To achieve positive goal directed change in our lives, we need to look realistically at a few key considerations.
We need to understand the details of that goal, and then begin to formulate what the reasonable steps are between what is, and what we would like to be. It stands to reason then, that we will need a pretty accurate picture of what the current reality is. For example, if my goal is to be able to play a Chopin Nocturne by December, I have to look at what the current situation is. Do I have access to a piano or a keyboard? Can I afford one? Do I have the sheet music required? Can I even read sheet music? Have I ever played the piano? The only way I can get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ is to be clear about where ‘here’ even is.
When it’s an external goal (like playing an instrument or improving athleticism), it is often a bit easier for us to be pragmatic. It is usually relatively easy to admit that we have never had a single piano lesson in our life. But, when it’s an internal goal (like improving emotion regulation, or being less stressed-out) things often feel a bit closer to our self-concept, and it seems to get a bit more messy. Let’s say for example, my goal is to become a more calm person. Well, I will need to have the courage to admit that I am currently not being as calm as I would like to be. Sometimes it is hard to admit to personal qualities that are holding us back. We need some kind of unconditional acceptance of ourselves to sit with a clear picture of who we really are. This relationship with self is a bigger topic and is explored in another article.
So, I want to be “more calm”, but that is not well defined, it sounds rather vague, and as it stands, it’s just a bit unattainable. It is important here to get more specific. Perhaps the definition becomes “I want to be more calm when I come home at the end of the work day rather than carrying the stress of the day with me”. Next we need to honestly assess where “here” is so that we can plot toward “there” (more calm). In this example, I have to be honest about my current levels of calm or stress/agitation. Without clarity, most people in this situation can fall into the never-good-enough type of thinking. Because if we fail to be totally Zen, we might then decide our efforts did not work, and we give up. So we need to consider, how will I know if I am more calm? Perhaps I will notice that I am standing a bit taller, smiling a bit more, maybe I am less snappy with the people I live with. Or I might want to rate my level of calm on a scale of 1 to 10 before I get out of the car and enter my house. Now, that is a more clear and measurable goal.
Frequency and duration will help us notice progress rather than waiting to reach some holy grail. That is, if there is a behaviour we are eliminating, it will help to know how often we engage in the behaviour, and how long we do it, so if we are grumpy less nights per week, we can see change. Just as if I wanted to be more fit I might appreciate doing 2 more crunches each day as progress. This is how we spot incremental growth which is essential. The “all or nothing” approach is usually quite self-defeating.
Your therapist can be a great partner in this process. A compassionate professional will help you to understand yourself in a clear and non-judgemental way, and can assist you to plot a course toward where you would like to be.
The therapeutic process can also help you go much deeper in the behaviour change process, and to explore underlying wounding that may have sabotaged your best efforts so far. This deeper work is what will really support you to step off the treadmill, to break old patterns and to begin to integrate more meaningful and lasting change in your life.