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Strategies for lasting change

Have you ever found yourself wanting to make an important change in your life, whether that be around health, getting a new job or hobby, or a life goal of any kind, but somehow it seems almost impossible to achieve or even get past the first hurdle? Well you’re not alone. It can often be easier to identify what needs changing, than to know where to begin when it comes to taking steps towards those changes. Things can feel unmanageable, chaotic and overwhelming.

CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) uses techniques that can help with goal setting. It provides a pragmatic structure, supporting us to organise our thoughts and actions into a workable strategy for achieving steady and lasting change. Read on for more on how this works, or view my CBT goal setting infographic to see these points laid out in a more visual format.

The following concepts form the basis of this approach...

Identify and clarify aims. Getting clear with yourself about what you ultimately want to achieve (as well as any sub goals on the journey) is important. Writing down your goals and looking at your reasons for wanting to pursue them can help with focus, resolve, assessing the benefits and can help avoid being distracted or sidetracked.

Assess where are you now. Having identified and got clear on your goal, it can be useful to take an honest look at where the land lies currently. Making a realistic appraisal of how things stand in the present will help you to assess what changes you need to make. Then you can start thinking about what your first step is.

Get specific with your goals. If we replace vague and general goals with laser targeted specifics, it gives us something concrete and practical to aim for. For example, “get more exercise” could be replaced by “go for a short walk each morning before work”. Think in terms of exactly who, where, when, why and what the particulars of the goal will entail.

Make activities measurable. If we know precisely what quantities or time frames are involved in our goal, it is easier to monitor whether we have achieved it or not. For example, “walk around the park for 15 minutes at 8am, Monday to Friday”. When setting a goal, try and think in terms of ‘how much’ or ‘how many’.

Be sure goals are achievable. If goals are too easy, they may lack the motivational element of challenge, but if they are too hard we often lose interest, or become discouraged and give up on our goal altogether. While it is important for goals to be sufficiently challenging, they need to be realistic, within our reach, and achievable.

Goals should be relevant. This might seem obvious, but the goal we are aiming for must feel significant to us and congruent with our lives and values. They need to be goals that benefit us and are born of our own desires and life plan, rather than to please society or another person or simply because it is on trend.

Creating bite sized chunks. Rather than becoming overwhelmed and intimidated by large or complex goals, breaking things down into smaller, more manageable steps can help us stay on track. Smaller tasks are achieved in shorter time frames and are less scary. Accomplishing multiple smaller steps imparts confidence and focus.

Timing is everything. Sometimes having a deadline or time frame for each step towards our goal can help to energise and motivate us to engage and complete. This can be a self imposed deadline or an external requirement of the task. Another aspect is to make sure the time is right for this goal, and to pace ourselves or prioritise.

Get support and feedback. Support from a friend, a therapist or someone with similar goals can help us sustain our motivation and commitment. Constructive feedback can also help us to gauge progress and direction on the path towards our goal. We can even set up our own feedback loop by recording our progress and achievements.

Assess possible obstacles. It is important that this step is done with a positive focus. Many of us have a history of negative responses to our goals, so this step is for empowering, self-regulated assessment purposes. If we are mindful of things that might get in the way or pose extra challenges, we are better prepared, and helps us to view the path ahead realistically.

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