Patients coming to me sometimes find it hard to identify what they want to achieve. They talk about what is troubling them, share the symptoms of something going wrong, but are not usually in tune with their goals.
It is naturally hard to see the woods from the trees when you’re in the middle of things. Speaking to someone, like your therapist, could unlock a number of things. The most important one in a therapy setting is the goal.
A goal, put simple, defines the outcome of a particular set of actions. I.e. the end result of doing something. It may be simple, or more complext, but keeping an eye on that end state will make the world of difference.
How to set goals
If you work in an office environment, you might have heard how goals need to be “smart”. It has nothing to do with intelligence or brainpower, but it’s merely a structure to get them written down. It is actually an acronym.
Let’s break it down in pieces.
- Specific – needs to be narrowed down to one thing in particular. If you want to get several things done, they’ll be different goals
- Measurable – it must be quantifiable one way or another. Feeling “better” is just too ambiguous
- Achievable – in order to get the goal met, it must be something you can actually do within a reasonable period. It will be complicated to become an underwear model for most people
- Relevant – thinking of the problem or issue you want to address, the goal must be able to make a difference
- Time bound – goals must not be open ended. There should be a finite period of time for which it is valid
Why the structure
Physical targets are normally very visible. Think of archery or clay pigeon shooting. That’s because to reach them, they must provide focus. So should goals.
The combination of all the characteristics above ensure that they will do what you intend to. It takes some practice to get all the factors properly aligned, but it’s an important step. Doing that is a discovery process that will focus the attention to the action. A good way to discover what’s important is to record your goals daily.
Getting such focus will make things much easier afterwards. Eliminating ambiguity is key since our brain will create lots of diversions to escape doing something new and hard. Have a think of your New Year resolutions – are you doing any of them? Where they ‘smart’? Most likely not.
Focus on the positive
Stopping something to occur is not a good goal. Although you can feel it, see it, touch it, etc, putting an end to a behaviour or a feeling does not provide a lot of fulfilment. Only a gap, a space where the negativity was before.
It will be much more motivating to replace those behaviours or feelings with ones that will bring you happiness. When the temptation to eat chocolate is counteracted with the image of crossing that charity run you want to do, you’ll find it much easier to say no.
Aiming for a positive outcome is also logical. After all, you want to hit this or achieve that, so the result is charged with good-feel energy. Stopping so and so is only thinking of the bad things… And what we think is what we become.
So, get a pen and paper and think of your goal. Best start with one, it will be much easier to me the realistic part, so you’ll be ‘smarter’ already! Do you need help? Check out my store for journals to help you with it.