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A Road Map for Life

Posted Feb 20 2009 7:22pm
Goal setting is like making a road map for reaching your potential – you may know where you want to go, but do you know how to get there? When you're going somewhere new, it's easy to get lost along the way.

Many of us find ourselves being pulled along wherever life takes us. There is nothing wrong with that if you like where life is taking you. But if life is pulling you in so many different directions that you wind up feeling stuck, fragmented or searching for meaning, it may be time to take inventory of what is important to you and be more intentional about pursuing your goals.

The process of systematically setting goals helps us visualize where we want to go and identify landmarks along the way. It also helps us build motivation, increase endurance and decide where to invest time and energy. Most of all, the process of goal setting helps us stay on track and increases the odds for success. Research has shown that effective goal setters are less stressed and anxious, function and concentrate better, and are happier, more self-confident, and safisfied.

Make it Meaningful

There are many different types of goals, but whatever we choose for ourselves should be personally important and meaningful. People who pursue goals solely to please others or just because they think they "should", typically begin to lose motivation when things get difficult.

In my practice, I regularly meet students who went to college because they felt this was what they were "supposed to" do or their parents insisted upon it. If these students never find their own reasons for pursuing higher education, they end up dropping out, under-performing, or switching from major to major extending their time in school and racking up debt. Its okay to consider a goal based on the suggestion of others, but somewhere along the way you must identify your own reasons for persisting.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Our goals should involve things that are under our control. Have you ever met someone who had a goal to get married by a certain age? That goal is difficult to accomplish because it takes two people working together. The kinds of goals that tend to be under our individual control involve attainment of knowledge, increasing skills, and changing behavior.

When you've decided on a goal, make sure its specific and measurable. Abstract and general goals are harder to follow. For example, I often use Google Maps to find my way to a new destination. I like to zoom in close so I can see the roads and intersections. Sometimes I even use the satellite view so I can see the actual building and what side of the street its on. The more detail I get, the more likely I am going to get there on time and with my good humor intact. Setting effective goals requires a high level of detail as well. Use dates, times and amounts wherever possible to make it easier to see your progress and get back on track when setbacks occur. Be sure to write it all down so you can return to it and make adjustments when neccesary. Writing down your goals also creates a sense of committment which increases your chances for success.

When setting a goal, planning ahead is essential. Ask yourself what you already have and what you will need to achieve your goal. Arrange for these things to be readily available to you. Make a list of your current knowledge and skills and identify resources for acquiring what is missing. This helps you determine whether your goals are reasonable and achievable.

Reward Yourself

Focus on the positive. Your goals should result in something good or desirable rather than merely allowing you to avoid something unpleasant. Most human beings prefer to work for rewards rather than to avoid pain. Setting subgoals or objectives will give you more opportunities to feel rewarded and build toward your ultimate goal. Be careful about relying too much on finite rewards like money or recognition though, because they tend to lose their value as you achieve them.

Overcoming Obstacles

Setting yourself up for success means anticipating difficulties and preparing for them as much as possible. Ask yourself, "What is likely to stand in my way?" Some obstacles cannot be predicted, so flexibility and creativity are needed to persevere. While many obstacles are external to us, some come from inside us such as fear of failure or even fear of success!

If you are having trouble getting started on your goals or you've gotten stuck along the way, getting input from an objective, trusted other can be a big help. Spouses, partners and friends may be convenient, but they have their own agendas for you and may not be as objective as you'd like. A spiritual advisor, instructor, mentor, coach, or even a mental health professional like a psychologist can assist you in looking at your goals with "fresh eyes" and expanding your options. Mindtools has a nice webpage addressing Personal Goal Setting that is a good place to get started.

Please feel free to visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.
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