One issue I’ve always struggled with is goal setting. Never mind that when I’m manic, I tend to set really high goals that I’m super-confident that I’ll reach, but also, when I’m depressed, I make goals that I believe are achievable, and yet I still won’t achieve them. Why? Because even though the goals I set are attainable, they’re made in a way that they appear overwhelming, and inevitably, I’ll abandon the goal, and beat myself up over yet another “failure.” It’s hard to motivate yourself to achieve your goals when they are too vague to actually define what a “success” is.
I’ll start with an example goal. Let’s use the following:
I will go have a pleasant swim.
Sounds like a reasonable goal? It does look pretty simple and straightforward. Let’s take a look at how we can improve it, though. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I learned a goal-setting technique called SMART. The letters stand for Specific, My Own, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Defined I’m going to go through each step, and see how I can change my goal, so I can ensure that I will achieve it.
My initial goal is too vague. I need to make it more specific. Let’s add some specifics to it. Some reasonable ones at this point might include who I’m going with, where I’m going to swim, and how long am I going to swim for.
I will go have a pleasant swim with Sara at the community pool, where I will swim 15 lengths.
Excellent, now I’ve set specifically where I’m going to, who I’m going with, and how long I will swim for. There’s one problem though: my ability to achieve this goal now depends on whether my friend will go swimming with me. If she doesn’t feel like going, I probably wouldn’t go with her. This is a personal goal, so I need to focus it on myself.
I will go for a pleasant swim at the community pool, where I will swim 15 lengths.
Another problem with my goal is that it depends on my feelings at the time. If I go swimming, it probably will be pleasant, but if I’m feeling really depressed, even swimming might not be able to lift me. I need to focus on what I’m doing, and not how I’m feeling when I do it.
I will go for a swim at the community pool, where I will swim 15 lengths.
This is sounding even more achievable with every change I make! But, let’s look at my goal a little closer. I’m an avid swimmer, and when I’m feeling great, I can swim for hours. I once swam 5 km one evening! But this isn’t about doing my best – this is about just getting up and doing something. The chances of me swimming 15 lengths when I can barely get myself out of bed is not going to be reasonable.
I will go for a swim at the community pool, where I will spend 30 minutes in the water.
30 minutes in the water is much more reasonable, don’t you think? I can achieve this whether I swim lengths, or if I just spend my time wading in the shallow end. Hell, I could even spend some of that time in the hot tub! Now I know I am capable of achieving this goal. One last thing I need to change, however: I haven’t said when I want to go swimming. I could set my goal today, and feel like I failed tomorrow, even though I might not swim until next week. It’s better to schedule when you are going to achieve your goal. Another advantage of scheduling is you can ensure you have time set aside for your goal.
I will go for a swim at the community pool Monday morning, and spend 30 minutes in the water.
That’s it! Now I have a crystal-clear goal that I know I can achieve. I’ll post in the comments whether I achieve this goal or not. You can expect to hear back from me on the 10th!