In the therapy class that I just finished up with we discussed the role of goal-setting in the therapy process. Here are some main points from the text that I found interesting and useful, especially considering the importance of setting and following through with an aim (I did a search on the forum and didn't find too much science on goal setting, please correct me if I'm wrong):
Taken from "The Skilled Helper," by Gerard Egan, here are the differences between good intentions, broad aims, and specific goals:
Good intention: "I need to do something about this" is a statement of intent. However, even though good intentions are a good start, they need to be translated into aims and goals. In the following example, the client, Jon, has been discussing his relationship with his wife and children. The counselor has been helping him see that his commitment to work is perceived negatively by his family. Jon is open to challenge and is a fast learner.
Jon: Boy, this session has been an eye-opener for me. I've really been blind. My wife and kids don't see my investment - rather, my over-investment - in work as something I'm doing for them. I've been fooling myself, telling myself that I'm working hard to get them the good things in life. In fact, I'm spending most of my time at work because I like it. My work is mainly for me. It's time for me to realign some of my priorities.
The last statement is a good intention, an indication on Jon's part that he wants to do something about a problem now that he sees it more clearly.
Broad aim: A broad aim is more than a good intention. It has content-that is, it identifies the area in which the client wants to work and makes some general statement about that area. Let's return to the example of Jon and his over-investment in work.
Jon: I don't think I'm spending so much time at work in order to run away from family life. But family life is deteriorating because I'm just not around enough. I must spend more time with my wife and kids. Actually, it's not just a case of must. I want to.
Jon moves from a declaration of intent to an aim or a broad goal - spending more time at home. But he still has not created a picture of what that would look like.
Specific goals: To help Jon move toward greater specificity, the counselor uses such probes as "Tell me what 'spending more time at home' will look like."
Jon: I'm going to consistently spend three out of four weekends a month at home. During the week I'll work no more than two evenings.
Counselor: So you'll be at home a lot more. Tell me what you'll be doing with all this time.
This example brings up the difference between instrumental goals and higher-order or ultimate goals. Jon's ultimate goal is "a good family life." Such a goal, once spelled out, will differ from family to family and from culture to culture. ... Because instrumental goals are strategies for achieving higher-order goals, it's important to make sure that the client has clarity about the higher-order goal. If Jon was spending a lot of time at the office because he didn't like being with his wife and kids or because there was a great deal of conflict at home, then his higher-order goal would be something like "experiencing the stimulation of an exciting workplace" (if home life was dull) or "peace of mind" (if home life was full of conflict).
Creating specific, SMART Goals:S
In my opinion this can become very useful if used every day in an attempt to engage system 2 thinking over system 1. Most of us have good intentions; I think that's why we're here
But then we have broad aims and higher-order goals that are extremely important to us and guide us. As for me, I know that my conscientiousness, combined with my neuroticism, makes it so that whenever I stray from these higher-order goals I feel very guilty and the pain is hard to avoid, especially without having SMART goals that keep me moving. This is one reason behind a chronic workaholism I experience, it is pseudo-doing (otherwise known as slavery) that functions as a pain reliever.
In reality, I need goals that are specific
enough "to be verifiable and to drive action." They need to be "realistic
in regard to the internal and external resources needed to accomplish them." The effects need to be measurable
, so that I can know that I attained them or not. I know one girl who measured her goal of gaining will power by moving a bead from one jar into the other every time she avoided a certain temptation. And they need to be adequate
so that we are motivated to achieve them. And they need to be timely
. They must have some sort of deadline that moves us forward and at which time we measure our outcomes. This deadline doesn't have to be strict but shouldn't be too far ahead that we lose our interest, drive, or focus.
And of course, these goals need to be flexible, and we need to be both strict and easy on ourselves. Obviously I cannot "do" in the real sense of the word, no matter how much I plan. And often our planning is flawed due to our biases and the lies we don't realize we believe. Our programs can easily create reasonable sounding goals. So we need to be open to new information at every step of the way. This is the logistics of our SMART Goal. According to Wikipedia:
Logistics is the management of the flow of resources, not only goods, between the point of origin and the point of destination in order to meet the requirements of customers or corporations. Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging, and often security.
And, when we fail at one of our goals we feel like we lose a part of ourselves. From _http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/the-science-of-setting-goals.html:
In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs!
But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.
This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).
So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?
On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.
It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.
So I know that goals adopted here are pretty big, and each time we see them thwarted in the real world it is like having a part of ourselves cut up and tossed away. Seeing the Dutroux Affair, the Franklin Scandal, and others has left me wondering if anything I do makes a difference at all. Well maybe that kind of thinking is more chemical-based than spiritually-driven, since now it is more apparent than ever that human society needs more than just machines to be the kind of place in which life can thrive, instead of being devoured. So I say make as big a goal as we can, and focus on the smaller, SMART ones, to help stay the course. Sure it'll hurt, but sheesh who cares about that?