Category Archives: Motivation

Struggling to reach a goal? Be SMART

As far as I know, the idea of having SMART goals came from the business world, and has found its way into other areas. Lately, I have found the concept of making our goals SMART more and more useful. And the more I speak to people in the counselling room, the more I find that using even one of the criteria is helpful in getting them closer to where they want to be.

You can search online for slight variations of it, but generally I use the following approach to setting goals.

Specific – make sure that what you want to work on is narrow enough that you can give your time and attention to that one thing. I often find people wanting to be ‘better’ or ‘healthier’, but often set themselves up because it is too broad. Being healthier could mean running 10 minutes three times a week; eating more vegetables; sleeping more. Feeling better could involve reaching out to friends; having a better work/life balance; engaging regularly with a chosen hobby. Counselling can help narrow the focus so that you make better use of your time and energy.

Measurable – it is important to measure your progress because you are more likely to release dopamine (the chemical in our body that gets released when we are doing the right thing). It is important to give yourself evidence that you are progressing and achieving something. This makes it less likely that you will lose motivation! There are plenty of apps to do this, or you can just resort to a pen and paper (or a whiteboard) – be proud of your achievements, mark them down and keep track of how you are moving forward!

Achievable – I like to push people to work just outside of their comfort zone! But think about baby steps. I can’t run 10km but I am more likely to achieve a 5km run. And then I will build up as I get better each time. Similarly, someone might not be able to manage their stress but could manage to focus on their breath once a day. Improving relationships could be about practicing being more honest or assertive. I often ask people, “if that feels too difficult, what feels achievable right now?” and build up from there. We fall short when we set our expectations too high and when we don’t reach the goal that is too difficult, we lose motivation. So it is important to be more realistic (and caring)!

Relevant – It happens too often that other people give us something to aim for, and in doing so we don’t develop that internal motivation. In the counselling room, it seems to be far more helpful if the person sitting opposite me comes up with something on their own. I might say, “OK, so what do you want to focus on?” rather than “it might be useful to focus on meditation to help with your stress”. Of course, I am there to offer guidance if needed but it is important to find the internal motivation or the thing that is most personal to you. This is better than allowing someone else to push you somewhere that isn’t meaningful. You know what direction you need to head in.

Time bound – rather than making the goal too restrictive (achieving it by next week) or too loose (no end date, or too far in the future), it is important to work out a date that you want to achieve something. You might even link it to a specific event (by the time your birthday comes around, or by the time the end of term happens). Having a fixed endpoint can help to focus some of the attention, and help you to aim for something concrete. And it allows you not to drift, or to not take it seriously – after all this is your happiness or well-being!

So to recap:

  • Narrow your goal down so that you know what to focus on – don’t waste time on a goal that is too broad.
  • Keep track of any progress you make – it is important to recognise how far you get.
  • Work at something realistic – it could be slightly outside of your ability or comfort zone but within your reach if you push yourself
  • YOU need to decide what is a meaningful goal – this increases your chance of keeping at it, rather than feeling like you are being told to do something.
  • Give yourself an endpoint to work towards – this avoids becoming too relaxed or too rigid

If you need support with achieving your life goals or to create a plan that works for you, reach out and see how counselling could help.

Take care.

How Meditation Reminded Me We Can Start Again

I am a big advocate of meditation and have tried a number of apps over the years. I have settled on a couple that I use regularly, interchangeably, depending on which ‘narrator’ or theme I fancy that day or week. Sometimes I practice a Loving Kindness meditation (Metta); sometimes I find a great deal of usefulness in being guided to focus on my breath; sometimes I focus on the ticking of the large wall clock behind me.

Recently, when I have meditated I have been reminded of two things – one of which I will write about here. It is not a great epiphany, nor is it an original thought. But I have connected the dots between meditation and the idea of starting again.

One of the meditation apps includes discussions on meditation, and reiterated the idea that – if focusing on your breath – if your attention drifts to something else or you notice yourself thinking… you just bring your attention back to the breath. And, most importantly, start again with no judgement. Each time we find ourselves focusing on what to cook for dinner, or thinking about the deadline we have coming up, it is a reminder that we can simply bring our attention back to the breath. Each time we notice it, it is a chance to start again. No judgement.

This is a simple, yet overlooked mindset that we should apply to our personal lives. It is incredibly powerful to realise and remind ourselves that at any point we can start again. Or, arguably, we can simply start.

