By: Kris Harrison, MA
“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.”.- Khalil Gibran
As an undergrad, choosing a major was a daunting task. Like many young adults, I felt as if I had to choose a career path by age 20 or suffer a life of poverty. Fortunately, this is not the case. Likewise, when I first signed a major in psychology, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of schooling required to accomplish my dream of becoming a therapist. Four years of undergrad, which at the time felt like forever, followed by another 3-6 years of graduate school!? Oof! On top of that, just thinking about the the cost of tuition made me light-headed. I remember my parents saying “take it one day at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be done.”
Well, of course, my parents were right. Having recently graduated with my Masters in Counseling Psychology, it is a bit surreal to look back and reflect on the steps taken to get where I am today. What was once a nebulous dream, with an endpoint spanning out into the unknown future, has day by day become a reality.
Though there were stressors, failures, essays, graduate applications, crummy jobs, irate clients, and so on, what got me through was a loving group of supporters and micro-goals. Countless friends, teachers, family and “hang in there” cat posters helped me solidify my goals by creating small, manageable steps while providing a larger perspective to work within.
This is what I would like to offer here. The following 5 methods have helped me and countless clients obtain and maintain our goals, allowing us to accomplish things that had only existed in our dreams. As you plan for the future, keep them in mind and hopefully you will pass along the same encouragement to others.
- Specific is Terrific. When we set out to accomplish a goal, we usually start out vague. We find ourselves saying, “I want to be a doctor”or “I want to be happy/healthy/have a better job.” While starting with a big picture can be helpful, creating specific, measurable steps will help our goals become more attainable. For starters, our goals should be S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-limited. Following this process will provide a clearer vision of our end result and allow us to track progress along the way. A good template looks something like this:
Goal: I want to be 50% less stressed at the end of each day by August 2015
Step 1: Go to bed at 10pm each night.
Step 2: Replace coffee with tea 2 out of 5 days a week.
Step 3: Set aside one hour each evening to read and write.
Step 4: Organize and sort mail and email each evening after work…etc.
By doing this, we provide ourselves with objectives that can be measured, are simple, specific, easy to accomplish while providing a set time each day to accomplish them. With this, you also have a checklist available to mark after completing each step.
- Be Open and Patient. Major life changes can be met with resistance and can cause anxiety. Sharing your rational with friends and family will help demystify the process and help avoid defensiveness. While you may be open to change at this point, others may not and project their own dissatisfaction onto you. Be patient and modest while articulating your case. If you don’t believe in the possibility of change, neither will anyone else.
- Forgive Yourself. When checking our progress, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves. The one thing that can ruin our momentum is a case of the “whatevers”. If we miss one day or week of a specific step, it’s alright. We’re human, life is complex and does not always work with our schedule. The simpler the steps are, the easier it will be to get back into the groove. This happens often when planning for the future. If one thing does not go as planned, it does not mean all hope is lost. Habits are hard to change and a goal is simply a collection of new habits. Give yourself a break when you mess up.
- Use Positive Reinforcement. It’s important to reward ourselves for our accomplishments. Most of the time, goals are discarded because we feel as if we are sacrificing too much to meet them. Give yourself a break, eat a piece of chocolate cake, take a road trip, or go to the movies after completing a step. This way, we stay on track without feeling like we’re punishing ourselves.
- Breathe. Life is lived from moment to moment and though we often become lost in our thoughts of the future, we should remember to stop and breathe. It is important to be present for the moments of your life and enjoy each step, because what’s the use of making plans for tomorrow if we cannot enjoy today?