Do You Have Goal Burnout?
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt

Let’s talk about what to do if… you find yourself straight up OVER setting goals! I call this “goal burnout”. And I had it BAD last year in 2021. Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes, I find the longer someone has been training, the more likely the occurrence of experiencing “goal burnout” is to occur. It can be an indicator of misalignment between actions and values that can naturally occur over time, among other things.

Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about, and you LOVE YOUR GOALS! That is rad! Regardless of how stoked you are on goals right now, I hope this newsletter helps to reorient your perspective on how to imbue meaning into the time you spend on your health by highlighting the subtle difference between identifying an intention VS setting a goal.

Goal Burnout

So you’re burned out on goals and don’t want to set one? No big deal, I’ve been there too. I lived with that feeling for much of last year! You’re not crazy if you’re not feeling your goals. Let’s normalize this. Allow me to set the stage for you.

I’m a professional coach going on 8 years. Prior to that, I was a collegiate and competitive athlete – I mention this only to exemplify that I have been and continue to be a goal-oriented athlete and coach. This post cannot be written without first acknowledging:

Goals are a powerful tool to spur progress. 

Yet, still, I spent most of 2021 with no goals. None. Zilch. There were awkward silences when folks asked me what I was training for (is “discovery” an appropriate answer? I like to think so!). And for a moment, I felt some shame in being a coach struggling to identify an objective training goal for myself. #CoachConfessions.

I started out in 2021 like any good fitness soldier does – I set a 90-day goal in the beginning of the year because I thought it would jump-start my enthusiasm; ah, the good ol’ “fake it til ya make it” approach. It does wonders to get momentum rolling…until it doesn’t. It’s like the Sex Panther Cologne from Anchorman – “60% of the time it works every time”.

So in the first quarter of 2021, I made progress toward my goal – 20 unbroken strict pull-ups. I trained consistently, my goal was a primary driver in my programming, but ultimately I fell short of achieving my goal – no big deal – journey not the destination, right? The problem was not that I failed, the inflection point was that I cared little about trying to reach that goal again or about setting a different 90-day goal to work towards. Simply put, I struggled to resonate with any objective goal I could think of. Everything felt “flat”. I realize now, I had “goal burnout”. A major reason for this was because I had other things in my life preoccupying large amounts of emotional and psychological energy, attention and focus; things that felt big and dwarfed the sense of purpose I usually attached to my fitness pursuits.

I still wanted to workout, and I did because honestly, I enjoy it; physical movement is not a form of punishment or a task to be completed simply to check a box for me. I am fortunate to have cultivated this type of relationship with exercise. But what I didn’t have was a desire to work towards a 90, 120, or even 365 day goal or pursuit, which left me kind of wondering…“What now? Can I still imbue a sense of purpose in my weekly  exercise routine even without an objective goal?”

Without a goal, what do we have?

Yes – you can have direction and growth without explicit goals (albeit, goals are very helpful to get there!). Rather than set goals, I set intentions instead. Intentions are different from goals.

“A goal is the desired outcome you wish to attain in the future. An intention is a chosen theme that creates alignment in your life. It forms the fabric through which you will sow your actions and reap the rewards.” – Omar Atani

 Most people gloss over “intentions” because honestly, they are big, broad, and encompassing. To set an intention means some self reflection is needed. What do you value – what will you align your most valuable assets (time, energy, and action) in accordance with? Goals are derivative of our intentions. Goals are mile markers on a road map. Intention is the burning desire we have to take a journey in the first place.

 Goals are derivative of our intentions. Goals are mile markers on a road map. Intention is the burning desire we have to take a journey in the first place.

My intention for 2021 was “exploration”.

I invited a sense of curiosity into my movement practice. With it came a sense of freedom and opportunity, which had been lacking when I attempted to set goals without first identifying my intention (read: my values). I still trained, but my practice involved listening to my body and mind a lot more. If I felt angry, I explored what type of training felt good to work through that. If I felt anxious or stressed, I explored how I could restructure my relationship with what was “worthy” of my time without beating myself up. If I felt guilty about spending an hour+ working out, I explored how I could cultivate a sense of worth spending only 30-minutes. 

I also shifted my training environment. I rode my mountain bike multiple times a week – without regard for training for a MTB race (a goal) – more so simply to ride, learn, and explore. Being outside and away from the traditional gym environment allowed me further freedom to redefine what health and fitness was for me outside of objectives, scores, and PRs. A big part of learning from this intention was incorporating reflection into my training practice. During the session or post-session, I considered how I felt, how my training had changed my state (bio-psycho-social), and whether the time and energy spent felt fulfilling or whether it was simply escapism from bigger things in my life (both are valid, both have a time and place). 

So there you have it! My year spent as a coach without identifying goals, but filled with purpose and lessons in health and physical wellness nonetheless. If I struggled to make physical fitness a regular part of my routine, I would likely have had to set constructs in the form of goals in place periodically throughout the year to keep me on track. They might have looked like: 

perform a non-CrossFit exercise or health activity 1-2x/weekreflect (literally, journal or meditate) for 5 minutes before and after 3 workout sessions this weekworkout alone with no clocks, timers, exercise trackers 1x/weekworkout in a group setting 2x/week

Here’s some tips I’d suggest exploring if you’re struggling with goal burnout.

How to Reorient Your Goals

#1 – Cultivate a Mindset of Curiosity

EXPERIMENT, explore, and be open to what you can discover in your fitness routine. This means shift the paradigm of what you think exercise is supposed to look like, result in, or be about (a score, a weight, fat loss, winning, etc.) Create mental space for fitness to bring other things into your life – such as community, joy, self-discovery, bravery.

#2 – Fake it Til You Make it

I mentioned this above. Sometimes this actually does work. Particularly if you have been in a rut to get started or find a rhythm in your workout routine. Set a small goal, whether it feels super important to you or not. Sometimes it gets the gears turning and the simple act of rinsing and repeating can be catalytic.

#3 – Consider a Goal Through a Different Lense

Can you apply your fitness to achieve something outside of the “realm” of the gym? This is similar to #1. Restructure what health/fitness or performance means to you outside of traditional constructs  that you are familiar with – such as barbells, weights, clocks, AMRAPs. Try learning or challenging yourself with a new skill – like dance, hiking, martial arts, biking, surfing, gymnastics, olympic lifting. Health is like getting dressed (we all have to wear clothes) but try wearing a different style.

#4 – Find a Deeper “Why” or Set an Intention

Sit with yourself (and a coach) and reflect on what your values are. Then work to understand how your actions, time and energy spent can align with those values, and how the pursuit of health and fitness in particular aligns with those values. Setting an intention can help to facilitate meaningful goals.

#5 – Let Go of “Should” and Pressure (self-imposed or externally-imposed)

Fitness doesn’t have to be an-hour long, nor does it have to be punishing. It also doesn’t have to be nasal breathing and daisies. Give yourself permission to explore and redefine health and fitness. I know this is hard to figure out if you haven’t been in the health and fitness industry a long time like our coaches have. Coaches are great at helping other people redefine what the pursuit of health and fitness looks like for them while simultaneously adhering to sound foundational principles of health. 

I still believe goals are useful tools! I want each of you to reach all of your goals, and of course I want to work with you to continue to set them! Here’s something to help you get started – the FREE Invictus Goal Setting Workbook!