I want to lose weight. I want a better relationship with my children. I want more "me time". I want to be more organized. I want to make more money. I want to be less depressed and less anxious. I want to be happier.
These are some reasons people seek the help of a psychologist or other mental health professional. Many have sought help before and found it was unproductive. When meeting a new client, after reviewing their paperwork and talking about some of the reasons they are coming in, I look closely to previous attempts at meeting their goals. Approximately 9 out of 10 times, I find a theme: Poor goal setting.
To work toward goal setting, I ask my clients, "How will you know if you have successfully reached your goal?" Many have the answer of, "I will weigh less" or "I will make more money" or "I will feel better". I then ask, "How much less" or "How much more" or "What does that look like?" For the weight and money questions, I am typically given an answer with a specific number. For the mood and relationship questions, my questions are often returned with a perplexed expression.
In order to set clients up for success, I utilize the work of Paul J. Meyer in his book "Attitude is Everything". Paul J. Meyer describes the characteristics of S.M.A.R.T. goals. His ability to define how a goal should be set is so popular the military, educational systems, and successful businesses have adopted the method. To be successful in achieving your goal, you first must be successful in setting you goal.
For example, with a client who wants to lose weight, we will identify how much weight he or she wants to lose, by what date, determine if it is an attainable (and healthy) goal, and how important (relevant) the goal is. We can identify both a long term goal such as 20 lbs in 5 months as well as short term goals such as 4 lbs per month. We can break the goal down into daily goals such as nutritional goals, sleep goals, and exercise goals, as well as monthly goals. The more specific and the more attainable the goal, the more likely you will reach it!
With a client who has panic attacks we will identify how frequent, how intense, and how long each panic attack lasts. We will then begin identifying an attainable goal. For example, a client who is having panic attacks 4 times per week, at an intensity of 9/10, which last for 2 minutes may have a goal of reducing panic attacks to 2 times per month, at an intensity of 5/10, which last for 20 seconds. Notice we do not set an initial goal of complete elimination of panic attacks (that will come later). To do so would be unattainable for the client who is beginning therapy and would lead to goal failure. My goal is to set the client up for success.
To succeed in reaching your goal, you must first succeed in setting your goal.
Specific. Measureable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.