I’ve written here about goal-setting for the year – about what kind of goals to set, and about how to stay on track towards your goals over time.
But what if I told you that there was a better way to do goal setting?
Traditionally, when we think through goal setting, we think about a tangible number towards our goal – so as examples, we may be trying to reach an ideal weight, income, or number of places traveled – these are things that we can measure, and so the modern wisdom is that we can measure our progress towards these goals, which keeps us on track.
The problem with these traditional goals is that we can also measure exactly how far away we are from reaching them, which can also act as a deterrent.
I’ve known people that struggle with weight loss goals because their focus was on a number that is on a scale – which, to be honest, we don’t have control over day-to-day. So that very same scale that measures progress can become the very factor that causes people to give up.
What if we began to define our goals in terms of values instead of numbers?
Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash
Here are some examples of values:
Now – take one of these values and ask yourself these questions:
The benefit here is that you still get to work towards your numbers goals, but without the overarching shame and guilt.
Let’s say you chose these values from that list (granted, there are MANY more options, but I’m just choosing from the list above) – health, presence, and understanding.
Your kids come home from school and immediately begin arguing (over who knows what). They need help with homework, and yet dinner needs to be made. Your phone rings just as they reach frustration with the math problem they are working on. You then realize that dinner is burning in the oven because you set the oven timer wrong. Oh, and this is exactly the moment that your husband walks in the door from work and enters the chaos with wide-eyes.
First of all – is this just my life?
If you are looking at tangible, regular goals – such as weight loss, income, or something else – in this particular scenario, they may not seem related.
But because you have defined values, you can decide how to respond according to those in particular.
How would I respond to my kids while focusing specifically on health, presence, and understanding? I can address the oven timer (turn it off and pull dinner out) and ignore my phone call for the time being and be present to help them with their homework.
Once homework is addressed, I can – in turn – give myself understanding that dinner is not always going to be perfect. I can give my husband that same understanding – after all, he just entered a pretty chaotic situation without warning – by just greeting him and allowing him to not be consumed by the disorder unless he is prepared to do so.
Instead of choosing to give up on dinner, I can decide not to eat my stress (which addresses my health value. Additionally, with presence still in mind, I may also ask my family to help me prepare another option for dinner – allowing family time together, and at the same time modeling for them this understanding that I am prioritizing in life).
Obviously, this is best-case, over time, and with lots of practice.
In practice, at first, it may look like me turning into a yelling, screaming mess at all involved parties – my kids, my husband, and the oven.
Transitioning to Values-Based Goals
It’s important to choose values that align with who you are and where you want to be.
If you have weight or health goals in mind, it can help to look at what is driving those goals. Do you want to meet that weight goal so that you can spend time with your kids (presence), live longer (health), or be able to do things that you aren’t able to physically do right now (adventure)?
If you have career goals, what is driving those? Is it having power in your circles or community (influence)? Is it a certain financial status that you want to reach (wealth)? Or is it just a matter of learning and being the best in your field (challenge/wisdom/excellence)?
Think through some scenarios that you may encounter in life and how focusing on values may change the way you approach conflict or decision-making.
Clearly, we are talking about character-building. In order to transition to focusing on this, like anything else, it takes practice.
As always, the point in setting goals of any kind is to move towards living your best life. When we set numerical goals, it can sometimes backfire in making us feel less-than, not enough, or guilty every time we don’t stack up to exactly where we think those numbers should fall.
But when we set goals based on our values and character goals, we can more easily grow into the person that we are trying to be, without feeling as though we have backslid every time the scale, or our bank account, or career path doesn’t look exactly the way we want it, and with the added bonus of feeling good about the decisions that we make along the way.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.