Can you Set Good Goals?

At the start of our hypnotherapy sessions, we always ask our clients what their goals are. To our surprise, many of them use avoidance goals, the type of goals framed like “I do not want to be afraid to speak in public“, or “I do not want to feel intimated whenever I am in a large group”. They made the effort and they took the time to come and see us and yet they are unable to enunciate their goals in positive terms: for instance, “I want to be able to feel comfortable when I speak in public”.

Why are Avoidance Goals Nefarious?

These same clients will frame small goals like running an errand or making an appointment positively. Nobody would think “I am going to buy some milk in any shop except shop A”. Chances are that they know which places they want to visit. And yet, when they are faced with their own harmful behaviors and self-defeating beliefs, some people will keep on recalling what they want to stay away from.

Let us try a small experiment. I am going to ask you to think about a purple cat. Please do not think about a purple cat. Take your time and do not think about this purple cat… yes do not think about a purple cat.

Pause here for a few moments.

While you may have had issues imagining a purple cat at first, chances are that you ended up imagining one. The goal of not thinking about a purple cat is an avoidance goal. Unfortunately, with avoidance goals, you end up doing exactly what you want to avoid. If we go back to the I-do-not-want-to-be-afraid-to-speak-in-public example, the people who suffer from this fear are more likely to reinforce the fear whenever they think this way.

Choose Destination Goals

What motivates you guides you. If you are motivated by avoiding the fear of speaking in public, you will be guided by that fear, the worst guide. If you are motivated by feeling comfortable and even excited to speak in public, that excitement and serenity are more likely to stay with you. If that is not clear enough, let’s imagine two points. You are at point A and you would like to go to point B, but you are so focused on leaving point A that you might get further away from point B. Why would you navigate in life differently than when you navigate in a vehicle? We all drive from one point to the other without detour. We make sure that there is enough fuel or that the battery is charged enough before proceeding to the next point. We should do the same for our lives: set clear actionable goals and make sure we have the resources to reach them. This is done through destination goals.

How to Frame Destination Goals

Many times during the day, you are in a state of heightened suggestibility. You might as well make sure that you say to yourself the right suggestions. That amounts to having the right goals, the destination goals and framing them effectively. How will you do it? You should pay attention to the following:

  • Each sentence should start with I: you are the only person you can control.
  • Take out any negative word like not, never, refrain, stop….
  • Use an action verb
  • Use the active voice: you are the one who will be doing something differently
  • Break down the goals into actionable chunks: enumerate the mini goals you will reach before getting to the final goal.
  • Your goals must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
  • Focus on what you can control: you might want to become famous in your community, but that depends on its perception of you. If you are motivated by leveraging your skills to help the community, you are more likely to achieve recognition without looking for it. That’s what psychologists call intrinsic goals (as opposed to extrinsic goals).

Write down all your goals on a piece of paper, all of them. Read them out loud. How many avoidance goals have you found? How many destination goals do you have on the paper? You can now reframe all the avoidance goals.

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