Manifesting Your Goals in the New Year Using a Therapeutic Approach
Every start to the new year, I come up with goals and say them to everyone I know. The goals are specific to me but also incredibly broad, and lack real direction. They motivate me in the short term, but not so much in the long term. As you can imagine, this pattern of behavior has an impressively low success rate. This past year, my education in the field of psychotherapy has given me a newfound approach that I use with my clients to set and carry out goals in a reflective, personal, and attainable process. So this year, with the hopes of accomplishing my New Years’ resolutions, I will be directed by Motivational Interviewing, a type of therapy that focuses on strengthening a person’s commitment and motivation for change. With a focus on reflection, objectives, and motivation, I outline the basics of how motivational interviewing guides us to accomplish our goals.
In previous years, I would create my goals based on what I would like to do, regardless of how distant this goal was to me. For example, one year, I told myself I would learn how to code to enter a more lucrative job market. That goal was meant to be completed two years ago, and the farthest I got to completion was looking up online coding classes at a local university. So what went wrong here?
First off, my goal lacked an in-depth self-reflection. The purpose of my goal was to make money, and coding was portrayed in the media as a gold mine. I found myself caught up in a dream of living an improved life as a “coder” and in picturing this ideal, I lost sight of reality.
My training in psychotherapy has taught me that proper self-reflection happens in three steps. First, comes an examination of my current situation. Taking my previous example, my job at the time was monotonous, required no real skill, and paid poorly. During this process, I want to note thoughts and feelings about every aspect of my situation because this serves as the base for the reflection.
The next step is to identify my values. We all have individual values that shape our integrity and how we live, in this part of the reflection, identifying what makes us live by these values gives us a direction for creating our goal. These values could be a desire for thought-provoking work, being close to family, maintaining a sense of responsibility, and the list can go on. Once the list is made, I should rank them to get an understanding of why certain values matter more than others, and why they are listed in the first place.
So now comes the last step in this reflection, identifying the discrepancies between the current situation and values. I never made it this far in my previous example, because if I had, I would have recognized two discrepancies. One, I value being challenged and learning through my work more than anything. And two, though I complained of the paltry salary, my value in financial prosperity doesn’t take importance over my desire to work in a field I am passionate about. Locking myself into a goal to learn coding wasn’t because I was excited about it, it was because I saw strong salary prospects. Hell, I majored in psychology in undergrad, coding was the last thing I wanted to touch.
So now, after identifying these discrepancies, I get a more extensive picture of what I want to improve in my life; and in turn, can create a goal that is more attuned to who I want to become.
At this point, the goal made will feel fitting and can characterize the outcome we want at the end of the year. As exciting as it can be to have a goal in mind, the year is 365 days, and it will be hard to maintain this excitement as weeks go by. If my goal is to lose weight, my excitement might bring me to the gym, but what happens when a month goes by, and my weight has only slightly improved? This is where objectives come in and are made to measure progress better.
In therapy, setting goals for mental health recovery can seem overwhelming to start with, so we break it down. When we break a big picture goal down into steps, those steps are called, objectives. Now how can you find that smaller objective? This is where a scaling question becomes useful. Therapists ask, “If you had to rate yourself, 1 being nowhere near achieving your goal, and 10 being successful, where would you mark yourself?” And then, once you find a number that suits you, “What can you do between now and next week that can take a baby step forward on the scale?” These questions force us to break down the big picture and give us a direction forward. And how you want to time your progress is entirely up to you, it can be weekly or monthly, but regardless, you want to make sure your baby step progression is realistic and matches what you know you can do.
Following each objective, you should incorporate an evaluation that acts as another reflection. Maybe you learn something about your motivation, habits, thoughts, and feelings; the point is, evaluation can serve as preparation for roadblocks that might come up. It could also make you recognize if an objective was too ambitious, and so you scale it down appropriately for the next objective.
Whenever we set a goal or carry out an objective it is important to feel motivated throughout the process to bring us to completion. To get a picture of how motivated I feel, I incorporate these three questions into my reflections prior to starting each objective:
- Do I believe that I can do it?
- Do I believe that it will work?
- Do I believe that this is worth it?
The first question tackles self-efficacy, the belief in your ability to succeed. If we believe we can succeed, then we feel empowered to accomplish our goals. The second question forces us to examine the steps we have outlined to complete our goal and whether the goal will gratify our values.
Now that last question ties right back into how we create our goals. If goals are made that reflect our values, then that can feed into our motivation to maintain those goals throughout the new year. This process of identifying, maintaining, and completing goals can be difficult. Still, if done with intention, each step along the way will inform the other, and help make 2020 a year filled with accomplishments.
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. Guilford press.
TedxTalks. (2013, December 5). The psychology of self-motivation | Scott Geller | TEDxVirginiaTech. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sxpKhIbr0E