Confidence & Success with CBT / REBT – Blog #7


Blog #7 Overcoming Obstacles to Setting Achievable Goals

Welcome to blog number 7 in our series looking at how you can achieve confidence and success with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy / Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy.

In this blog, we’re continuing to explore step number three: Setting achievable goals. Read our previous blogs for steps one and two, identifying what you want and fact-finding to see the story so far.

As with the previous steps, we understand you might come up against some obstacles in successfully setting yourself an achievable goal. But don’t worry, here we take some of the most common obstacles and show you how to overcome them.

Obstacles to Step 3: Setting Achievable Goals

Having carried out the two previous steps you should still be on track to achieving your goal. You have gathered all the information and you are experiencing a sense of excitement about working towards your goal but somehow you are not able to carry out the vital step of goal setting.

People avoid or give up during Step 3: Setting Achievable Goals because of the following obstacles:

  1. I do not know how to goal set
  2. It is too difficult and too much effort to goal set.
  3. I no longer desire what I want.
  4. Goal setting is a step closer to me taking action which makes me feel anxious.

Obstacle 1 “I don’t know how to goal set” – and how to overcome it

When you begin to consider goal setting for the first time you may never had attempted anything like this before. It would be quite natural not to know how to complete this step without reading and completing the exercises in the previous blog. If, however, you find yourself putting off reading the blog or not completing the exercises it is possible you are holding an unhealthy irrational belief about not knowing how to goal set.

Unhealthy beliefs will be around the general theme of: A Demand to perform well or outstandingly at all times

When you avoid this step, or find yourself giving up at this point it is likely to be provoked by holding an unhealthy belief about demanding to be able to perform well under any circumstances.

You may be holding irrational beliefs that include the unhealthy demand, and also the three possible derivative beliefs of awfulising, LFT (Low Frustration Tolerance) and self damning and will look something like the following:

I absolutely must know how to goal set. It is awful if I don’t, I cannot stand it and it proves I am stupid.

When we make demands like the ones above we are not accepting the fact that it is acceptable to “not know” how to do something. Many of us hold an unhealthy irrational belief that we absolutely must know how to do something, regardless whether we have learnt it or not. Just because other people know how to do it, whatever it is, in this case, goal setting, we assume that everyone knows how to do it and somehow you “should” know it too. There is a tendency to think along the following lines:

It must be obvious, what’s wrong with me, if I don’t know how to do this how will I ever succeed?
I can’t do this, I am stupid.
I don’t how to do this so now I will never be able to get what I want

If you demand that you must know how to goal set before you have even learnt how to do this, it will lead to failing this task which can then lead to further unhealthy beliefs about lack of achievement and failure. These beliefs will have a tendency to provoke unhealthy negative, such as, emotions of anxiety and depression

Obstacle 2 “Goal setting is difficult and too much effort.” – and how to overcome it

In Obstacle 2 when you have thoughts like ‘goal setting is difficult or too much effort’ they are provoked by an unhealthy about effort and difficulty. Unhealthy beliefs will be around the general theme of:

Life must be easy, comfortable and effortless

Some beliefs that may be held are around this theme are:

Goal setting must not be too hard or difficult to do. It’s intolerable when it isn’t.
Goal setting must not be too difficult. I cannot stand it when it is.
I must find goal setting easy and not too hard. It’s intolerable when it isn’t.

There are a large variety of beliefs around this central theme as well as the more specific ones above.

When you make the above demands they cannot be fulfilled, and you are not able to accept that goal setting can be hard and take effort. By holding the unhealthy belief that it must not be so you will disturb yourself to the level that you will avoid the discomfort of doing it and ultimately you will fail at this task. Accepting that goal setting may be difficult and require some effort, that you may not enjoy it all the time either, are not reasons to stop or to give up.

REALITY CHECK – MUST

There is no evidence that life has to be easy and effortless or comfortable. We all prefer it that way, but reality tells us life is not always so. There is no law of Nature that the specific belief about goal setting must easy and not too difficult. Difficulties can be overcome and not all experiences are easy or effortless. When we hold a demand that they should be easy or effortless you will attempt to avoid the tasks that provoke the feelings of discomfort and effort and not attempt this next step of goal setting.

COMMON SENSE

It is perfectly reasonable to wish that life is comfortable and life is easy and nothing is too difficult however it does not follow just because you wish or desire it so that it MUST be so. You will have learnt as a young child that you couldn’t always have what you want and you learnt resilience to that discomfort about not having what you want. You can accept the fact that you may want something to be so, in this case, that goal setting is easy and not too difficult but it may not be so.

