This chapter is about setting personally motivating goals after a period of self-reflection. You will learn how to use words that create vivid, emotive pictures in your mind of what you want to achieve.
Reflect on What You Want
Once you have accepted the principle of emotional responsibility, what you can achieve becomes possible.
If the idea that you are responsible for how you feel is daunting, make a note of your feelings for the time being and carry on reading. If, however, it feels like a window opening, you may be getting a sense of freedom and excitement. Knowing that you are responsible for your feelings and for your life means that there is a way to create change.
You have perhaps begun to understand that your beliefs are at the heart of your emotions, thoughts and behaviour. Your beliefs, thoughts, emotions and behaviours all influence and feed off each other so you condition yourself and reinforce what you think about yourself and your abilities.
You also know that there is a different, healthy way of thinking – a healthy version of your unhealthy beliefs. The healthy beliefs are flexible, true and consistent with reality, they make sense and they are helpful to you.
Now you may start reflecting on what you want to achieve or how you want your life to be.
The first thing is to scan your life for what matters to you. You can do this by creating your own balance wheel to reflect all the key areas in your life in a broad and general way. You do not need to be specific at this stage. It is about looking at the overall big picture.
Your balance wheel
The circle below represents some of the significant areas in your life. It is by no means an exhaustive list. For example, you may wish to include a section for retirement instead of career or education and add a spiritual or political section. This circle can include any areas you like. You may already know what your goals are, but you may want to think about other areas too.
For each area of your life, rate your level of satisfaction between 0 and 10. Zero represents the worst in terms of happiness and 10 represents complete contentment. If there is no room for improvement at present, this shows that this particular area is not a priority for you.
Family life can be a source of great happiness or it can be full of emotional, behavioural and communication problems. If your family life is important to you, it is worth reflecting on this area. Problems in families may be due to past unresolved issues, or difficulties in forgiving someone's behaviour. There may be present difficulties, such as financial stress, which impact on communication and mood, and worries about the future, such as fears about children leaving home and the consequences of that on your relationship.
Family issues may also be about closeness and a feeling that you could be closer. They may be about your relationship with your parents or a recognition that you may want to do more, for example visiting more often, and the emotional consequences of that.
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
This area may be about your relationships, or any other personal difficulties you may have; for example, shyness or feelings of anxiety when you are socializing. It may be about worrying about rejection when you go on a date or it may be about stopping smoking.
It could also be about your personal development. Personal development may involve learning about yourself, making peace with the past and moving on, understanding yourself, or gaining insight and learning about your psychological health.
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
This is about assessing how satisfied you are with your physical health or your body shape and weight. Your physical health may be one of the areas you wish to change. You may wish to exercise more or lose weight. You may have dreams about running a marathon. This may be the time to start thinking and implementing your ideas.
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
The area of mental health is one where many people now seek professional help. Knowing when you need help and looking for it is in itself an excellent goal. Do you tend to suffer from depression or anxiety to such an extent that it often interrupts your life? Maybe you are suffering from problems like self-loathing, panic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder? Mental health problems are common and speaking to your GP first is highly recommended.
Mental health is also about how you feel generally. For example, you may wish to be calmer and more positive in your thinking. Maybe you have always wanted to see the glass half full but cannot quite manage it. Maybe you have tried to be positive but weren't quite able to stay that way and want to know why.
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
You may feel that you want to have more fun in your life, but how much time do you set aside for leisure activities? You may have devoted more time to having fun when you were younger but work, family or financial commitments may have meant that it became less of a priority over time. You may want to commit more time to this area of your life because all work and no play is not as fulfilling as it used to be.
It is not uncommon to be doing well and striving for the things that you want, but noticing that perhaps you are not smiling as much as you used to. Maybe most of your friends are now married and the things they want to do have changed but you still want to socialize more or be engaged in more leisurely activities.
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
How is your social life and how satisfied are you with it? You may have been focused on your career, on your family life or even on your education in such an intense way that this area of your life has been neglected. If you know you have done this as a conscious choice and feel happy with reducing the priority of your social life that's fine, but do you find yourself working late and not having time to return your friends' calls? Have they stopped calling because you are always too busy to accept social invitations? Do you feel that you are neglecting this part of your life and that you are unhappy about it? Maybe you have moved jobs and find yourself away from most of your friends and the idea of making new friends feels too much like hard work?
