Power of a Vision: Setting Effective Goals

By Joyce Li, Ph.D.

Think about those family or personal projects that you want to start … Or, the 2008 new-year resolutions that you promised yourself a few months ago. How many of them are considered "smooth sailing" and in good progress, if not already accomplished?

Developing a concrete vision of success by setting achievable goals is a powerful catalyst to success. We set goals to focus our energy to work on something that is interesting, important or worthwhile doing. For example, during a therapy session, the therapist and client very often discuss the issues at hand, explore the plausible factors or causes for the issues and come up with goals that the client will work towards in order to achieve results that are favorable to the client.

For instance, a client who suffered from anxiety comes for therapy and complained about fatigue, nervousness, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate and general apathy. She had noticed these symptoms for almost half a year and they were getting progressively worse. The client also mentioned that she was very concerned about her financial situation since she had missed a few days of work in the last couple of weeks because getting up in the morning was just too hard for her. She feared her boss may find a reason to fire her due to poor attendance. After the initial assessment, the therapist asked the client some specific questions:

"What prompted you to seek professional counseling at this time?"

"What would be a small, concrete sign that would tell you that your anxiety level has improved and that you are heading in the right direction towards your normal healthy outlook?

The client had some more discussions with the therapist and gave the answer to the second question after much thought. She slowly expressed that getting back her energy level, keeping at her job, preparing healthy meals for the family and being able to spend time with her husband are all very important to her.

She was very doubtful that this would happen right away since she has tried taking all kinds of vitamins, trying meditation routines and other suggestions from her friends before going for counseling. However, if she were to see herself getting up at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday and be in a good enough shape to get to work five days in a row, she would definitely consider this a huge step towards the right direction.

In this case, the client has just established her initial goal of therapy. The therapist's next step is to help the client to reach that goal.

As therapists, our job is to support our clients in their journey of change. Sometimes, underlying issues need to be uncovered in order to shed light on the root causes for the proper corrective actions to be taken. Other times, we need to facilitate our clients to set the appropriate goals as part of the corrective actions.

Vision is powerful. When clients can develop a concrete vision of what success looks like, they can then focus their energy towards the future reality. A vision also provides context and meaning to their hard work. Goal setting helps paint the vision of success. It is a critical and worthwhile task. This technique to goal-setting also applies to our personal lives. Following are characteristics of effective goals, which I call the "T-I-F-F-S" technique.

Strategies for Effective Goal Setting: the T-I-F-F-S Technique

The goal is concrete or imaginable. Sometimes it can be a small one.
Having a goal that is vague or ambiguous does not paint a clear picture of what outcome to expect. Conversely, setting a tangible goal enables you to actually visualize the outcome.

The goal is important to you - Ask: What is in it for me?
If the goal is of interest to you and it is important, you will work hard to attain it.

Attainable - Can this be done?
Setting a goal to lose 10 pounds in one week is simply not achievable for most people under normal circumstances.

Does it address fundamental challenges (to the point)?
Though a person may have a few pressing issues to overcome, focusing on solving problems one at a time is usually more effective than trying to solve the world's poverty through one campaign.

Can you explain your goal in one sentence or less?

We engage in self-talk all the time. When we set a goal, it is important that we can rehearse the goal in our minds when we need to be reminded. You may find it helpful to put sticky notes on your fridge or in the bathroom mirror to remind you of your goal of getting from size 12 to size 10 pants in three months.

May your performance exceeds your goals as your apply the "T-I-F-F-S" technique in your goal-setting!!

About Joyce Li
As a mother of four children, wife, career woman and church volunteer, Joyce understands about the rewards, demands and stress of everyday living. Joyce is a certified psychotherapist and workshop facilitator who specializes in helping her clients find light in tough situations. Visit Joyce at www.fullnessoflife.com or email her at joyce@fullnessoflife.ca

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