Last week we agreed to switch our language from New Year’s Resolutions to goals. It’s a psychological choice. Resolutions tend to be broken before January even ends. Goals, on the other hand, are a whole different matter.
We are familiar with goals. Starting in kindergarten, we were taught to set goals for academic success. As adults we use them daily—checking off to-do lists, getting that report done at work, pounding the keys to create the next great American novel. Goals are the stepping stones we use to accomplish not only our daily tasks, but our dreams.
Regardless of whether we acknowledge them or not, we all have goals. After all, who wants to go through life aimless and listless? Most of us want a life purpose. But how can we use goals as a tool to place ourselves firmly on out path of purpose?
In an Oxford study of what makes a goal successful, researchers found three factors that created their goal setting theory.
- Specific, high goals lead to higher performance.
- The higher the goal, the higher the individual’s performance.
- Feedback or knowledge of one’s results have little or no effect on a person’s behavior unless they lead to setting a goal that is both specific and difficult.
Basically, we’re more motivated when we set lofty goals that feel impossible. But why is this true? The study goes on to explain four reasons:
- A specific goal involves choice to take action.
- A difficult goal engenders effort, a cornerstone of motivation.
- When a goal is specific (not vague) and difficult (not easy), it creates persistence. The problem with vague goals is that they allow multiple interpretations for how to attain it (i.e. my goal is to lose weight. Does that mean half a pound or twenty?).
- Setting a specific, high goal cues strategy necessary to attain it.
(*This information is taken directly from the Oxford Study. Follow the link above if you would like more detailed information.)
In other words, when we choose to set a specific, lofty goal we are willing to put in the effort needed, create strategies to attain it, and persist until the goal is met.
This study reminds me of a goal setting technique I learned working for Starbucks. We called it a SMART Goal. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Let’s use one of my long-time dreams as an example:
One day, I want to travel the world.
Pretty vague, right?
To turn traveling the world into a SMART Goal, I need to reword the goal for hit each of the letters of the acronym.
- Specific: I want to start my travels in Scotland.
- Measurable: I’ll need two weeks to see all the sights.
- Achievable: Lots of people travel on a budget.
- Realistic: I’ll need to take a hard look at my budget and start saving accordingly.
- Timely: After I calculate how long a two-week trip in Scotland will cost and how long it will take me to save, I can put a time on it.
Pretending I did the math, my SMART Goal looks like this:
In September of 2018, I will take a two-week vacation to Scotland.
That’s all well and good, but how does this translate into personal growth in therapy?
I asked a few of Chico Creek Counseling’s therapist if they use goals in their sessions. It turns out they do.
Jessica Wilkerson uses goal setting during her first session with new clients. “It helps get my client and me on the same page. Once I know specifically what they want to change about themselves or their life, I can work on helping them reach that new state of thinking or being. Otherwise, each session would just be talking about the crisis-of-the-week without an underlying theme toward their healing.”
Joe Taylor uses goal-setting in sessions as a product of what he hears the client wants to accomplish. “For instance, just today I asked a client who needed to spend some time expressing frustration in his marriage, what he wanted to do about it? And then, once he understood his end goal, I asked him what the first steps in making things better in his marriage might be.”
Robert Ponce chimed in as well. “I use goals to help the client move to a desired outcome. In each session we review the progress they have made toward their goals and identify barriers to progress and feelings/factors that propel success.”
If trained professional use goal setting to help their clients achieve goals, and Oxford found specific, high goals to be the catalyst for achievement, then what are we waiting for? Let’s create some goals. If we work towards it a little bit every week, by 2019 we might have reached our dream. How exciting is that?
So, tell us, what is your goal for 2018? It could be as simple as getting the kitchen cleaned after work, or as difficult as figuring out how to heal from that severed relationship. Whatever your goal, take some time this week to write it down, turn it into a SMART Goal, and figure out what steps you need to take to work towards achieving it. We here at CCC are cheering you on!
Meet Rachelle DeNecochea, Chico Creek Counseling’s new blogger. Rachelle worked as office manager for Chico Creek Counseling, but now spends most of her time writing fantasy novels for teens and blogging about bravery, risk-taking, and living fully. She has an undergraduate degree in behavioral science and a master’s degree in business. She lives in Chico, CA with her superhero husband and two almost grown minions. If you’d like to connect, follow her personal blog or send a message through her Acts of Bravery Facebook page. She’d love to chat with you.