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
You may have started work quite young and now that you are more settled you are thinking about returning to education. It could be that you want to continue with your higher education in order to get a more satisfying career. Whatever your reason, you have started to think about it. Perhaps you are surprised at yourself because you are now thinking that education could be fun but fear doing it. At this stage do not allow your feelings to stop your thoughts. You are not committing to anything. Just reflect on this area and assess whether you feel it has become important to you.
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
You often hear that most people are not totally happy with their careers, and that many people are opting for self-employment or changing their jobs. Are you feeling dissatisfied with your job, especially if you spend at least seven hours a day doing it?
How do you feel about your work? What do you think about your career? Is this what you imagined yourself doing when you were younger? Are you unsure about what you want to do but know that this is not it?
Level of satisfaction = ___/10
Tip: If you have identified areas other than those listed above, remember to rate your level of satisfaction in these additional areas also.
Importance of what you want
It's easy to see how important it is to reflect on all of this as part of your overall scheme of things. It is almost impossible to achieve goals if they are not important or if you do not get some personal benefit from them. The previous section helped you to scan your life and reflect on your current position, that is where you are now. It was about being honest with yourself about your current level of satisfaction and thinking about how badly you want to change it.
You can be dissatisfied with one area of your life but tolerate it because your focus is on another part that you feel is more important at the moment. Your goal is your vision of the future that you want. It is a vision that you care about. It should provoke an emotion when you think about it: either a positive one, indicating that you have a healthy positive attitude about it or a negative one because you have unhealthy beliefs about yourself. Remember that ABC model?
1. A stands for the trigger or event
2. B stands for beliefs – either healthy or unhealthy
3. C stands for consequence – emotions, thoughts, behaviours and symptoms
Achieving or not achieving your goal would be the trigger, or A.
Your belief about yourself, or your skills when you think about your goal, or the problem you are having with it is B.
Your feelings, thoughts and what you see yourself doing is C.
If your belief (B) about yourself, others or the world when you think about your goal (A) is healthy, then your emotions (C) will be positive and constructive, but if your belief is unhealthy then your feelings will be destructive.
If you say that you want something but do not feel anything about it when you imagine it, then perhaps you need time to reflect on how important it is for you at this stage in your life.
Go back to your balance wheel and look at the areas of your life that you are currently dissatisfied with or the areas that you want to improve. For each of these areas:
1. Rate your current level of satisfaction.
2. Rate your preferred level of satisfaction.
3. Finally, prioritize them in order of importance so number 1 is the most important area in your life and so on.
Setting SMART Goals
Goals reflect the way you want things to be. They are your desires, the things that you want to happen, the dreams you wish to fulfil. You are constantly setting goals and keeping an eye on the things that are going to happen in the future, like birthdays, anniversaries or other important events. Human beings are naturally goal-oriented.
You set goals from the moment you wake up, such as going to work and getting there on time. You may have lunchtime goals, social goals, supermarket and clothes-shopping goals. All of these activities are about visualizing something in the future, then moving towards it and making it happen. Having the ability to focus, imagine and visualize the goal in a vivid way helps you move forward.
The more significant your goal, the stronger its pulling power. So how do you make your goal vivid and colourful so that you can imagine it? Think about something that you have looked forward to in the past, for example planning a party or going on holiday. You start thinking about a holiday, then you work out where, when and how much you want to spend. Do you want to go in July, August or September? You start looking through brochures or searching on the internet.
By the time you have completed your plans, your holiday goal has become SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-oriented. Now you can visualize it and imagine yourself relaxing by the pool or skiing down snowy slopes, having drinks at sunset or enjoying a nice meal. You may be planning how one day you will go to the beach and the day after go on an excursion. You are now focused on your goal. What's the likelihood that after a week or so of this focused thinking you will be booking your holiday?
SMART goals help you visualize the end result more clearly and vividly.
Specific means that your goal is clear, so it is about the where, how and what. A specific goal gives you a clear picture of the outcome. Simply wanting a salary increase is not specific, it is only specific if you talk about how much of an increase you are looking for.
