Proactive Stress Relieving Techniques for You and Your Family — Goal Setting
It might seem counterintuitive to identify “goal setting” as a technique for relieving stress — doesn’t the pressure to hit a goal create stress? — but the real stressor in life is not having a specific direction to spend our energy. The result is that most of us just scramble through life from one crisis to another, from one need to the next, never feeling like we’re making progress towards something meaningful.
When we were younger, we were always moving towards some life moment, some goal whether it was intentional or not.
We worked to get our driver’s license. We worked to get into college. We worked to get an A on the exam. We worked to build a good life. We worked to get a job. We may even have worked to move out of our parents’ house, get married, buy a house of our own, or pay off college debt.
But now…what are we moving towards? What are our goals besides just surviving the day?
Somewhere in adulthood, we may have started just going through the motions of living life, functioning on habit, routine, or other people’s expectations for us. And without realizing it, this causes us tremendous stress.
Have you ever been lost somewhere totally unfamiliar to you? Do you remember how stressful that was to be without specific direction?
That’s what not having goals in life can make you feel.
A New Year…A New Goal…
So here we are at the beginning of a new year, an emotional inflection point where we can identify a clear moment to start achieving something.
Goal setting is at the heart of New Year’s Resolutions and it drives January new gym memberships through the roof and it causes us to clear our pantries of all the junk food on January 2nd.
But effective goal setting can’t be based on habit and custom and outside expectations. That’s why so many gym memberships go dormant by March and why junk food sales pick back up by February and why so many of us feel guilty about dropping those New Year’s Resolutions.
Now I know what you may be thinking: The past 2 years have sucked.
2020 was devastating and 2021 may have been even worse. But 2022 gives us an opportunity to change things around by setting realistic goals that will have meaning for us by giving us something to work towards.
Many times, our attitude and our emotions will shift when we change our actions and our routines. We think it’s the other way around, but mindset will follow action. The act of smiling can make you happy. The act of laughing out loud, even when you don’t feel happy, can cause you to feel happy.
So setting a few meaningful goals for yourself, can reduce the stress in your life by providing you with a specific, discrete action to take, by focusing your attention not on all the terrible things happening, but on taking those specific actions to accomplish your goal.
But how do we do it effectively?
SMART Goals and Other Considerations…
Life coach experts frequently talk about SMART Goals, goals which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bounded.
But other experts, such as Dave Ramsay, will add criteria such as writing down your goals, creating a plan to achieve them, and choosing goals that are meaningful to you, personally.
Where do we begin?
Step 1: Reflect and Brainstorm
Goals don’t come out of thin air. Some feel obvious — pay off debt, lose weight, get in shape — but others are more abstract, such as not feeling depressed so often, reducing anxiety, or being a better parent or spouse.
Before we choose our goals, we often have to think of what results we want.
What do you want to be different in 2022? Reflect on this question and just brainstorm a list of possible different results you want this year from what you’ve had the past few years.
Set the timer on your phone for 8 minutes and just jot down ideas without stopping.
When you’re done, look over your list. What patterns do you see emerging? What does it look like you want or need in the upcoming months?
This practice also gets us writing everything down. When you write things down, they become more real, more concrete. When we write them down, we can post them, we can re-read them, we can share them with others, and we can hold ourselves accountable.
When we fail to write them down, then all we need to do is stop thinking about them and they will go away.
Writing everything down makes them real.
Step 2: Get Specific
What do you want to achieve?
While the result you want might be to feel better in your own skin, what will it take to make that happen?
For some people, it will mean losing a specific amount of weight. For some, it may mean being able to do a certain number of pushups. For others, it may mean starting each day with a positive affirmation.
Be specific with your goal and write it down. Specific goals keep you focused and are achievable, whereas vague or loose goals are easy to ignore.
If your goal is to spend more time with your family, then identify how many more hours a week you want to spend. If your goal is to pay off credit card debt, then write down the exact dollar figure. If your goal is to relax more, then write down the number of books you want to read or tennis games you want to play or glasses of wine you want to drink (be careful with that one!).
Step 3: Measure Your Progress
You cannot expect your goal to suddenly be realized. It will take time and it will probably occur in small steps. For this reason, you want a goal that you can measure progress on. And you want to record your progress as you go.
While your goal may be to lose 20lbs, you don’t want to just hope you get there. You want to track your daily or weekly progress so you can experience the small victories along the way.
Keep a chart of your progress or keep a jar where you can drop in slips of paper marking each time you do something towards your goal, such as telling your spouse, “I love you” or hugging your children or choosing a healthy snack instead of junk food.
Keeping a glass jar on the counter and a bowl full of dry beans is a great way for you to measure your progress both in the short term and the long term. It becomes a constant reminder to take specific action and a constant sign of your continued progress.
Step 4: Choose Attainable, Meaningful Goals
Typically, the SMART Goal formula divides Attainable and Relevant into two separate criteria but I think they are interconnected through Meaning.
Yes, you want to choose goals that are within reach, albeit at the furthest extent of your reach. If your goals are too each to attain, then they won’t be meaningful to you. When you stretch yourself to achieve a goal, you create meaning through the act of accomplishing something challenging, something that you thought you might not be able to do. By its very nature, this act makes the goal meaningful.
However, you also want the goal to be relevant to your life — in other words, you want it to have significant meaning for you. This is why you spent time reflecting and brainstorming about the changes and the new results you want in your life.
While making progress in anything — take a video game, for example — creates a positive feeling in us, it may not inspire long-term benefits in your life. But if you choose a relevant goal that will have significant meaning in your life, then you will stay committed to achieving that goal longer and with greater ease.
Losing weight to look good on the beach this summer may not be as relevant — and thus as meaningful — as losing weight so you can stay active with your kids or grandkids longer.
Take a moment and look at your written goals — rate them on a 1-5 scale for meaningfulness. How important are they to you?
Step 5: Set a Time Table for Achieving Your Goals
“Time-Bounded” might suggest that you simply set a timeframe in which you achieve your goals, but I think it also suggests a plan to achieve them. Or at least it should.
If you want to pay off $10,000 in credit card debt in the next 6 months, then you know you need to pay off $1,667 per month in principal.
But how are you going to do it?
Now you’ve got to think about where you are going to pull that money from, especially if it does not already exist as extra income in your paycheck. This might mean you pick up 1 extra shift per week. It might mean you do some private-duty nursing gigs on your days off. It might mean you don’t go out to eat at all for the next six months.
In other words, just putting a timeframe on your goal will not actually help you figure out how to achieve it. Instead, you want to identify the actions you need to take within that timeframe to accomplish your goal.
The more detailed you get in your time plan, the easier it will be for you to measure your progress and reach your goal.
I Feel Stressed Just Thinking About This…
That is entirely possible. After all, while reading this, you are just thinking about things inside your head. You are not writing anything down.
The act of writing things down allows you to stop thinking about them. This is why journaling is such a useful practice.
Now just think about how you normally go about your day, just doing things or working from a daily to-do list — how is that going to relieve your overall stress in life?
Let me know what you think in the comment section down below.
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