Updated: Jun 30
- Charles Jacobson, CHWC
March 20, 2023
So here we are, chugging along through the first quarter of 2023 and those pesky little New Years resolution goals (remember them?) seem to be sputtering out or struggling to make it down the road with us as intended. That business goal, weight loss aspiration, stress reduction technique or exercise routine that you expected to be well under way or achieved by now seems to still only be a passing road sign pointing to where you WANT to be, but not the actual destination you want to reach.
Wait, shouldn’t it be a simple matter to just pick a goal that you say you want, work on it and achieve it? It may seem like it should be that simple sometimes, but in reality, we’re complex physical and mental machines that are driven by meaning and purpose which can be distracted by the many potholes, road signs and off ramps along the way to that goal destination. So how do you create a meaningful goal and make it stick?
What is a meaningful life goal
A meaningful life goal is a subjective thing from one person to another, but in short, life goals can be defined as “the desired states that people seek to obtain, maintain, or avoid” (Nair, 2003). This is a nice clean straightforward definition, but meaningful life goals can be a bit more complex than that. They are what drives our behaviors over the long run-in accordance to what we want to experience through our own values, beliefs, and strengths. Think of it as a vision of your future best self doing what you want to achieve, what you'll look like doing that action and how you’ll feel once you're performing that meaningful goal so successfully that it becomes effortless and a part of who you are.
A list of life goals one might pursue can cover a lot of road and might focus on things like:
· Building or strengthening relationships
· Creating greater job satisfaction
· Improving one’s physical abilities or appearance
· Reaching financial security
· Tapping into one’s emotional resilience
· Eating a healthier diet
and the list goes on and on and on….
So, what drives us to either head down the road towards a goal or sit on the side of the highway looking at the goal map pondering which direction we should start off in? Part of that answer might depend on where the goal is coming from. What I mean by that is did you envision, explore and build the goal to reach (Intrinsic motivation) or did it come from somewhere else (Extrinsic motivation).
If it’s an extrinsically motivated goal, it’s being given to us by someone else and we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity because we want to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. “Clean your room or else!” If it’s an intrinsically motivated goal, you engage in the behavior because you find it rewarding, enjoyable or meaningful to you. "Working out energizes me!" With intrinsic motivation, you are performing an activity for its own sake rather than from the desire for some external reward. Successfully completing or maintaining this behavior itself IS the reward.
As you may already be concluding, self-determined or intrinsic motivations tend to give a person more control to make choices on how to pick, focus on and pursue a life goal when they are ready. Autonomy is a core human drive, and we are hardwired to dislike being told what to do. Remember those New Years’ goals that were sputtering out or struggling to avoid those potholes? If you would, take a moment and think back on how you came to make that your goal. Was it extrinsically or intrinsically motivated and did it connect with your core values, beliefs and with who you want to be? “Self-oriented visions, plans, and behaviors are the ones that stick (Moore, Jackson, & Tschannen-Moran, 2016)”.
The benefit of understanding a goal path
“Happiness requires having clear cut goals in life that give us a sense of purpose and direction (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). The way a person engages, envisions, plans, and acts on their goal can help build their self-efficacy, positive emotional state and create mastery experiences along the way that support their purpose and meaning in life. How a goal connects to one person’s beliefs and values may connect in entirely different ways with another even if the desired goal result is the same. An example might be losing 20 lbs. A 25-year-old might want to power through this goal by working out in the gym (having a desire to tone the body, or for a physical look), a 70-year-old might need to focus more on diet and moderate exercise (having a desire to control cholesterol and blood pressure so they can play with the grand kids).
Both may have been told by a doctor that they “Have to” lose weight for their health, but as we see above, each addressed the need with a different intrinsic desire that held real meaning to them. They can both move down the road towards their life goals with success but for reasons that connect differently to their personal motivations and who they are at their core.
Tips on building your goal
Henry Ford was quoted as saying: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t - you’re right.” There is so much truth in that statement. Building our self-efficacy or the belief that we can do something can be a powerful tool in successfully participating in a goal. The more you believe that you can accomplish a task, the more likely you are to do it and do it well. The opposite is also true, the more you believe you can't do something the higher the chances of self-doubt and struggle. Each positively acknowledge step you take towards an envisioned life goal is a success that supports you in your desired long-term outcome.
When exploring goals, try reflecting on the following:
- Does your goal have clarity – What in your life will change in connection to reaching your goal and how will you know when you’ve achieving it or are on the right road towards it?
• Considers your goals complexity - Too complex can be overwhelming in the beginning and might be viewed as something that takes too long to reach.
• Is it challenging – Finding the sweet spot somewhere between easy and difficult is worth exploring.
• Is there a commitment to it – Did you create this life goal, and do you have full "buy in" and accountability to yourself on it?
• Feedback – Check in with yourself or someone to discuss your progress on the goal process and listen with an open growth mindset to the feedback you receive.
Remember, you do you
It may feel quicker to start at a point on the map that's been given to us, but traveling from point A to point B isn't always quick if the directions aren't clear. You might end up on the side of the road with questions or doubts about what was given to you to accomplish.
When we map out goals built on our own vision, strengths, values and beliefs that connect with us in ways that we see as meaningful, we can travel down the road with more support and self-confidence in ourselves.
Could you use some roadside assistance with your goal?
If you're looking for help with reading your map, have questions or need a jumpstart, I’d be happy to connect and discuss if coaching is right for you. Visit me at www.steppingtowardserenity.org to schedule 1 free 30-minute secure telehealth coaching sessions and begin your journey of Stepping Toward Serenity.
Charles Jacobson is a Certified Health and Wellness Coach for adults. Charles is an accountability partner in navigating behavioral change and exploring opportunities for growth and development.
Charles can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (513) 212-7995. You can also visit us at https://www.steppingtowardserenity.org.
Nair, K. S. (2003). Life goals: the concept and its relevance to rehabilitation. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(2), 192-202.
Moore, M., Jackson, E., and Tschannen-Moran, B. (2016). Coaching Psychology Manual.
Miller, W.R., and Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing Helping People Change, Third Edition. The Guilford Press, NY, NY.