The more you concentrate on making your goal specific, the better you will visualize it and strive towards it. Remember that you are naturally goal directed.
Goals need to be measurable so that you can assess how well you have done and what you still need to do to improve on your result. It is important that your goals are clear and tangible as this means that there will be proof that you are achieving − or not achieving − your goal in some way. For example, if you plan to lose weight and have the specific goal of wanting to lose 1 stone, you can check that you are moving towards your goal by weighing yourself. You will have evidence to measure.
Your goal needs to be achievable rather than based on wishful thinking. For example, you may hope to win the lottery and think that by carrying out some ritual it becomes achievable. You may say, ‘what if that was possible?’ Just look at the results. Is this what reality shows you? Millions of people spend time doing the lottery but most will not be successful.
Achievable goals have to be attainable and feasible. How feasible is what you want?
Realistic goals are sensible. They tend to be based on fact and the reality of life. This doesn't mean that you should downgrade your desires, but do ask yourself if they are realistic. Unrealistic goals, ideas and expectations tend to have the words always, never, or all the time in them. They are irrational. For example, wanting never to feel anxious again is just not realistic. Always wanting to be happy or wanting everyone to like you are two common examples of irrational goals, as is wanting to always have the feeling of being in love, despite 20 years of marriage.
You may want to lose 2 stone in weight. On the face of it sounds achievable, but if you wanted that to happen in one week it becomes unrealistic.
This is about how long you think it will take you to reach your goal. It is good to focus on time because this provides the energy and motivation you need to be healthy and realistic about what you want to achieve. You might start putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to achieve something instead of reviewing your time frame. Without a time element, you might lose focus and allow yourself to drift away from what you want. Focusing on time indicates that you are ready to commit to it.
Achieving your goals depends on whether you have healthy beliefs about yourself and your skills – which will help you achieve them – or unhealthy beliefs that will stop you from moving towards them positively.
When you put all the SMART elements together you start to create a vivid, ‘all singing, all dancing’ goal. If your goal fails on any of the SMART categories then it is no longer SMART and you need to go back and modify it.
A SMART goal sets you up for success, and your healthy beliefs provide the energy and drive for you to move towards it.
Look back to the last exercise where you rated your level of satisfaction in the different areas of your life and prioritized them in the context of your bigger picture. Choose one significant area that you are unsatisfied with.
Reflect on this important area and think about how you want it to be for you.
Write down your SMART goal about your significant choice. Ensure it meets all the SMART criteria.
Current Goal-Sabotaging Beliefs
When you set a goal that is significant to you, a number of things can happen.
· You may start to create pictures and images in your head.
· You may start having an internal dialogue about yourself or your abilities.
· You may start to have feelings or emotions.
· You may start doing something or feeling like you want to do something.
· You may start to get physiological sensations in your body.
· You may experience all or any combination of these things.
If you want to achieve something but find you are not succeed ing, something is stopping you. The easiest way to gain insight into this blockage is to check your emotions and thoughts when you imagine your goal.
Think back to what you learned about your different emotions, the healthy negative ones and the unhealthy negative ones. In the CBT model, unhealthy emotions are triggered by unhealthy beliefs.
When you imagine something, or think about what you want to do, you may experience different emotions. This can be quite confusing. For example, thinking about your goal might trigger feelings of anxiety (unhealthy) about whether you will succeed, or guilt about taking time away from your family (unhealthy), or concern (healthy) about the work that it may involve.
Taking a systematic, sensible approach is one of the best ways of understanding these varied emotions. This is all with the aim of identifying your goal-sabotaging beliefs at this point. Later on, you will learn how to change them in order to free yourself from their grip.
Using the ABC framework to keep the model in mind will help you identify your various emotions and thoughts.
Jane is a 35-year-old married woman with two children. Her husband is a self-employed electrician and she works in the Human Resources department of a corporate company. An opportunity has arisen to do a part-time diploma course in psychology, which her company will fund, and it's a subject she's always been interested in. The application form has a due date three months from now. Jane has been avoiding filling in the application form, as she is in a dilemma as to whether she should apply. She wants to do it but her feelings and thoughts are negative. She is wondering whether she could manage it and is scared about the potential hard work. She is also anxious about how she would feel if the work meant that she would be spending a few nights a week studying, instead of being with her children and husband.