One of the common obstacles in the counselling room is the judgement that the person cannot start again with that goal they had; they can’t just change how things are; they do not allow themselves to do something differently; start again with a new project. The list is long. And I always notice – as does the person sitting opposite me – how much better things would be if it wasn’t for the judgement of starting again.

Yes – there might be practical elements to consider when starting again. And I do not minimise the struggle of doing so. What I argue for is challenging the idea that starting again is a negative thing, a sign that we have failed or that we are not good enough.

Some of the conversations that I have are about challenging the ideas and beliefs that someone might hold that prevents them from growing, moving forward, or being happy.

We create obstacles that, with a bit of prompting, we realise only we can remove. Counselling helps to challenge those beliefs and find a new way of being, and gives you permission to step into a new life – one that is free of judgement and constraint.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

The Allure of the Easy Option

We are presented with options throughout our daily life – whether to hit the snooze button (again) or to tell the truth; whether to have another piece of chocolate or to ask that friend for that money that they borrowed. These may be small decisions or we could perceive them as significant. We could perceive them as non-threatening to our wellbeing, or we might fear that they are going to have an impact on us that we would rather avoid. Without thinking about it, we weigh up the option of doing or not doing something; of doing it one way or another. And it is a skill, to critically look at something and think – really think – about what the options mean for us, and why are those options made available and nothing else? We have a very subjective and narrow perspective on things, which means we interpret things in a very specific way, based on our own experiences and beliefs – and the truth is we are very prone to getting things wrong.

We do not always think or behave in our best interest. And this is one trick to making better decisions – we need to ask a better question.

We tend to ask questions like, “What do I want right now?” and often the answer is The Easy Option.

What we often want, in the moment, could be more food; to sleep in longer; to avoid that awkward conversation; to stay up later and play games; to check the lights are off one more time; to just watch one more video; to leave revision to the last minute; to not get ready until the last minute; to avoid going to that party.

Giving in to these primal needs often confirms the anxiety that we are trying to battle (avoiding something because it feels awkward or makes us feel anxious), or it allows us to give in to instant gratification and immediate needs (I’ll have one more piece).

It is often easier to have ‘one more’ than it is to refrain entirely or to eat in moderation. It is often easier to leave revision to the last minute than starting a few months before an exam. It is often easier to just avoid meeting new people than to put ourselves through the stress and anxiety of introducing ourselves and risk getting it wrong or being laughed at.

“What do I want?” often allows us to take the easy option, and avoid pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone; it does not give us the chance to flex our social skills or to develop our abilities along the way (resisting more biscuits, tolerating the discomfort of NOT checking the lights again, sitting with those awkward feelings). Because the truth is that we can sit with those feelings. Choosing the easy option fools us into thinking we are weaker than we actually are. Each time we avoid something, we trick ourselves that it really is that scary; each time we reach for that extra biscuit we confirm that we could not have resisted it. And the cycle continues.

So what can we ask ourselves if not “What do I want?”. I think healthier and better questions to ask ourselves are, “Is this helpful?” or “What do I need right now?”. Immediately, it bypasses the instant want for more sugar, less work, more social isolation.

What I want

VS

What I need / what is helpful

To stay in bed until the last minute

VS

To get ready with plenty of time so that I am not stressed

To have more biscuits and chocolate

VS

To moderate what I eat; to actively choose what I eat tonight

To avoid socialising or meeting new people

VS

To remind myself that meeting new people is good for me, and not that bad

To stay quiet and not ask for help because that would be embarrassing

VS

To reach out to that friend; to call someone; to ask for help.

To tell a lie, to tell a half truth, to avoid confrontation

VS

To be honest; to be assertive; to be true to myself

So is it as simple as changing the questions we ask ourselves and things will magically change? No. But it is a simple trick that will refocus our attention on something that is more useful. It allows us to focus on what is important rather than giving in to the anxiety or the instant ‘need’ for something that is not necessarily going to help us.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with another biscuit or having a lie in (I’m prone to both), but if we can be more reflective, it will allow us to consciously choose behaviour that is in our best interest. We need to find moderation, develop compassion, and be our own cheerleader and coach. Especially when times are hard.

It’s about finding a balance between forgiving ourselves and about challenging ourselves. So next time, just pause and ask yourself if what you are about to do is in your best interest, if it is helpful and what you need in that moment. As always, small steps.

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash