Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a very particular habit with colors and numbers. I’m pretty sure it’s a slight case of synesthesia, but that’s a conversation for another day. Anywho, for the past five years I have had a color to go with each one, and then I make sure my planner and journal for that year match as well. Once I pick a color, I also tend to have a mantra. For example, 2020 was a blue year, and my mantra was “Vision, clarity, intention, execution.” However, when it comes to 2021, I’ve got absolutely nothing.
I know a lot of us may feel apprehensive about setting high expectations for 2021. Given the type of year 2020 was, that is completely understandable. Last year showed us that even if we plan and set great intentions, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Now we are in a new year, and even though that comes with the feeling of a fresh start, we’ve already witnessed an insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration, back to back. From those events alone, it’s not surprising if you are feeling stressed or anxious. I know I have noticed myself struggling with maintaining my energy and motivation, and being unsure of what I can do to make this year better than the last. If you’ve been experiencing the same thoughts, have you considered revisiting the goals you set with your therapist in 2020?
When it comes to self improvement, it’s important to start off with focusing on areas where you’ve already experienced growth. By doing so, you are able to look at yourself with grace and be more gentle. Although 2020 was a rough year, what has gone well for you? Were there any goals that you were able to achieve? Even if they weren’t goals you originally created, did you accomplish endeavors that you never would have imagined? If your answers to these questions are no, or that it’s hard for you to consider what went well, it may be helpful to redefine what success means to you. With the help of a therapist, you can begin to process how you have measured your success in the past, and where those standards stem from. As children we were accustomed to tangible items that let us know we were doing well or advancing. We would get grades on assignments, report cards, and go on to the next level or graduate when we did what was expected. But now, post grad life can look a little different. Therefore, how you determine what success looks like needs to adjust as well. Recognize that moving your body during the day, speaking to a loved one, and getting out of bed are all accomplishments to be proud of, just as graduating, getting a promotion, or buying a home would be.
Goals seem to feel easier to achieve when they align with your values. Though they may seem similar, your values typically come first and are what influence the goals that you create. If you value relationships, then a goal of yours may be to speak to a loved one every day. If you value faith, then your goal may be to read a bible verse or pray each day. So as you look back on your goals from 2020, what do they show you value? What made you create them in the first place? Do the goals that you created in 2020 still match the person that you are currently? Were they goals that you intentionally created, or were they what you thought you “should” be doing? We live in a society that allows us to constantly compare ourselves to others. We have created these timelines and expectations of what we need to have done by a certain age. It seems we have turned birthdays, which are milestones, into deadlines. So make sure the goals that you choose to revisit are parallel to the person you are becoming, and not who you feel pressured to be. Focus on who you want to be as a whole, and then your goals can be those small daily habits you can begin to do, to become that person.
So you have reflected on your accomplishments to view yourself with more compassion and have a better understanding of how your values are shaping your goals. Now it is time to assess the areas in your life that still need some improvement. A few questions to consider include: What were your goals in 2020? Have your goals changed since then, and if so, how? Are your goals specific to certain areas in your life? Recognize that the goals that you have for yourself, and the goals you have in your therapy sessions can be different. Yes they are all goals you want to accomplish, but they may speak to different parts of you. Therapy goals will typically involve healing, understanding yourself more, or gaining tools to help you manage your mental health or communicate effectively in your relationships. Your goals outside of therapy may focus on daily habits you want to build or milestones you want to achieve.
A common template for goal setting is the S.M.A.R.T. Goals technique. Make sure that you are Specific about what you want this goal to be. What do you want to achieve, what will be needed, and how will achieving this goal improve your life? How will you Measure your progress? For example, is there a certain amount of money you want to save, or number of pounds you want to lose? Is this goal realistic or Attainable? Yes you have to work towards goals, but they should not cause you to put unnecessarily high standards or pressures on yourself. They should be goals that you are able to control, and not ones that depend on external circumstances or other people. Is the goal Relevant to the life you want to create for yourself? What is the Time that you are giving yourself to accomplish this goal? Can there be smaller timelines to follow, that lead up to this deadline? Once you have your goals, the most important thing to remember is to be flexible with them. Even if you set specifics and timelines, give yourself room to adjust if it doesn’t seem to be working. Allow yourself to explore other possibilities. Remember, there are plenty of ways to get to an outcome.
Once you have the goals in mind, your therapist can be a great accountability partner. One of the positive things about therapy is that it allows you to have an objective person that can bring to attention the messages you have internalized and how they impact your daily habits. Once you are aware of what needs to change, your therapist can continue to check in on if you are implementing what is discussed outside of sessions. It may be helpful to create small action steps that you want to take at the end of each session, and build consistency in completing them. Goal setting together is the start, but the real work begins when you invoke the changes into your routine so that you can create the life you want to live.
Though this article discusses revisiting the goals you and your therapist have set, of course you can still implement these steps if you don’t have a therapist. If one of your goals is to begin seeing a therapist and you are unsure of where to start, you can visit the home page, and submit your email address to receive our guide on the first steps to begin therapy. Our directory can also provide you with a vast amount of therapists in your area to help you start your journey.