Jane has a goal to apply for a diploma in psychology.
This is a SMART goal. Why?
Jane's emotions and thoughts
She feels anxiety rather than concern because her thoughts are negative and her behaviour is avoidant. What is she anxious about?
In Jane's case, the ‘A’ in the ABC – the event or trigger – is applying for the diploma in psychology. Her goal triggers her feelings of anxiety.
Her feelings of anxiety are the emotional consequences. These are the ‘C’ in the ABC.
I'm thinking about applying for a diploma in psychology and it might be hard
How will I feel if it means time away from my family?
Since Jane has two states of anxiety, she will have two unhealthy anxiety-provoking beliefs – one per state. She is also likely to have a belief that would trigger guilt. So she should be working to change three unhealthy beliefs in this example.
Step 1 Identify Your SMART Goal
Start by writing down your SMART goal on a piece of paper.
Step 2 Identify Your Unhealthy Negative Emotions
What are you experiencing emotionally when you think about your goal? (You may write ‘stressed’, ‘upset’ or other expressions of emotion.)
Write down the negative unhealthy emotions that are blocking you from achieving your goal. (Go back to Chapter 1 and use the tables about emotions to help you clarify them.)
Now construct your ‘A’ and ‘C’ in the ABC (‘A’ is the trigger of the emotion, ‘B’ is the unknown belief, ‘C’ is the emotion). Triggers can be thoughts, sensations or events about the past, present or future. They can also be images and pictures.
Identifying Your Current Sabotaging Beliefs
So far you have identified ‘A’ and ‘C’ in the ABC model.
The next step is to identify the ‘B’ in the ABC model. The easiest way to identify these beliefs is by imagining or thinking about the trigger, focusing on the emotion you feel, asking yourself a number of questions and writing down the answer for each question.
What type of questions do you ask?
1. To identify the demand belief you ask:
What do my feelings tell me about what I'm demanding/ insisting on when I'm thinking about my problem? What am I saying MUST or MUST NOT happen?
2. To identify the catastrophizing belief you ask:
What do my feelings tell me about the badness of not having my demand met? Are they telling me it's bad but not the end of the world or awful, terrible, horrible, the end of the world?
3. To identify the low frustration tolerance belief you ask:
What do my feelings tell me about the difficulty and frustration of not having my demand met? Are they telling me it's difficult (hard, tough, frustrating) or unbearable (can't cope, can't stand it, can't tolerate it)?
4. To identify the self-damning, other-damning or world-damning belief you ask:
What do my feelings tell me about how I judge myself or others as a consequence of not having my demand met? Are they telling me that I failed but that I'm not a failure or are they telling me that I'm a failure (worthless, useless, loser, rubbish, bad, weak)?
Jane's ABC in the previous example:
Jane identifies the ‘B’ in the first ABC
Jane thinks about applying for the diploma course, which might turn out to be very hard. She focuses on her feeling of anxiety. She then asks:
What do my feelings tell me about what I'm demanding/insisting on when I'm thinking about the diploma and how hard it might be? What am I saying MUST or MUST NOT happen?
Jane identifies that she is demanding that she MUST find it easy. She then asks:
What do my feelings tell me about how bad it will be if I do not find it easy when I think the diploma MUST be easy? Are they telling me it will be bad or awful, terrible, horrible, the end of the world?
Jane identifies that it would be bad but not terrible. She then asks herself:
What do my feelings tell me about how difficult it will be if I do not find the course easy when I think it MUST be easy? Are they telling me it will be difficult (hard, tough, frustrating) or unbearable (can't cope, can't stand it)?
Jane identifies that she believes she will not be able to cope if she finds it difficult. She then asks herself:
What do my feelings tell me about what I think of myself if I find it difficult when I think that it MUST be easy? Are they telling me that I failed at finding it easy full stop or are they telling me that I'm a failure (unworthy, useless, loser, bad, weak) because I might find it difficult?
Jane identifies that she believes it would mean that she is stupid.