HELPFULNESS

The belief that goal setting MUST be easy and not too difficult is unhelpful. The demand would provoke anxiety at the thought of goal setting and lead you to avoidant behaviour. It will sabotage your goals, as you look for more effortless tasks than goal setting.

Obstacle 3 “I no longer desire what I want.” – and how to overcome it

Often after spending time and energy in identifying what you want, you find yourself wondering if what you have identified is really want you want to do. This may trigger feelings of anxiety as you realise you still are uncertain of what you want. Coming to terms with the fact that it may take a few attempts to discover what you wish to commit your time and energy to is normal and many of us experience this. Knowing and accepting this will help you return to Step 1 (Identifying What You Want) and re-look at what you want.

Unhealthy beliefs will be around the general theme of:

I must perform well or outstandingly at all times

More specific beliefs may be:

I must know what I want to do in my life
I must be able to set clear goals

and may lead to further derivative beliefs such as:

I cannot stand the fact I am not able to set clear goals after all this effort (LFT)
I must know what I want in life, the fact that I do not is awful (Awfulising)
I am useless the fact that I do not know what I want proves it. (Self Damning)

REALITY CHECK – MUST

The demand ‘I must know what I want to do in my life’, is not realistic. Is there a Law of Nature that states that one MUST know what we want to do? No. If that was the case everyone would always know what they wanted. It is obvious this demand is not consistent with reality.

COMMON SENSE

When you insist or demand what you want, in this case ‘to know for certain what you want’, it does not make sense. Just because you demand something does not make it happen or make it so. It would preferable if you didn’t have doubts and uncertainties but it doesn’t make sense to demand that it must be so.

HELPFULNESS

Demands are unhelpful. They provoke unhealthy negative emotions, in this case anxiety, which will hinder any progress to achieving your desired outcome. Helpful beliefs, based on preferences rather than absolutist demands, do not provoke anxiety and you will be to think more clearly and have a greater likelihood of success.

Obstacle 4 “Anxiety as goal setting is a step closer to me taking action” – and how to overcome it

This step of goal setting takes you nearer to achieving your bigger term goal. Anxiety can often be provoked by holding an unhealthy belief about the fact that you might have to do something and demanding that you do it well.

It is a demand around the theme of:
I must perform well at all times

There are other beliefs that will occur around this theme, some examples are:
I must do well and achieve the goals I set for myself.
I must act on the goals I set myself if I do not, it would be so awful, I could not tolerate it, and just proves I am a failure. (Awfulising, LFT + Self Damning)

REALITY CHECK – MUST

When we make demands that we MUST do certain things we disturb ourselves as these types of beliefs provoke feelings of anxiety and often depression which make achieving the demand more difficult than when we hold a healthy preference belief. Beliefs that are healthy remain consistent with reality. There is no Law of Nature that states you MUST carry out the goals you set for yourself. If it was so everyone who ever decided on their goals would then act on them. You can accept that you don’t have to do anything even after you have set a goal. It’s not a good thing to do, especially if you are passionate about your goal but who says that you MUST do anything?

COMMON SENSE

Holding the belief ‘I have set my goals so I must act and make them happen‘, does not make sense. It is natural that you desire to act on them, however, by demanding ‘they absolutely MUST happen does not logically follow. There is a far greater possibility of completing your goals if you take the absolutist demand out of the equation.

HELPFULNESS

This demand that it I MUST act on my goals is unhelpful. It does not make sense, it has no basis in reality, provokes feelings of anxiety and stops you from taking action. The more you insist that you must act, the higher the feeling of anxiety which in turn will increase your tendency to want to avoid that feeling by distracting tasks. Most unhelpful.

This third step of goal setting is all about clearly identifying in a very specific way what you are looking to achieve. By establishing clearly identified goals that are specific where you can measure your progress as you work towards your bigger goals that are achievable, realistic and in a timely way.

By this time you have not only clearly identified what you want, gathered all the information you need to know in more detail just what you want, you now have a set of SMART goals ready to plan how to put them into action.

Tips for Step 3 Setting Achievable Goals

  • Consistently prefer to do well rather than demanding or insisting that you must.
  • Make a SMART goal that is important to you i.e. choose something that you really want, is significant or interests you.
  • Write your goal down using language that states what you want rather than what you do not want.
  • Look at your goal regularly (daily is preferable). Make a compelling image of your goal. Visualise that compelling image daily.
  • Just before you complete achieve your goal remember to remember to plan for your next goal. The natural arousal energy of goal execution will reduce on completion and to continue to keep motivated and goal focused its helpful to have your next goal in mind ready to begin the steps again.

Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.
Aristotle

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