A Small Win

For the past two weeks, I wanted to buy something, anything… a new tech… that’s my go to whenever I my mood drops. I’ve written about this in my earlier blog post. I was restless, numb and indifferent. The ‘need’ to buy something expensive was very strong. My impulsive brain was going on overdrive.

Well, I didn’t cave this time around to this impulse. Went out with my partner yesterday afternoon, stopped by a tech shop that I usually get my tech gadgets from, and I was able to resist that gnawing impulse to buy something.

It wasn’t that bad afterall.

A Start of a New Year and Setting Goals

I think most of us would agree that the 2020 was a difficult and challenging year. Rolling into 2021, as most of the world still ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s fair to say that we are all still on edge over what is going to happen in the next couple of months. However, I feel hopeful that this year will be a better year for all of us. Setting goals for the year is a good way to start the new year and I would like to share some insight that I learned when researching on an effective way to set goals that would actually motivate us to achieve them.

I have drawn the ideas for this blog from this book: Bill Sternbergh and Sloan R. Weitzel entitled ‘Setting Your Development Goals: Start with Your Values’. The other is a meta-analysis by Tracy Epton and Sinead Currie, where they evaluated the unique effects of goal setting on behaviour change and under what circumstance and for whom does goal setting works best.

We all set goals at some point or another, hoping to work towards achieving more at work or to be more mindful about the here and now in order to spend quality time on people and things that matter to us. Sounds easy enough to set goals, but more often than not, we fail to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. Why is this so? Sternbergh and Weitzel (2001) outlined a few reasons why:

The goal isn’t valued – you haven’t committed your mind and heart to the goals.

The goal isn’t specific – your goal is too broad and overwhelming.

The goal isn’t supported – you don’t have someone to be your coach, cheerleader, or mentor.

Sternbergh & Weitzel, 2001, p. 7

We have all experience the feeling demotivated to work on our goals and come up with various reasons on why our goal cannot be achieved. Voices such as “My heart isn’t where it is suppose to be to lose weight”, “I just don’t have the time to write that book!”., “I need to make a career change, but I don’t know what that would look like” and the list goes on and on. These are all good goals to achieve but why do we seem to fail more than succeed in achieving them? A big part of this is because we set out goals based on what we think would be good for us and what you think others would want to see you achieve. This causes a disconnect between what you think you need to do with what you truly value.

The first step of setting any goal that would motivate the part of the mind that says ‘what you think you should do’ and your heart, ‘what would achieve a value that means a lot to you.’ This is why setting achievable goals are so difficult to do. We are constantly bombarded by what social media, our family and friends expect us to do and there is a default part of us that care more in achieving goals that others want us to achieve instead of focusing on goals that matter the most to us. A goal that would motivate us to persist and pursue is one where we bring our heart into the process of goal setting. Evaluate and examine how each goal aligns with our value(s). Values in this context means the life principles you find that is important to you and they are principles that you think makes you a better person. Ask yourself questions such as:

How should I spend my time, energy and money?

What are am I truly passionate about?

What should I do less?

What should I do more?

Is there anything missing in my life?

Next, once we have a clear idea of our values, Sternbergh and Weitzel (2001) stated that there are five areas of our lives to reflect on when looking at the bigger picture before setting our goals: career, self, family, community and spirit. By reflecting on each area, we will have better insight into what we would like to improve on or change. The next few paragraphs would expound on each area on how we can reflect on each of them.

Career

Is the work you do reflect the career you have always wanted? Most of us spend an average of 40 hours a week on our work. For some, it can go up to 80 hours a week, depending on the industry one is working in and these hours do not include the commuting time, checking email from home or the occasional extra work done during your off days. As we spend so much of our waking time doing work related activities, it is pertinent that we evaluate values that are tied into our work and our career goals. List out all the work related values (such as competence, autonomy, creativity, advancement) that are important to you and reflect on each one by imagining the career you want, and not in terms of the work related tasks that you do on a day-to-day basis while at work. Do the values you have listed line up with the career you see yourself in?

Self

What activities bring you pleasure or enjoy doing? When was the last time you practice some self-compassion? Does not matter whether you’re single or married, or a single parent, we all try our best to juggle between work, and family, prioritising everything and everyone else, while we tend to neglect self-care and self-compassion. We get lost in the myriad of tasks and to-do lists that need to be checked off daily and forget that we cannot be our best with the people we care most when we neglect taking care of ourselves. How do we practice self-care and self-compassion? Taking time for ourselves sounds easy enough but when you really reflect on it, it is not as easy as you think it is. Most of us are taught to be productive all the time. Slowing down to do the things we like, seems like an overindulgence that goes antithetical to what you are brought up to believe. Write down twenty things you enjoy doing (such as reading, playing board games with friends and family, eat out with friends). Then, think of the values that are important to you when it comes to self-care and see if they align with any of the fun activities that you have listed. Remember to keep in mind to focus on the values and activities that are joyful to you, not the ones that other people expect you to do.

Family

This is a difficult area in my life that I have always struggled with due to my traumatic past. I am still distancing myself from my father and our relationship is fraught with issues and the growing distance is palpable. To be honest, I am unsure whether my relationship with my father would ever heal. It is still something I am working on in therapy and maybe, I would come out the other end with some clarity when the time comes. However, my relationship with my two sisters and nieces and nephew, is getting better as the years go by, despite me living away from home. The value that is most important to me to build a good relationship with my family is to express how much I love them each time I end our texts or video calls with ‘I love you’. This might seem like common sense or a ubiquitous way to express closeness with our family, but, in mine, to utter the phrase ‘I love you’ is something that was never practiced in my family as we were growing up. So, what value(s) would you align with how you want to strengthen the bond you have with your family? How would you achieve this? Remember to align what you are going to do or what you are going change with the value(s) that are most important to you when it comes to building a close relationship with your family.

Community

We all want to form meaningful connections with others and feel apart of a bigger community. Whether it is your neighbours, schools, charities, temples, or churches, we all have different ways we connect with others. What is yours? There is a huge body of research in social psychology that found that being apart of a community, helps one to be more resilient in times of struggle and improves one’s overall well-being (if you’re interested to learn more, I have listed some research articles below). Again, reflect on what values are important to you in regard to connecting with others in your community via charitable organisations or sports teams, and focus on how you envision your community to be, and put in the time or change the way you commit to your chosen community, so that it is aligned with the values that you have listed.

Spirit

If you are not religious in the traditional sense, spirituality can take the form of your cultural traditions or existential meanings of how one should lead their life in the world. As the concept of spirituality is so abstract and intangible, most of us do not talk about it much with others. It tends to be neglected in our every lives, thus, it is not surprising that most of us don’t think about our spirituality when setting goals. However, reflecting on our sense of spirituality is important if we want to set meaningful goals and make necessary changes that would help with our self development.

Good luck everyone and have a Happy New Year. To a better year for all of us.

Extra reading resources for anyone who wants to know more:

Drury, J. (2012). Collective resilience in mass emergencies and disasters: a social identity model. In: The Social Cure: Identity, Health and Well-being. (ed. J. Jetten, C. Haslam and S.A. Haslam), 195-215. Hove: Psychology Press.

Jetten, J., Branscombe, N. R., Haslam, S. A. et al. (2015). Having a lot of a good thing: multiple important group memberships as a source of self-esteem. PLoS One http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124609