So Jane's anxiety-provoking belief – when she thinks about applying for the diploma which might turn out to be hard – is:
I MUST find the diploma easy and not hard. If I find it hard then I won't cope and it would prove that I'm stupid.
Putting it in the ABC model, Jane's first ABC is as follows:
I'm thinking about applying for a diploma in psychology and it might be hard
→ I must find the diploma easy.
Jane identifies the ‘B’ in the second ABC is as follows:
I MUST know how I will feel if I need to take time away from my family when I'm doing the course. It's awful that I don't know and I cannot stand not knowing how I will feel.
Jane's second ABC looks as follows:
How will I feel if it meant time away from my family
→ I must know how I will feel if
Jane identifies the ‘B’ in the third ABC as follows:
I MUST not take time away from my family during the week to work on my diploma. Doing that would be awful and it would prove I'm a bad mother and wife.
Putting it in the ABC model, Jane's third ABC is as follows:
I'm doing the course and spending too much time away
→ I MUST not take time away from my family during the week. Doing that would be awful and it would prove I'm a bad mother and wife
Write down the ABCs you worked on from the last exercise. Take one ABC at a time and ask yourself similar questions, using the following template as a guide:
1. Q1: What do my feelings of anxiety, anger and so on, tell me about what I'm demanding/insisting? What am I saying MUST or MUST not happen?
2. Q2: What do my feelings tell me about the badness of not having my demand met? Are they telling me it's bad but not the end of the world or awful, horrible, the end of the world?
3. Q3: What do my feelings tell me about difficulty of not having my demand met? Are they telling me it will be difficult (hard, tough, frustrating) or unbearable (can't cope, can't stand it, can't tolerate it)?
4. Q4: What do my feelings tell me about how I judge myself or others as a consequence of not having my demand met? Are they telling me that I failed but that I'm not a failure or are they telling me that I'm a failure (unworthy, useless, loser, rubbish, bad, weak etc.)?
Write down the full unhealthy belief for each of your ABCs. Remember all or some of the four unhealthy beliefs may be present in each of your ABCs. Refer to Jane's examples for guidance.
Put all the unhealthy beliefs under the ABC framework.
Goal Achievement Beliefs to Support Your SMART Goal
Beliefs that set you up for goal achievement are the healthy versions of the unhealthy sabotaging beliefs. You will recall that healthy beliefs are flexible, consistent with reality, logical and helpful to you.
Healthy beliefs are based on what you want to achieve (internal reality) alongside the acceptance of external reality in order to make it balanced, powerful, logical and helpful. So your healthy beliefs take reality into account while focusing on what is important to you. This means:
1. Hoping, wanting and striving for the best but accepting and planning for the worst-case scenario by negating the demand.
2. Accepting that bad things happen with the knowledge that this won't be the worst thing that could happen, that is the end of the world.
3. Accepting that difficulties arise but that they are bearable as long as you are alive.
4. Accepting that you are fallible and at times you may not get what you want but you remain a worthwhile human being regardless.
5. Healthy belief = What you want + Acceptance of reality
The next thing to do is to modify your unhealthy beliefs to include concepts of external reality and truth in them.
Example: Jane's healthy version of her first unhealthy belief
I WANT to find the diploma course easy and not hard BUT I accept there is a chance that I might find it hard.
Another version of this might be:
I hope that I find the diploma course easy and not hard BUT that does not mean I MUST find it easy.
If I find the diploma course hard then that would be difficult but it does not mean that I won't cope.
If I find the diploma course hard then I might be challenged but I will learn to bear it and cope with it.
If I find the diploma course hard it doesn't mean that I am stupid. It just means I am human like everyone else. I remain worthwhile regardless of whether I find the course hard or easy.
Write down your unhealthy beliefs.
Take each belief and each element of it and think about why it is unhealthy.
Tip: Why is the ‘MUST’ unhealthy? Why is catastrophizing badness unhealthy? Why is low frustration tolerance unhealthy? Why is self-, other- or world-damning unhealthy?
Write the healthy version for each of your beliefs. Think about what healthy negative emotions you would feel and what the belief would cause once you have internalized it.
Tip: Healthy negative emotions are, for example, concern instead of anxiety, remorse instead of guilt, annoyance instead of anger.
