Goal setting

So many of us have lofty goals that we hope to achieve some day in the future, but may struggle with how to get there. Large goals can seem overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to start.

From my frame as a therapist, I would approach this from sort of a “treatment plan” perspective. A treatment plan is a set of specialized goals, objectives and interventions with a set time frame for re-evaluation. This means that a larger goal is stated, and broken down into smaller goals, or objectives, that lead up to a goal. An intervention is the action taken to move towards your goal. If planning and organization are helpful to your mental health, this can be a really concrete way of setting your course.

For example – say your goal is to get a job in a field that is new to you. While this sounds simple, it is not an action that can be taken in one step. You might break down the actions needed to get to your big goal. Objectives might be to re-do your resume, talk with those already in the field, and to search and apply for positions. Within each of those objectives, there are many smaller goals that can be underneath each. For example, to re-do your resume you may need to write a draft, have it edited, and then finalize a copy. You may write out your goals and objectives in a way that flows from the first action you take to the final one. You may also choose to set goals as far as when you would like to complete each task. Then, you would decide what sort of interventions would help you achieve each objective or part of an objective. An example would be that, to have your resume edited, you may need to reach out to someone willing to lend you some time and expertise. You may set an end date of when you would like to re-evaluate your plan.

Maybe after three months or so, you could check to see – what objectives have you completed? What objectives were you unsuccessful at completing or did you not get to yet? Then you can update your plan to reflect what goals you are working on now. You might need to re-evaluate some objectives – sometimes objectives you don’t complete are objectives that just aren’t right for you, and they need to be re-written or scrapped altogether.

Another aspect of change and goal setting for many is a sense of accountability. I’m sure each of us can think of a time when we had a great plan in place, but it just faded away because there was no one there to keep us on track. If this feels familiar to you, you might want to find a friend or family member who is also looking to make positive change in their life, and see if they want to be an accountability partner with you. Perhaps you meet for coffee every month to check in, or just have a phone call now and then to see how goals are going.

I do not recommend doing weight loss challenges. I feel that they encourage disordered eating and negative body image, and also push others to further compare their bodies with others, with can be very troublesome. If you would like to change your eating behaviors, I would recommend moving towards variety, balance and moderation, and just comparing yourself to your own progress.

In our clinic we would say “Stay on your own place mat,” because comparing yourself to others isn’t fair. You don’t have their body, their food preferences, their family, their job or their life. You do what works for you, and that is all you can do. Please read my article on Relationships with food for more reflections from working with clients with eating disorders.

Making changes in our lives can feel daunting and difficult to approach. However, if we break down big goals into more “digestible bites” then it seems much more doable. It is never too late to to follow your authentic self and have the life you dreamed of.

What is a disorder and how do I know if I have one?

people-office-group-team.jpgA large part of my professional career has been doing assessments. As part of this process, I always encounter clients who are of two minds – they are convinced enough that they need help to schedule an assessment, but who think that they really aren’t sick enough to need serious help. How does one know if they need help?

As a clinician, a set of symptoms becomes a disorder when it is significantly impacting the functioning of one’s life. When you think back about the course of an average day, what percentage of your day is impacted by your symptoms? What areas of your life are significantly impacted by your symptoms? Often times people end up coming for assessments when they feel out of control, and unable to contain the effects of their symptoms anymore.

Mental health is unique in this respect. If someone was diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer, there would likely be little to no consideration made about following the suggested treatment of the physician, whether or not it impacted our lives otherwise. When it comes to mental health diagnoses, however, the attitude tends to be much different. People feel the stigma of the label, and don’t always want to share with others the burdens they bear. They also struggle to consider taking time off from work or family commitments, minimizing the need for the intervention that drove them to assessment in the first place. So many struggle alone, feeling ashamed that they cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as they have been told they should.

My general advice is to follow your gut and be your own best advocate. Start with your primary care doctor, they can usually point you in the right direction of what help would be best. Another resource that can be used is your insurance company. They have staff that can find resources within your insurance network so that it can have the least financial impact.

Someone once told me that the hardest part of running is putting on your shoes. It takes great courage to admit that you need help. Reach out and get the help that you need, and that you deserve.