It is likely there are a few things you’d like to accomplish in your sobriety. The reality is that the machinery that helps your goals manifest is the same no matter the subject, time-line, or importance.
I would like to posit that in order to reach your goals there are specific ways of thinking about them that can help. I would like to outline a few ideas and then show you to a system of goal-setting that I have found to be very helpful.
Motivation – I would like to introduce the notion that people aren’t lazy, rather, they have impotent goals. Is your goal in your life juicy enough to get you out of bed? Are you focused on what you need to do to? Were your goals created for yourself or to simply please someone else? With proper motivation, the pride and excitement provides fuel to work towards the completion of the goal. Very early in my career I wanted to be Nationally certified as an Addictions Counselor. I wanted the certification, but I wanted to pass the test before the requirements increased to sit for the exam. Eventually my focus changed from completing the exam to passing the test as a tangible recognition that I knew my stuff. When my motivation was correct the goal was easy to complete.
Passion – I like to make ‘passion’ a separate category from motivation. The way I think about it, motivation helps me follow-through on whatever goal I have set for myself. Passion is different from motivation in that when I think of what I want to do, passion is the “juice” that supports me to feel connected to a goal, energized by the possibilities, and alive that this goal will have a positive impact on the people in my life. I have been a clinician since 1984. I believe the reason I continue to do this work is my passion for affecting change. About 12 years into my career I took a break from clinical work to drive a limo for six months. While I met a lot of neat people (some celebrities as well) I was not connected to my job and did not feel engaged by my time behind the wheel. I was not affecting change and I was certainly not passionate about this job. I received a lot of compliments about my customer service skills which didn’t surprise me as I know how to relate to people. Truth be told, the third day away from clinical work, I was dying on the vine. Passion is nothing if you’re not engaged by what you do. I met a lot of drivers who loved their job, and they were really good at it. They had passion and they felt like they were contributing. I did not.
Intention – My sense is that many people are not aware of their true intentions when they set goals. I don’t believe that people just want “a lot of money”, they want what they feel like the money will give them. While I believe that a relationship can enhance your life, I would suggest that the intention (while subliminal or unconscious) is that you want what you believe the relationship can give you: connection, passion, intimacy, and friendship. When I talk with many clients I like to remind them that what their partner or husband or child really wants is their time. Getting clear about your intention will make it easier for you to get what you want.
Commitment – I like to think of this as the juice that propels me to follow-through even when I want to quit. I know myself pretty well. There is a part of me that has either quit when things were difficult in the pursuit of my goal, or I simply did not start a project fearing it would be difficult. I know this is wussing out, but I want to be honest and I imagine that there are some readers that would be able to relate to this. You’re familiar with the adage of people ending a relationship because they’re afraid of commitment. You can probably imagine two people sitting together and one person plays armchair counselor and suggests that the other person wants to leave because they are afraid of commitment. I remember going on a date with a woman I had met and after dating for a while she asked me why I ended a relationship. Shared I couldn’t get on the same page with the woman I was dating, she shot back: you’re afraid of commitment. Not so much. I have been sober over 32 years. I have worked as a clinician for over 28 years. I have been involved with the martial arts since I was four – fear of commitment has never been an issue- commitment is commitment, no matter the manifestation. What I tried to convey to this person is that our culture believes that everything can be worked out. The reality is that some things simply can’t be helped or fixed.
There were many times during my martial arts practice that I wanted to quit. There were several occasions in my recovery that I wanted to drink. There were various times in my career that I wanted to find another job. I didn’t leave any of these things as when I stepped back I realized all of these activities were essential to the fabric of who I was. I was frustrated and could not figure out how to fix the frustration so I thought that I would stop doing what I loved BECAUSE I was frustrated. Can you relate?? The best way to improve your commitment is by doing three things: 1) remember why you started in the first place, 2) get your ego involved (tell other people your plans), and 3) enroll other people into your cause. If you want to lose weight find a walking buddy. If you know that you don’t study as much as you should, find a study partner. If you want to quit smoking, join a support group. While I like to believe that human beings are very powerful, we all need support, we can all be reminded, we can benefit from getting a kick in the butt. If something isn’t working we either need to change our perception or our procedure. Be able and willing to accept support.