Personally Persuasive Reasons – What's in it for Me?
This section continues the process of reflection, but this time you will learn to think of personal reasons in favour of your healthy beliefs and personal reasons against your unhealthy beliefs. This will expand on the theory of the last section. You are now getting into more detail and injecting some energy and passion into your goal. You will be asking yourself:
· What's in it for me?
· What's in it for me in committing to and strengthening my healthy beliefs?
· What's in it for me in keeping my unhealthy beliefs?
This will help strengthen your healthy beliefs and weaken your unhealthy ones. When you can see how you will benefit you are more likely to commit yourself, otherwise you would be unlikely to convince yourself to do it or to focus on it. Your ‘what's in it for me’ reasons will begin to motivate you towards your goal. It makes sense in so many different areas of life. Think of something that you look forward to, like going on a holiday. If you didn't see any benefits to you personally in going on holiday, the chances of your going become remote.
So what's in it for you in believing that you are a worthwhile but fallible human being? What images does this statement generate in your mind? What feelings does it provoke in you? How does it affect the way that you hold yourself? How would you talk to yourself? What would other people see if you believed it?
You can see how your mind begins to work as you allow yourself to reflect on these questions. You can definitely see there is something in it for you: happiness, confidence and an increased likelihood of success and achievement. That's what is in it for you ultimately.
Your ‘what's in it for me’ lists will be used in the process of your goal achievement to help you stay focused on what you want. The negative list of ‘what's in it for me’ in keeping the unhealthy beliefs will be used when you are putting in effort, or when you feel like giving up.
Assume that a man has identified the following unhealthy and healthy belief.
People must not judge me negatively when they meet me. If they do, it's awful, unbearable and proves I'm unworthy.
I'd really like it if people did not judge me negatively when they meet me but that does not mean they must not judge me negatively either. If they do, it would be bad but not the end of the world. It would be tough but not unbearable. It would not mean I'm unworthy. I'm fallible, some people will like me and some might not. I remain worthwhile regardless because my worth does not depend on people's negative or positive judgement.
What's in it for me in keeping my unhealthy belief?
· It makes me feel anxious.
· I'm not myself in the company of other people.
· I worry about what to say.
· I worry about how I'm saying things.
· It stops me from engaging.
· I'm focused on my feelings and not on the conversation.
· It makes my hands shake.
· It makes me sweat and go red.
· It makes me feel clumsy.
· I run out of things to say.
· I end up agreeing with everything people say even if I disagree in my head.
· It makes me end up talking to people I don't want to talk to.
· I end up declining invitations.
· It affects my social life badly.
· It makes me unhappy.
· It makes me withdraw from conversations because I'm thinking about whether they like me or not.
· I say things like ‘oh, I see’, and ‘really, that's so funny’ even when it isn't.
· It makes me feel that I'm bad and not normal.
What's in it for me in strengthening my healthy belief?
· I would feel more relaxed and not anxious.
· I would be me.
· I would enjoy myself more.
· I would allow people to know me.
· People will probably like me because I'm being me.
· I will feel strong and cope if someone does not like me. That's life.
· I will express what I think and feel better.
· I will agree when I agree with someone.
· I will disagree when I disagree with someone.
· I will be focused on the conversation and on the people I'm talking to.
· I will get a better sense about other people because I won't be in my head all the time.
· My hands won't shake.
· I will be cool and comfortable.
· I will feel that I have a right just like everyone else.
· I will like myself.
· I will be open and happy.
· I will feel more confident in my self.
· I will have good conversations and be able to chat up someone I fancy.
· I will be relaxed and laugh and joke freely.
Start this exercise by writing down your healthy beliefs, one at a time. Think of all the positive personal benefits to you if you truly believed your healthy statement. What would be in it for you in believing your healthy belief in the short and in the long term? Come up with 10 to 20 positive benefits for each healthy belief.
Write down the unhealthy beliefs, one at a time, and think about what's in it for you in keeping your unhealthy belief. Hopefully, you will see that you derive very little, and definitely nothing that will help you achieve your important goals. This will show all the negative consequences to you personally in keeping these limiting beliefs. Come up with 10 to 20 reasons for each of your unhealthy beliefs.