Goal-Setting for Beginners

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

In this blog entry, I'll talk about setting and achieving goals. I'll also inaugurate an online goals club so that we can check in with each other as we move toward our goals for 2008. What I'm writing about here are techniques that have worked for me, and I believe they'll work for you if you commit to using them. I'll start with the basics, and in future blogs, I'll talk specifically about goals like finding work or moving into your own apartment.

Goal setting can be as simple as you want it to be, starting with the premise that you'll succeed at getting results if you write down your goals and commit to re-reading them. The simplest form of "goal setting" is a to-do list you write down before you go to bed and review in the morning before heading out. For a lot of us new to recovery, it will do just fine to plan to do one or two new things each day that bring us closer to our dream.

Denis Waitley, a motivational author who wrote the New Dynamics of Goal Setting, tells us, "Very often an idea becomes a goal when we realize it meets a need in our lives." To guarantee results, a goal has to be S.M.A.R.T.-specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and tangible. It all starts with you. How do you define recovery? What changes would you like to make to boost your self-confidence or take your recovery to the next level?

I have a suggestion as to how to begin: First, use a to-do list, and as you feel the pride of crossing off each item, you'll graduate to short, intermediate and long-term goals geared to a year, three-to-five years, and ten years or more, respectively.

To show you how I do this, I keep a "goals binder" where I've included my typed-up objectives. For this year, one of my short-term goals was to travel to Boston. My medium-term goal is to publish my memoir, and for the long-term I want to retire from full-time work at the age of 65.

Specifically, on one sheet, I listed my "Goals for 2007" for self, home and career. Some of them I achieved; others I didn't-like "wear makeup on the weekends." For home, I wanted to "buy new curtains"-I'll do that in the fall. Note well: some goals are for self-improvement, others satisfy an external desire. The way to stay motivated is to keep it simple and not cram in 10 or 20 goals because you think you're "supposed" to constantly achieve things, be they material or from your inner core.

Good suggestions for yearly goal categories are self, home, career, relationships, finances, and health. Remember, you don't need to use all six, you can choose among them or create your own headings, and feel free to list just one or two goals if that's what suits you now.

As for goals being S.M.A.R.T., I'll give you one of my own: "Publish my memoir on or near fall 2008." To do that, I have sub-goals: for 2007, in the summer, I'll work with the editor to revise and re-write my manuscript, and in the fall, I'll query 15 literary agents. For 2008, I'll sign on with an agent in the winter, in the spring I'll make the final revisions to the book, and in the summer I'll get ready to publish the book. In the fall 2008, Left of the Dial will hit the bookstores.

There, I've done something elemental to one's success: I've thrown myself down a challenge, in print, that I will work to live up to. It may not happen the way I envision, and that's okay. However, I find that writing down specific, concrete goals gives me a jumping-off point. Nothing is written in stone, even though it's written down, but I do believe the act of recording and reviewing our goals gives us structure and makes us more successful. For me, it's easier to set a goal and revise it, than to swim along with the tide and not know where I'll be next.

For a goal to make sense it has to be one you set, not an outcome that other people, however well intentioned, think you "should" strive for. If you're not vested in your plans for the future, you won't want to achieve them. And if you don't write them down, you'll get distracted by competing demands and let them slip out of your grasp.

If you spend an hour reflecting on your life and where you want to go, you'll come to know what you need to do to get there. Be honest with yourself, and be realistic. My classic example is that I'll never shoot hoops for the Celtics because I'm only five feet tall.

Early in your recovery, you'll often need to work on a treatment plan with a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist whose professional judgment is important. Such goals could start with ADL (activities of daily living) skills, such as taking a shower, cooking dinner or doing laundry. Always, the plan should be drawn up with you in mind, with your feedback. If you resist what your treatment team suggests, be truthful: is it because they've set an impossible goal, or are you afraid to take the next step?

Though I believe we need to be flexible and adaptable to the changes that come our way, instead of micromanaging our lives, I do find that setting a few key goals gives us a sense of purpose and pride. To strike a healthy balance between "here and the horizon" allows us to set out with confidence instead of despairing that we'll ever get there.

Think about what I've talked about in this blog entry. Right now, I'd like to create an online "goals club" where we can get support and feedback from each other. Even if you choose not to write in, that's okay, maybe something I've written rings true and you're motivated to fly solo. I'm going to be the first to chime in: By December 1, 2007, I will have queried 15 literary agents. To do that, I will work with the editor to craft a killer query letter. Next, I'll research the 15 literary agents so that I can tailor the first two sentences of the query to each agent's needs. Lastly, I'll mail out the queries on November 25th, and then wait for the responses. I'll follow-up with the ones who don't get back to me in six weeks.

As I write this, I urge you to keep goal-setting as simple as possible when you're first starting out. Find a buddy you can bounce around ideas with, or join in the online goals club I've started here. If you want to participate, I suggest writing a SharePost in which you document your objective, ask for feedback, and then write back to let us know how it's going. Perhaps we can designate the last week of the month as a check-in period.

Sometimes our recovery starts the moment we walk out the front door. I salute you for taking these first steps

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.