Behavior change is not an easy process. I frequently observe people berating themselves for not reaching their own behavioral goals. The negative self-talk sounds something like this – “can’t stop binging,” “will always be too anxious to drive on a highway,” “can’t find any time to take a walk.” In my work, I help others adjust the framework of their all/nothing goals to more realistic and attainable life goals. Furthermore, I believe, we can all create opportunities to give ourselves accolades for making small strides toward our own goals.
Change is going to happen in small steps, so we must each consider how to measure incremental success and not frame our goals as all or nothing, success or failure. As an example, Mary came to me for outpatient psychotherapy to work on recovering from Bulimia. One of the first goals we set together was to delay not to eliminate. Together we defined success as delaying an urge to binge or purge by 5 minutes, not to be free of symptoms in our first week of work together. When she returned to me the next session, she was able to see her success in delaying rather than feeling that she had failed to eliminate her symptom entirely. There are so many ways we could have framed the goal as a small step. The frame choice is not as important as the process of taking one small step and then another to lead down a path to an ultimate goal.
Compassion for oneself can come from this reframe. Bob was considering attending a mindfulness-based workshop with a friend. He was unsure if he should attend, fearing that this workshop would just be another way he would waste his money. Initially he was conflicted about attending the workshop, unsure if he would be successful in learning how to use a mindfulness based approach every minute of every day. Not until the two of us worked together to reframe his goal to be just one small step, could Bob begin to feel more hopeful about the opportunity. He reframed the goal to (1) have a fun weekend with his friend and (2) learn a kernel of wisdom. These two realistic goals helped him feel good about himself and his choices.
All sorts of life goals can be more realistically accomplished if broken down into smaller steps. The byproduct of this strategy can be hope and self-compassion. So many of us are prone to making large unattainable goals that set us up to feel like failures. A small realistic goal, such as to take a walk once this week with a friend, could help someone down the path toward an exercise goal or an increased support system goal. Consider reframing your goals to be small and attainable and benefit from increased self-regard that can come with achievement.