Once you take the time to identify the need to make changes and decide on a goal the next step is to figure out how to take action and make it a reality. This part of making changes can seem overwhelming. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.
Congratulations! You've evaluated some things in your life and decided it's time to take some risks and make some changes and you are ready for action. But what do you do now? How do you figure out how to get to the overall goal? The important part of this process is to accept that it requires a bit of patience. By doing so you will stand a greater chance of maintaining work toward your goal as opposed to giving up quickly when you feel you are not making progress quickly enough.
It is not uncommon to start off with a great deal of energy and put your all into reaching your goal. While this is a great display of enthusiasm it can also lead to a quick burnout when changes don't occur as quickly as we envisioned. Taking time to pace yourself has many rewards. 1) You really absorb the process and learn from any mistakes. 2) You grow comfortable with each step and have a greater chance of staying committed to the changes you make. 3) You can recover better from any setbacks that might occur.
One of the keys to sticking with your goals is to be realistic about the outcome. We have a tendency to idealize what our ultimate goal will look like. By doing this we have the potential to set ourselves up for failure because things are not going the way we expected. You may learn that, along the way, some adjustments to the process or the overall goal may be helpful in keeping on track.
A loose example would be if you decided you wanted to buy a luxury car and you knew the make you wanted to buy and showed up at a dealership. Each car manufacturer tends to sell a number of cars-economy to luxury models. Within each category there tends to be a few different models, each with slightly different options, such as cruise control, GPS, or heated seats. You started your goal knowing you wanted to buy a luxury car but you also realize you can only afford so much.
Although all of the bells and whistles of a luxury car are very appealing you start to see that something more economical might be a better fit. You also may be faced with an option to buy or lease. As you view each model you begin to make a list of the must-have's while keeping cost in mind. In some situations, the stress does not end there and you are faced with the challenge of getting the best deal with the sales person. The experience may become too stressful and potentially turn you off from taking the time to get the best fit for what you can afford.
A way to manage the process of finding a car that fits your needs would be to take your time researching model options and price options as best you can. You might even want to consider some alternative car manufacturers that offer similar options at a better price that have equal quality standards.
But how does this relate to personal goals to change things within myself? This example is just a snapshot of understanding that things may not go the way you envision them- so be prepared to make some adjustments and understand the overall goal may not be 100% of what we expected. Let's try another example of a goal- reducing negative thoughts. Notice the goal is not getting rid of negative thoughts- the more realistic approach would be to reduce symptoms.
A helpful approach would be to work with a therapist or counselor- someone who is unbiased- to help you achieve this goal. It will also help to understand how your goal of reducing negative thoughts will be a helpful change. Be as specific as you can. For some people negativity takes away from enjoying things in life that could potentially help improve the overall day to day living. It could free up time to devote to personal enrichment activities and introduce better connections with people and community.
Staying focused on the benefits of making the changes will also help keep you on track. To reduce negative thinking you may want to consider a couple models within therapy that have been proven to help such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness techniques, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). CBT and DBT are proven models to address behavioral changes, such as reducing negative thinking, by way of taking steps of identifying problem areas and working to change them a little at a time. For example, one aspect of CBT can help individuals by identifying what is known as “Distorted Thinking Styles”.
There are several thought distortions within CBT- such as- the Mental Filter where you only pay attention to certain types of evidence. In example, you notice your failures and neglect to see your successes. Another cognitive distortion can be Emotional Reasoning where, because we feel a certain way, what we think must be true; such as, “I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.” These examples, using CBT, can be helpful because they give the negative actions a label or name that we can address and incorporate into a goal.
Whatever healthy manner you choose to work toward your goals it is important to work on this process by practicing it regularly. If you find yourself drifting away from practicing the steps toward your goals, remind yourself why you want to make changes in your life. It's okay to also consider revising your goals if you find that you are having a tough time. This may mean taking even smaller steps to accomplish what you set out to do for yourself. Try to remember not to rush progress so that you can develop life-long healthy changes. And don't forget- you are worth the time!
Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.