If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau
Long-term, short-term, personal, professional, pipeline or attainable, however you frame them, chances are that your relationship with your goals influences almost everything you do during the day (maybe even in your sleep.) We set, strive for, fall short of, and reach them in continuous cycles. And they are a popular hallmark of the therapeutic process.
In therapy, goals help us create a framework for where we are now and a vision for where we would like to be. This is an important aspect of growth towards greater health but more than structure and context, goals help us identify where we place our value in life! This is a big deal and so when we take the time to look at our goals, we have the opportunity to sort out our bigger picture into identifiable pieces.
In light of this, getting to know our goals (in life and in therapy!) is a truly worthwhile exploration! And sometimes as we do this we find that what we’ve been working towards actually isn’t what we value, which might explain a few things: the added stress we feel in these areas, the fact that we never actually reach this goal, our avoidance of this area… Maybe it’s not only time to get clear about where we place our time and energy (ie: what we value) but to also change our goals!
Here are some questions to consider as you take a closer look at these things:
1) What is your specific goal? For instance, if you say “I want to be healthy”, spell out what that looks like. Is it a certain level of activity? A certain blood pressure measurement? Less pain? Better sleep? Eating more green things? Write it out and be a specific as possible.
2) Why do you want this? I know this sounds crazy. “Who doesn’t want to be healthy?!?” But the fact is that if you’re doing something- anything because it’s something you should want, you are using herd motivation rather than personal value.
Identify a specific reason why you feel pulled towards this goal. Is it because you want to be able to enjoy long walks or hikes with your family? Do you feel less anxious and more thoughtful when you get a good night’s sleep? Do you want to be able to dance with your children or grandchildren at their weddings? Don’t make this step a one-time deal. Continually pose this question to yourself and add to your list as you grow.
Now let’s say your named goal is “To be incredibly successful in my profession.” Great. Why? Is it for financial reasons? To gain respect? Go further. What do you get from having more money or status? Is it what you’re able to do with the money? Name these things. Is it how you’re able to use your position? How do you use it? Once you’re more specific check back and make sure these things resonate with you. This next question can help you figure that out…
3) What is it like to imagine not having this? Again, here’s a question that should stay with you because when you’ve had a goal (concious or subconscious) for such a long time it might actually take a minute to register what it would be like if this was not such a presence in your life. There is no gold star or red flag response here. The idea is simply to notice how it would feel to not have this thing. A lack of panic when you imagine not getting your PhD does not mean you cross it off your list. It may just mean that it’s not the number one, tip top priority right now or that you are so, unbelievably tired from being in the thick of data analysis right now.
4) Did someone give me this goal? This is the “One Ring” question, referring to The Lord of the Rings. If that doesn’t immediately click with you (then I guess you’re not a total nerd) here is what I mean: was this goal passed off or along to you through family or friends? Is it now your torch to carry on or does it feel more like a burden? On the other hand, perhaps your goals are in reaction to what you saw around you when you were young. Either way, explore! Maybe you’ll find that you’re so passionate about farming because you saw the work your parents put into the land throughout your childhood. Maybe you’ll start to understand that you’ve never really been excited about law because you saw the toll the stress took on your uncle’s health and relationships.
These questions are meant to stretch your mind a little, to take your thoughts down a more winding path in an effort to grow your self-awareness. One big myth about goals is that you have to feel unrealistically passionate about them every single day of your life. The fact of the matter is that some goals won’t light a fire of excitement inside of you. Maybe just a little ember.
The important part of this exploration is that you make it personal. That you find an authentic connection with what you’re working towards so that you can build a strong foundation!