Goal setting – the first step in improving your life …
Goal setting is likely to be an element of your therapy, whether you are seeking assistance for depression, anxiety, losing weight, improving your health, relationships or work performance. In fact, therapy for just about any issue involving behavioural or emotional change will involve an element of goal setting.
Goal setting is important as it allows us to visualise or imagine what we would like our future to be. It is that vision that helps us to focus our behaviour and move towards achieving our desires. Without clear goals we are at risk of becoming frustrated or distracted and not achieving what we desire, and we can waste a lot of time working hard at things that don’t make us happier, healthier or more effective.
In some cases, such as when you are depressed, it can be really hard to imagine your life being another way. As a result it can be really hard to specify clear goals, beyond not feeling like you do or wanting to feel better. Your psychologist can assist when this is true for you.
Goal Setting – the basics
Clearly identify the behaviours or problems that you no longer want to be present in your life. Think about what things (eg emotions, activities, behaviours, experiences) that you want less of, and which of these you would like more of. Write this information down, and articulate them as goals (eg my goal is to reduce my cholesterol into the healthy range by the end of this year).
It is really important to write your goals down. Writing them down helps us to stay focused and on track, while still allowing us to be flexible and reassess the direction we are headed in as our life changes.
Characteristics of Successful Goals
There are a number of characteristics that make goals more achievable. Here are some guidelines to incorporate:
- Ensure they are not inconsistent with your values. For example, a goal of developing a start-up business may not be the best idea if you don’t value being entrepreneurial.
- Frame your goals in terms of what you want, rather than what you don’t. For example, instead of focusing on the negative: “I will not eat dessert every night”, turn this into a positive goal: “I will eat desert once a week”. Alternatively, frame your goals as a substitution: “I will eat fruit instead of dessert”.
- Ensure your goals do not conflict with more important goals (eg you want to get fit, but to do so would mean that you had to spend less time at work and your career is more important to you).
- Be realistic about what goals you can achieve with the resources you have. For example, a goal of taking more holidays may be dependent on your work requirements and disposable income.
- Factor in any sub-goals — that is, goals you need to achieve first in order to meet your larger goal. For example, you may need to pay off an existing car loan before you can meet your goal of buying a new vehicle.
- Ask yourself whether your goals are truly based on changes you want to make for yourself, rather than meeting someone else’s expectations or reward.
- Double check they meet the SMART criteria: they should be, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
The SMART process of developing and reviewing goals is very helpful in developing good goal statements.
S – Make your goals specific
- Express your goals clearly and simply;
- Express your goals in concrete rather than abstract terms (eg I want to be able to run 5km easily vs I want to get fit).
M – Make your goals measurable
- Identify: how will you know when you have reached your goal? What is your measure of success?
- Imagine or visualise what your life will look like, how will you feel; and how will this be different to now?
While goals for improving your work performance or getting fit can be easy to identify, goals for improving your mental health, work-life balance or overall wellbeing can sometimes be harder to pin down.
Consider how you would like to be thinking, feeling and behaving once you have reached your goals. Having this clear vision of what you are aiming for is really important for your motivation.
A – Make your goals achievable
- Assess whether you have all the information and skills required to reach your goals;
- Assess whether you control the factors that will lead to your goals being completed.
Don’t despair if you don’t have all of the knowledge and skills that you need to have right now. Identifying these factors that will enable your success will help you form more sub-goals. Reaching our sub-goals helps us to achieve a sense of success and increases our motivation. A big goal that will take a lot of work and time to achieve can be hard to maintain motivation for.
We don’t control everything in our lives, and it is important to take this into consideration when setting goals. If, say, you wish to improve your work performance and be promoted, this goal may only be achieved if a job vacancy opens up. When we define our success on things outside of our control we often unfairly blame ourselves and devalue our efforts when things don’t work out as we wished.
If you don’t have control over the factors that will determine whether you attain your goals then it is worthwhile considering how to identify how far your own actions can take you and make this your goal instead.
R – Make your goals relevant and review them periodically
- Ensure that your actions are relevant to your goals;
- Ensure that your time frames are realistic and incorporate some leeway to deal with unexpected life events;
- Review your goals periodically to ensure that they are still relevant for you, and revise them if necessary.
T – Set time-frames
- Plan your time-frame for commencing your efforts, and for meeting your goals. Try and make sure your time frames are realistic.
Goal Setting with a Psychologist
Some of the ways your psychologist can help you attain your goals include:
- Assist you to identify and establish SMART goals;
- Aid you in establishing and maintaining your motivation for change;
- Teach you skills, strategies and techniques for changing your thoughts, feelings and behaviour – and through this your ability to change;
- Help you to identify and overcome distractions, temptations and barriers to reaching your goals;
- Support you in sticking with your new behaviours, prevent relapse or slipping back into old personal or relationship habits.
Effective goal setting is a skill, that once learned can be applied to most areas of your life. However, at times, and often when people are stressed, distressed, experiencing mental health or health difficulties it can be harder to do on our own. Psychologists, with their training in behaviour, mental health and how the mind works, are ideally placed to help you at these times.
If you feel that you want to improve your emotional health, physical health, performance or relationships and believe that you would benefit from seeing a psychologist, contact us at M1 Psychology today.
Author: Kelly Gall, BSc (Hons), M Psych (Health), M Clin Psych, MAPS, MCHP.
Kelly Gall is a Health Psychologist who is passionate about helping clients improve their physical and emotional wellbeing and overall functioning. Kelly develops tailored, holistic and evidence-based treatment plans that incorporate psychological, physical and social strategies aimed at empowering her clients to achieve relief from psychological symptoms and improve their health and effectiveness. Find out more on her website, Healthy Inside and Out.
To make an appointment with Health Psychologist Kelly Gall, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
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- Mann, T., de Ridder, D. (2013) Self-regulation of health behaviour: social psychological approaches to goal setting and goal striving.