Setting Goals

  NOTE: Cory does not refer to any specific person. He is a composite of several cases.        

  Throughout this blog and in our books, Church and Brooks present a 3-stage coping process that involves acceptance, accountability, and developing a coping plan of action that involves heavy doses of humility and empathy. We also stress that when developing a plan of action, you must focus on overt behaviors, not on your emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Those parts of you do not make you a good or bad person; they are natural and they are you. Do not waste your time feeling guilty about them or trying to control or deny them – such as, frequently telling yourself, “I must make myself less anxious.” Focus, instead, on actions that you can choose to take, actions that are based on goals, and that bring you a sense of productivity and satisfaction.

What do we mean, “Actions based on goals”? Church shares his thoughts:

“Without appropriate, specific, clear, and objectively verifiable goals, it is unlikely there will be optimal progress, if any at all. Goals help you focus; they give you purpose to reach them; they help you persist. There are rules to follow, however. Choose goals that are measurable. Saying, ‘I will lose weight’ is inappropriate; a more appropriate goal is, ‘I will reduce my calorie consumption by 20% and increase my exercise time by 25%.’ Set attainable goals. ‘I want to be more at peace’ is vague, but vowing ‘to regularly engage in some form of relaxation, meditation, or biofeedback’ is measurable and attainable. Setting a goal to ‘save my marriage’ is also vague, whereas, ‘I will get therapeutic help individually or jointly with my spouse’ is doable, and specifies an action to take. Simply stating goals does not provide you with the motivation you need to move successfully toward them. Use the measurable and specific steps you can take to provide you with guideposts to determine whether you are making progress, and have met or exceeded them. When moving toward goals, it is crucial to be able to assess your movement.”

Cory went to a well-known university for two years and then dropped out with lack of motivation and direction. He connected neither socially nor academically in terms of making friends, studying, or finding a major. He was aimless, adrift. He returned from college depressed, and moped around until his parents told him to get into counseling or “hit the trail.” He wisely chose counseling. Once in therapy, he was able talk about his lack of self-identity, purpose, achievement motivation, and career goals.

Cory was the youngest son of highly successful professionals. He had two older brothers, both of whom had successful college experiences, landed good jobs following graduation, and were well on the road to productive careers. Cory admitted he grew up obsessed with exceeding his parents’ and brothers’ achievements, and generally felt he was in competition with them in a battle to prove himself worthy. Counseling helped Cory see he was never really in competition with his parents or siblings, but always with himself. His focus on his family’s achievements prevented him from discovering his own values, purposes, interests, and needs. He never bothered to define personal goals consistent with his standards and principles; he was always too busy concentrating on what others in the family were doing.

His counselor encouraged him to engage in values clarification in order to identify his wants and priorities in work and life in general. What kind of work did he want to do? How important was independence, salary, and flexibility? Did he want to help others or be more self-focused in meeting wants and needs? How valuable were friends and intimacy to him? Did he want to have a family and get married? If so, what kind of traits would he want in a mate? As Cory confronted these questions, he began to discover that the university he had been attending was not consistent with his answers. Simply put, this school was poorly suited to his personality. No wonder he never really felt comfortable there.

Cory found another institution that was a better match for him. The counselor also discouraged him from looking immediately for a specific career. Rather, he was encouraged to find a major he enjoyed, one consistent with his goals and values. He was assured that eventually his major would help him discover a variety of career paths that would complement his needs and interests. Before too long, Cory was no longer preoccupied with keeping up with others or worrying if others approved of his life goals and pursuits. He established his individuality and identity, focusing on who he was and what he wanted to be. For the first time in his life, he felt he was truly committed to his future. His mood became more positive, he began exercising regularly, and he reconnected with friends. He confronted his problems, sought help, defined his values, created new purposes and direction, and followed through with needed behavior changes. He accepted that it was okay to go his own way, even if it meant he might not earn the money and status of his parents and siblings. He discovered he was okay with being the best Cory he could be.

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