Goal setting

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“When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind” – Seneca

The importance of goal planning

Why is goal planning important? Well the reason is simple, human beings are goal directed creatures constantly striving for meaning, significance and purpose. Having a goal, something to work towards, gives us a sense of value and control. A life devoid of achievable goals can result in stress and tension. However, not only can stress arise from an absence of goals, but equally having too many goals or conflicting goals can be a source of stress. Creating our own goals can be very satisfying and rewarding, but when we are forced to work towards someone else’s goals this can be problematic, not only can it cause underlying tension, but it can be wholly unsatisfying. How many reading this will be thinking about work, going for goals they don’t believe in and wouldn’t set themselves? Many I dare say.

In essence, your goals should help you to give direction to your life. But before you set yourself goals, you need to decide what you want. Take some time to visualise, dream and imagine what it will be like to achieve your goals. Merely the task of setting and working towards goals, increases motivation and energy. The most successful people in life have one thing in common, they work towards goals.

Why don’t people set goals?

There can be many reasons why people do not set goals. Sometimes it’s because they don’t think it is important. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know how to.

Sometimes people don’t set goals because they fear they will fail.

Why goals should be written down and be specific

Having identified a goal, the next thing is to write it down on paper or in your diary. This makes it visible and it can symbolise readiness for action. Writing down your goals also stops you “putting it off,” as it is easy to “drift” through life without clear goals.

Need a little help in goal planning?

I dare say, some reading this might think yes, I would like to set some goals but I really don’t know how exactly to go about it.

Begin by separating your life into different areas.

For example:

  • work,
  • friends and family,
  • leisure and personal development.

Now let your imagination go free.

Decide what it is you really want.

For example:

A.    I wish to work with animals.                                                                                                                     B.    I would like to have some new friends.                                                                                            C.    I would like to be the fastest swimmer in London.

Consider how realistic these goals are?

Do any of the goals listed need changing?                                                                                            How achievable are these goals?                                                                                                     Why is C unrealistic?

Now write your goals into an action plan.

Write your goals in clear, measurable language as a series of achievable steps.

For goal A.

By Friday I will have found out where the local animal rescue centre is.                                                  By the following Friday I will have written to them asking if they need any volunteers.           By the following Friday I should know if they need volunteers.

For goal B.

By Friday I will go to the library and find out what clubs are near me.                                             By the following Friday I will have chosen one to join and will phone up for more details.                    By the following Friday I will hope to attend and will meet new people.                                                    By the following Friday I may have made some new friends there.

For (my amended and now realistic) goal C.

New goal = To be able to swim three lengths of the local swimming pool.

By next Friday I hope to have gone swimming twice.                                                                 Going twice weekly I will aim to swim one width in two weeks time.                                                 My goal is to be able to swim one length in one month.                                                                 I aim to reach my target goal within one month.

Identify any possible obstacles.

What may cause my plans to go wrong?

The swimming pool only allows people to swim lengths on Tuesdays and Thursdays – I will have to make sure I go on these days if I want to reach my goal.

Build in rewards.

If I have completed my goals by Christmas I will buy myself a new music system.

Visualise the end result.

I picture myself fitter, slimmer and enjoying my new music system, having made new friends at a local club and at the animal sanctuary where I now work. I can easily swim two lengths of the local pool.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Ref: Powell.T. (2000). The Mental Health Handbook (Revised). Speechmark publishing.

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