Last New Year’s Eve, a local commentator observed that fewer Texans seemed to be observing the tradition of setting New Year’s Resolutions, while many more them seemed to be adhering to the superstition of eating black-eyed peas—a trend which suggests people might have more faith in luck than they have in effort.
Having spent many years working with teenagers and adul
Essential Factors for Achieving Goals
By Debra Moore, M.A.
ts who were trying to change their lives, I was not surprised by this fatalistic point of view. It’s a perspective that stems from the experiences of people who wanted to turn their “dreams into realities” but who never went beyond wishful thinking in terms of accomplishing their goals.
Resolutions & Results
Indeed, just about everyone has tried taking the “Resolution Road” at some point, and, for some folks, the trip ranks as a positive experience. Certainly, they may hit a few potholes along the way, but with a little “realignment,” they meet their goals. Assured by success, they approach future journeys with confidence.
However, other people have very different experiences with Resolution Road; they hit only a series of dead ends. Their paths seem (and, in fact, may be) rougher, with potholes deep enough to trap a wheel and break an axle, or perhaps their vehicle is unreliable. For whatever reasons, these trips are marked by a trail of broken promises and disasters.
Repeated attempts to pursue goals, followed by repeated failures, will lead first to discouragement, then to passive apathy and, eventually, to bitter despair. With a lifetime of painful evidence proving they cannot achieve goals, some people simply surrender to their circumstances. They can’t even manage the basic details of daily life, much less control their own destinies!
Good News / Bad News
When facing chronic failure, a person may feel helpless, but the real danger comes when he or she starts to feel hopeless. Fortunately, the situation is not hopeless at all—though it may resemble a “good news / bad news” joke. The good news: people can learn to set and accomplish the goals they desire. The bad news: they won’t do so by way of luck or an overnight miracle.
Making progress entails making changes in the mental, physical, and emotional components of an individual’s life, as well as adjusting lifelong habits. The process behind permanent change may seem complex, but the approach must fit the issues addressed. Complicated problems don’t have simple answers; however, progress is possible.
In reviewing the success stories of my clients, I have identified three essential factors for achieving their goals: (1) a range of skill building exercises, (2) the application of these skills in “real-life” contexts, and (3) positive support by guiding, monitoring, and documenting the client’s progress.
Skills: Tools for Change
The first focus is on improving thinking and performance skills. These skills constitute the tools the client will use to work toward the goals targeted for that individual. Attempting to meet goals without the proper skills will produce the same results as trying to build a house without the proper tools. (Yes, duct tape is very sticky, but you really need a hammer and nails for support walls….)
Although my clients’ plans vary depending on the person’s background and goals, typical skill building activities may include exercises in sequential thinking (a fundamental skill for time management planning) or classification (the ability to organize items or information). If the client is an adult trying to change careers by getting into law school, her program might include practice in problem-solving and logical thinking. Another adult, already in college, may be trying to improve his grade point average by improving study skills, such as note taking or memory. Teenage clients might focus on communication skills to ensure they are receiving and sending accurate messages, whether in conversations or written contexts.
Principles + Practice
The next key element in a client’s program is an in-depth review of the principles involved in achieving goals—and direct practice in putting these principles into action.
Clients learn how to establish goals, followed by practice with setting goals; they also identify the factors that have hindered their goals in the past. Using a structured approach, they practice breaking long-term goals into short-term daily / weekly tasks. Eventually, they receive “hands-on” practice using a calendar planner to track and make better use of the time available to them.
In addition, they focus on managing the obstacles which have disrupted their past efforts to reach goals, including common hindrances such as impulsive decisions or inaccurate time estimates. By the end of their training, they are able to handle time flexibly, self-monitor progress, and “roll with the punches” of shifting circumstances without losing control of their direction.
As clients make progress toward goals, they usually undergo a clear transformation in their emotional and physical conditions. By experiencing less chaos, they feel less overwhelmed; by exercising greater control, they become more confident.
The Role of Support
The final factor of goal achievement involves having appropriate support. Support plays a role throughout the improvement process by combining faith with expectations and encouragement with action.
For some people, the aid available from family members, friends, teachers, or other familiar sources, while well-intentioned, may not be adequate. Indeed, a “helping hand” from within the emotional dynamic of family ties or friendship often has difficulty providing the objective analysis needed for problem-solving.
In such cases, a professional who serves as a so-called “academic coach” can have a tremendous influence. Most people never examine their problems because it’s simply too painful to do so alone. With a coach as a guide and a cheerleader, it’s much easier to face mistakes—and to learn from them.
As long as there is a shred of hope in a person’s heart, that person may still go beyond wishful thinking to a successful reality. Reaching the reward requires focused effort over a period of time, and relying on sheer luck alone won’t work.
Which is not to say those black-eyed peas don’t have a purpose—just pass the cornbread, and I’ll give a hands-on demonstration!