Now that I’ve outlined the qualities that I believe are essential to obtaining your goals, I want to introduce you to a goal setting system that can be quite helpful in giving you a steering wheel to follow-through. The Acronym for this model is S.M.A.R.T :
▪ S = Specific
▪ M = Measurable
▪ A = Attainable
▪ R = Realistic
▪ T = Timely
S) When you think about the goal are you just writing something down for the sake of having a goal, or are you getting clear with what you want? If you say that you’d like more money and you find ten cents on the ground, you have reached your goal. Get specific: I would like to increase my salary by $5000 per year by the end of the year. The last goal has a steering wheel versus the first way it was written; flimsy and indirect. Which goal are you more likely to receive, and which goal will make you feel more content?? What are you going to do, how are you going to do it? Be mindful to use action words when you write out your goal. Specific is the what, where, why and how of the SMART model.
M) I remember reading somewhere that if you can’t measure the success of your goal you certainly can’t manage it. How do you know when the goal has been reached? Are you changing the marker for completion? Choose something measurable and establish criteria: I will read three chapters of a book every evening. I will walk for 20 minutes every day after work. I will assign my family three different chores from the chore board. I will recite 20 affirmations every night before I turn in. By making sure your goals are measurable, you’ll know when you have reached your mark.
A) By identifying goals that are important to you, you will start to find ways to make them happen. Suggesting that you will love yourself in one week or that you will lose 30 pounds in two weeks is likely not to happen. Make the goal attainable to yourself. Attainable goals will help you identify skills, attitudes and abilities. When you set attainable goals you’ll also find resources to help you along the way. Assure your resources are appropriate. If you want to lose weight and need support, you might talk to an athletic trainer. They will have ideas about how you can reach your goals and can help you with the needed push. If the goal to lose weight wasn’t attainable, you’d likely meet failure again. By focusing on an attainable goal you connect with other people who weren’t in your corner previously.
R) Realistic is not synonymous for easy. In this instance I am talking about goals that are do-able. Realistic goals fit into a category that do not resemble a vertical slope. Suggesting that you will win the lottery 20 times in the next six months isn’t reasonable – there are far too many things out of your control for this to happen – the odds of that happening make it impossible and will set you up for failure. A better goal would be suggesting that you would like to learn to play poker with your 12-step friends and understand the rules enough to win a hand or two. See the difference? Be sure to set the goals high enough that it takes effort to reach them. Remember, realistic means do-able
T) Timely. This generally refers to setting limits and deadlines on your goals. No deadline, no goal. Without a specific timeline attached to the goal you are essentially giving yourself an out. If you don’t set a time the commitment is weak and vague. If your goal is important, you’ll attach a timeline.
I think the S.M.A.R.T model is an excellent way of looking a goal setting. It is a natural extension of commitment and follow-through. Grandparents are very good goal setters and I imagine there were times they gave you very clear goals. Remember this: if you don’t clean your room by 5 pm then you will not be able to go to the dance on the weekend. Or the shorter version: if you clean your room you’ll get to watch your favorite show. I think grandparents are natural goal setters.
While I did not include ‘deadline’ in the model outlined above, it’s worthy of mention. When I don’t feel like following through, a deadline has been helpful to me. I finished this article because I had a deadline. In school I was successful because I had deadlines. When the other parts of the S.M.A.R.T model aren’t enough to motivate me, having a deadline is a sure way to remind me that I have a commitment that needs to be met.
Rewards for completing your goals are always helpful. Be sure to reward yourself along the way. A reward system helps you keep your eye on the prize when you start to feel that you want to give up. Essentially, completing the goal IS the reward.
My goals for the next few years: complete some private practice work, read more books, adopt a large dog, and feel healthier.
What are your goals???