas.  We have greater access to focus and energy for the unfamiliar new things we are learning about. 

Keep in mind – Make time to process the experiences with a close friend or a counselor.  Reflect on the experiences of change in a journal. Tracking your journey and following through process will help you stay focused on the goal and tasks involved in reaching them, providing encouragement as you map your progress further down the road. 

More practical information can be found by Dr Caroline Leaf, PhD, premiere cognitive neuroscientist who was among the first to study the brain’s abilities and process of change that your brain and body are experiencing, can be found here if you are interested in learning about your amazing brain’s strength and flexibility. 

3. Discomfort – The difference between uncomfortable and unsafe. 

Perhaps you have made the decision to make your voice heard and set clear boundaries with someone, letting your opinion or needs be heard for the first time or the first time in a long time. Maybe you have chosen to face your experience of social anxiety or launch your own business idea through long, hard hours for a product or service you hope others will like. In the moments and days after that decision to let your voice, desires and values be heard and seen there comes a moment of feeling exposed and vulnerable.


Even in the brave choice to ask for a different response, we often feel uncomfortable when the new response comes. Whether in the absence of a familiar but toxic voice in your life, or expectation of how others will perceive you, stepping into the 18-inch journey from head knowledge to heart and body belief that it is possible to receive a new response can feel strange and even uncomfortable. Praise or respectful acceptance instead of criticism or gaslighting from others can feel unfamiliar. Allowing yourself to notice the difference in yourself in previous experiences and the new one is important in this process. 
How do we know when uncomfortable may be unsafe when starting something new? If you have been to a gym or other workout program, you are likely familiar that physical trainers teach there is a certain amount of tension and exertion needed to push your muscles to the point of change. When you work within your current ability or strength tolerance, no change in the muscle occurs. The phrase “no pain, no gain” may have been your gym’s motto, however, this is not quite a thorough measure of personal growth (or body building for that matter).  When you move beyond your body’s ability to support the weight you are asking them to perform, over-exertion, or straining the muscles, which can cause severe damage and take more time to heal and restore to proper function. 


Allowing yourself to notice the feeling of stretching into something new, a positive dating experience with healthy boundaries, a full day of work in your own business expanding your creative abilities, is important to the process of change itself.


Equally important is allowing yourself to notice where the threshold lies for your new experience – your “no thank you” is just as important as your “yes” to new things. It’s ok to notice the strain and stretching of the new experience, unfamiliar places and people, but paying attention to the signals your body and brain send you is valuable in taking healthy steps forward.


Keep in mind-This is a great time to reach out to a safe, close friend with whom your story is private, or find a counselor to process this journey and experience with. We humans are hard-wired for safe, meaningful connection with others and our internal growth process happens best when we can share parts of our experience with another caring human. Safe connections help reduce stress by helping us feel heard, seen, and understood and increase our sense of courage and hope to continue our journey. They help us face the real physical and emotional excitement of navigating letting go of one season or experience and receiving new ones with greater flexibility and resilience.  Are you ready to make a change and make it stick?

Here are three resources that might help you get started.

SMART Goals – Forbes Magazine

Safe People – Cloud-Townsend Institute

Switch On Your Brain – Dr. Caroline Leaf, PhD  

[1] Leaf, C. (2018, October). https://drleaf.com/blogs/news/you-are-not-a-victim-of-your-biology

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