Tips For Setting Goals In A Positive & Meaningful Way
By Maja Kostanski
"The next weeks or so, you are about to be inundated with information that supports your belief that you are not enough. Do you want to put your energy into changing who you are? Or challenging that belief? One has limited results, the other, limitless." - Kate Horsman
I came across this quote a few days ago and loved it because it shares the same message as a poem that was written by an amazing Looking Glass volunteer titled "You Are Enough, A Thousand Times Enough", which you can read here or you can watch and share here. "You are enough" is such a powerful and important message, and even more so at this time of year, when we will inevitably be exposed to a constant flow of information about dieting, exercise, productivity, and more, telling us to change ourselves in every way possible. The problem with this information overload is that it implies that there is something "wrong" with how we are now or who we are at the core, and therefore, we need to completely transform ourselves. It is not uncommon to attach a much bigger (and unnecessary) meaning to change, that is rooted in the idea that "we are not good enough", which then makes the concept of change feel daunting and defeating. Not to mention that when we embark on a journey to change that feels overwhelming from the beginning, we set ourselves up for failure because our expectations are so high. Getting from point A to Z is much more intimidating than getting from point A to B. And so, the cycle of "I'm not good enough" continues.
For some people, setting goals is just not for them and this is totally okay. Maybe you've never enjoyed the pressure that comes with goal setting, or you feel that at this point in your recovery journey you would like to avoid setting any type of goal, even if it was recovery focused, because it just adds stress and overwhelm to your life. Our ED therapist, Kaela Scott, summarized it well saying "January 1st can be a time of healthy transition, disordered goals or it can just be another day. Either way, you get to choose. If you are someone who likes to have goals, then set the goals according to what you know will be good for you, not your eating disorder. And if you don’t, then choose to see January 1st for what it is, just another day of the week." You do get to choose how you approach not only the first few weeks of January, but every day of the year.
Personally, I've always found it therapeutic to set goals and for years, I've kept journals with my thoughts and doodles, and crafted countless vision boards. After reading Kate's quote though I was inspired to re-think my approach to goal-setting and have crafted some tips on how to set responsible and meaningful goals:
-When setting goals, stick to your values and focus on your priorities. It's very easy when setting goals to feel like we should change everything about ourselves, particularly due to the information overload we get these days from social media and media in general. It's not enough to only set personal goals, we also need to set finance, activity, relationship, career, travel, school, creative and fill-in-the-blank-every-other-type-of-resolution-under-the-sun goals. It's up to you to decide how many goals you want to set and I encourage you to prioritize goals based on your values and what you WANT to focus on at this point of your life. For example, if an important value for you right now is stability then perhaps focus in on your personal and finance goals. As much as you would love to set the same lofty travel goals as your best friend, maybe that doesn't quite fit with your desire to simplify your schedule and save money, and that's okay! Or maybe you are far along on your eating disorder recovery journey and you've decided that going back to school is really important for you this year, in which case setting school and productivity goals is the way to go. If you need some help with determining your core values try this exercise. Remember, core values can change and adapt as you grow.
-Avoid defining yourself by your goals or choices. Often as a society, we refer and compare ourselves to others based on career choices, the activities we engage in regularly or the values we have. For example, you might introduce a friend saying "Meet my friend Melissa, she's a nurse and she's such a yogi" or "Oh my friend Mark? You mean the mountain biker?". There's nothing wrong with talking about or appreciating someone's career or values, the problem arises when those descriptors are used to define someone without taking into the account their entire being and all the other wonderful qualities they have. When we define ourselves based solely on our choices and activities, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to adhere to those definitions, which can actually be arbitrary. Take the word "artist" for example. What makes someone an artist? Do they have to paint everyday, or can they paint once a week? Do they have to sell their artwork or can they just do art for themselves? So if your goal is to practice art more often, avoid thinking "I want to be an artist", and instead focus on the action "I want to paint a new flower once a week for 2 months". This also makes life easier if you decide you no longer what to do an activity or career anymore because even personally, you will feel less attached to the definition and find it easier to let go of something that may not serving or engaging you anymore. You won't feel as if there's a "hole" in who you are, because ultimately you are much more than your career or your daily activities! Again, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be described as an accountant or journalist, or as a skier or writer, and sometimes those titles can be motivating in themselves, but try and not let those descriptors overshadow your core self and all the amazing qualities you have.
-Approach goals with an "I am already enough and by setting goals I am not trying to change who I am. Simply put, there are some things I would like to do differently, and some activities I am really excited about starting" mindset. By framing your goals in this way, the process seems far less intimidating and it also leaves little room for failure, because at the end of the day, you are already great just as you are now so even if you don't stick to a goal, it doesn't make you a bad or unworthy person. I know it might be hard to adopt this way of thinking, particularly if you've struggled with feeling good enough for years or longer. Well like with anything worth doing, flipping the script takes practice and genuine self reflection. If you find it challenging to say "I am enough", then start by listing positive qualities about yourself such as "I am a great friend" or "When I put my mind to something, I am always committed" or "I'm great at supporting others". By affirming these qualities in your mind, they will start to stick and form the bigger picture of being worthy and enough. Another way of approaching this is to think of what you would say to a friend if they came to you and said "I haven't been able to stick to going to the gym or learning how to play the piano. I'm such a failure!" Chances are you'd remind them of how great of a friend they are to you and you'd tell them to be more gentle with themselves.
-Avoid the "all or nothing" trap. Even if we set SMART goals and embrace the mindset of "I am already enough!", it can still rock our world if we slip up on our goals. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "Well I've messed up today, so I might as well give up completely." When I struggled with my eating disorder several years ago, I constantly fell into this trap because either I was "perfect" with my eating habits, or I would binge - there was no in between. For those struggling or for those who have struggled in the past, it's easy to get caught up in the idea of perfectionism or black and white thinking. This can be a dangerous cycle in both eating disorders, and in goal setting, because the reality is: you are only human. We must embrace the fact that perfection does not exist and that this militant mindset is full of flaws and can lead us down a spiral of anxiety and depression.
To help explain this, I want to draw inspiration from nature, because even nature is far from perfect and in fact, it thrives on imperfection. "Human beings and nature exist in the context of an external environment that is in constant motion. The speed and complexity of this dynamic world continues to accelerate, causing problems to mutate and adding layers of unexpected variation. Perfection, however, requires an environment that is static and highly controlled. Trying to achieve that state is like trying to stop nature from growing and evolving – our lives simply cannot work that way successfully, at least not for long."- Dr. Kathleen E. Allen. And so, even if we slip up on our goals, I encourage you to forgive yourself and move on. Picture yourself as a beautiful flower or a strong tree transforming and adapting to the environment around it. By doing so, you will discover within yourself a resiliency and tenacity that was just waiting to be found.
As we start the New Year, please be kind and compassionate to yourself and share the same message with your friends. Remember, you are already more than enough. Your goals, intentions and subsequent choices are just an extension of the amazing person you already are.
Maja is the Communications Coordinator at the Looking Glass Foundation, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Health from the University of British Columbia and a Digital Marketing Certificate from Simon Fraser University. When she isn't working, you can find her mountain biking, hiking or running in the trails with her energetic dog.