How to plan for stress when setting goals or facing challenge

Jan 10, 2022

The power of planning for stress when making change or setting targets .. set Stress Goals


Happy New Year!  A belated welcome to 2022 from me!  I’m pretending the first week of the year was a “warm up lap” for the main event having had my post Christmas plans thrown into disarray by a positive Covid test (I’m lucky, the actual illness has been very mild, mainly extreme tiredness).

However, included in these plans were the inevitable New Year Intentions I had set for myself and my coaching business (resolutions, goals, whatever you want to call them!), which has thrown me off slightly.


What are you hoping to achieve, change or resolve in 2022? 

Maybe it’s a health goal, a career ambition like changing jobs, promotion, sales target, or a learning goal… or a change in your personal situation.  Maybe its even to stress less, manage stress more effectively, or just get more enjoyment or fulfilment from your days.. (in which case you are in the right place!!)

When we start something new, we can never be sure how it will go. Not if we really want to challenge ourselves. 

Most of us switch on our willpower and positive mindset, and hope it goes to plan.  

We set SMART Goals (Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-bound.) to lay out a pathway and keep us “motivated” towards the target. 

But realistically, there will be stress and unexpected hurdles, setbacks, failures along the way. It will require as much courage as it does willpower … especially if we have set a goal (or resolution or intention) that really does challenge us. (If I am honest, without these it’s not a goal that’s really pulling forward, it’s a “to do list” in my book!)

I’m not saying this to make your project, ambition or resolution feel impossible or to put you off from even trying. 


There is huge power in acknowledging that something you want is going to be stressful to achieve. 

  • It allows us to think about effective solutions and strategies when we are in our “best”, most creative and least fearful state
  • We gain confidence that we can handle these situations, making them less likely to trigger a severe stress reaction
  • We remind ourselves of the resources we have available to reach our goal.
  •  And these can all be empowering, make us feel strong and brave, give us hope … a completely different mindset (and neurochemical cocktail) than uncertainty and trepidation

So, taking the idea from Kelly McGonigal’ work, I don’t set resolutions, I set “Stress Goals”.

Stress Goal – a personal project that will be meaningful and difficult but drive growth. 

The guidelines for setting a Stress Goal are simple: 

  1. Think about what will be challenging or trigger anxiety in trying to achieve your goal? 
  2. What strengths this will develop. How will it move you forward? 
  3. Which resources do you have available to overcome the curveballs you encounter en-route?  
  4. Why is this something you want to achieve. How does it represent the person you are/want to be, or change you care about (for yourself, the world, your family or work)? 

Fundamentally, setting a good Stress Goal involves thinking not only about the end result, but the process of getting there.  As I outlined above, this can relieve some of the anxiety and raise excitement around success before the challenge has even begun. 


The Stress Reset process for setting Stress Goals.

I use the 8 Pillars of The Stress Reset to plan out my stress goal.  It’s easy to remember and incorporate into my thoughts and actions when I need to apply it. 

It pulls in the elements of stress that are usually overlooked but fundamental to resilience and learning how to manage stressful situations. 

For example, the REALIGN pillar builds on the “R” (relevant) in the SMART goal structure which nearly everyone skips over too quickly.  The goal should be relevant or genuinely meaningful to you. This can be uncomfortable to hone in on, feel like “overkill”, or simply seem like an odd question if you haven't ever thought about your values or what really matters to you.. hence why people skip it.

Using the 8 Pillars also makes sure we harness everything we now understand about stress. Stress has the power to motivate, to raise self-awareness, and to fuel personal growth.  The ability to connect a challenge to a greater purpose or value is one of the foundations for thriving rather than surviving in the modern world. 


What is your Stress Goal?

So when you think about your goals or intentions for 2022, how would you rewrite them as Stress Goals? 

Grab a pen & use the guidelines I outlined above.

If you need a bit more help, download the worksheet linked below ... or answer the questions in the weekly challenge.  You may also find The Stress Reset online course or coaching really helpful.



Framework for setting a Stress Goal

  • RECOGNISE: Things that might derail me or cause stress are…
  • RESTORE:  If I notice myself getting stressed I will restore balance by…
  • REFRAME: Are there hidden opportunities in these challenges or stressors?
  • REALIGN: Why is this goal important to me? How does it reflect my values or things I really care about? How does it move things forward?
  • RELATE: Where can I find support? How can I practice self-compassion if I am finding things hard or make a mistake/fall 
  • REINFORCE: The strengths I can bring to this project/goal are…?  How have I handled challenges in the past?
  • REJOICE: What are the milestones on the way to success? How will I celebrate these? What am I looking forward to or will I enjoy in taking on this goal?  

Hopefully this simple framework helps you to understand that taking on stress isn’t difficult. It can be achieved by increasing self-awareness (mainly of the things you have going for you, not just the stressors!) and knowing the strategies that work for you.  

The Stress Reset is designed to help guide you through this process, and empower you to take on anything life throws at you.  


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