5 truths about setting achievable goals-What Therapists need to know

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OK let’s bust out the real talk.

There are a gazillion articles out there about setting goals. These articles may tell you that you need to be specific or that you need to have a timeframe when thinking about the things you want to accomplish. That's all well and good; and, actually, I am a firm believer in setting SMART goals – which we’ll get to later.

But, the problem with all the goal setting/achieving information our there is it's usually put out by the über successful. Not other therapists new to private practice. Those who are so far removed from the beginnings of their businesses that it’s highly unlikely they remember what it felt like to set those first few shaky goals. The fear, the excitement, the anticipation, the self-doubt….

And not only that, it’s also doubtful that these individuals are actually the ones carrying out the daily tasks that help them achieve their goals.

They have people for that. People to schedule their social media. People to do their billing...

Not saying I wouldn’t love to hire an assistant someday down the road, but the fact of the matter is that you and I are at a very different points in our process than these bigwigs.

Keeping that in mind, I’m of the opinion that goal setting is even more important for us private practitioners who are solely responsible for accomplishing them. We must get to the bottom of our intentions, figure out why they are so important to us, and learn how best to incorporate them in our practices and our lives so that we can not only achieve them, but annihilate them.

This is the way to personal success and setting new standards for ourselves.

What are goals?

I know, I know this is pretty rudimentary. But I want to start at this basic place so that we’re all on the same page. Because our dreams are so personal, a lot of us have different ideas on what a “goal” actually is.

Some of us are big picture people and we easily see “end-goals” or what we want the final outcome to look like, but we struggle with the day-to-day of getting there. Others are more concrete thinkers and we line up the smaller tasks but can’t really see the outcome until we get there.

So, for this post I’d like us to think of goals as the things that we can accomplish within 365 days with steady and intentional effort. Anything longer-term that this let’s go ahead and call a “vision.” Anything shorter-term let’s either call “tasks” or “to-do’s.” This will help when we get to later lessons about creating our action plans and setting our schedules.

For simplicity’s sake, think of it like this: 

daily to-do’s >> weekly/monthly tasks >> annual goals.

Why do we need them?

Some of you might have read that header and thought it was a dumb question. You’re probably like me and you thought “uuhh, we need goals because how else are we going to know if we’re on track, accomplishing anything, being successful… without goals what would we measure ourselves against?

But some of you might have read it and legitimately asked yourself why everyone is so uppity about having defined things they must do with their lives. To you, the laid-back, go-with-the-flow individual, I salute you. I am so envious of you and would love to be the person who didn’t carry 5 different color-coded to-do lists. Maybe we could meet up after this post and you could help me!!!

In all seriousness, goals can be super helpful to even the most free-spirited therapists. They really do serve some great purposes and there are ways to adapt them to your lifestyle so that you can feel super motivated while not being overwhelmed.

Goals keep us moving forward. If you’re like me and more regimented, writing down goals can be what guides your time. This process may keep you on track and provide you with the means for measuring your accomplishments. But, writing (or drawing, painting, designing…) your goals can also be a way to propel more creative types. This artistic representation can be just what you need to grow your practice.

Moreover, goals can help turn our ideal scenarios into achievable situations. By breaking the bigger picture down into smaller frames, we can find inspiration and motivation to keep going.

Lastly, we need goals as repeatable reinforcers of our self-worth.

The more and more we pull out our favorite pretty pens and cross things off our goal list the more and more proud and capable we feel.

What makes goals feasible?

Ok, so now that we’ve established the fact that goals are things that can be achieved within one year, and we know some of the reasons why it’s important to have them in the first place, let's talk about how we can define our goals so that they become both personal and feasible.

SMART goals. You’ve probably seen this acronym floating around. I first learned about it in undergrad at business school, but never really payed much attention to it or gave it much credit. However, since trying to balance goal setting and business building, I’ve revisited it and found that it can be really useful.

The idea is that any goal you set needs to be:

  1. SPECIFIC
  2. MEASUREABLE
  3. ATTAINABLE
  4. REALISTIC
  5. TIME SENSITIVE

So for example, let’s say your goal is to attract more clients and earn more money.

While an awesome and inspiring goal to have, I can’t honestly say I don’t know exactly what it is you want to achieve.

Do you want to feel valuable to your ideal client and believe in the content marketing efforts you put out? You’re fantastic! I could easily start working with you on your blogging and social media strategy.

However, if attracting more clients means (to you) 30 clients on your caseload, 15 members in your new group, and a signature workshop by the end of the year, our strategy for meeting your goal would be a bit different.

So the moral is that having a goal like “attracting” something is too vague for the average person to accomplish easily. Instead, let’s make a SMART goal example for both scenarios.

Ex 1. My goal is to attract more clients

  • To me, this means feeling confident in my ideal customer and believing I can reach her (SPECIFIC).
  • I will know I have accomplished this goal when I no longer have a negative reaction to publishing blog posts or posting on social media (MEASUREABLE).
  • I believe this goal is possible because I recognize the importance of self-love and acceptance and I really want that feeling for myself (ATTAINABLE).
  • This is not far fetched because I know clients have scheduled with me because of a blog I wrote in the past (REALISTIC).
  • I would like to feel comfortable being myself in my practice by the end of the year (TIME SENSITIVE).

Ex 2. My goal is to attract more clients.

  • To me, this means growing my caseload to 15 clients in six months (SPECIFIC & MEASURABLE).
  • I have set aside money in the budget for marketing, I know how to target my ideal client, and my referral base is strong, so I know my goal is possible (ATTAINABLE).
  • I also expect my practice to grow at the rate that is right for me. I won't make six figures overnight.(REALISTIC).
  • I would like to have booked 30 clients by the end of the year (TIME SENSITIVE)

5 Truths About Setting Achievable Goals

So hopefully starting at the beginning has helped you to see that goal setting is not as blasé as many people make it out to be. It really does take thought and effort, however, it is so doable when you know how to take the right steps.

Also, goals that come from your personal space and not the advice of someone else are going to be much more powerful. Before I wrap up this post, I want to leave you with five truths about the goal setting process so you can be sure your setting ones that are achievable.

1. Achievable goals cannot be too big

Remember, your goals should require consistent and intentional effort, but they should also be something you can easily accomplish within 365 days. If you start working on a goal that you’d like to see happen in 5 – 10 years you’re likely to hit a wall where things just seem impossible. Seeing a dream this large can make it seem insurmountable and this is why many people turn away before the ever start. It’s more comfortable to keep a large, undefined dream in our minds as something we’ll get to someday.

This can then have one of two consequences. At best, we continue to live as dreamers, imagining what it would be like to ever follow our passions. At worst, though, we can start to feel down on ourselves and think of our lives as failures. A simple solution is to take those longer-term visions and break them down into more digestible chunks.

2. But they can’t be too small either

Now don't get me wrong, I’m not saying to break the goals down so far that they lose their ability to motivate and inspire you. The common saying goes something like “nothing worth doing ever came easy.” And it is so applicable when we’re talking about setting goals.

Should you start to knock out your goals list too quickly, you’ll stop appreciating the dream. Another problem with having goals that are too small is they can leave you at a loss for what comes next. Again, they lose their inspiration factor. You want your goals to be big enough to shine a beacon on your next steps.

3. Goals need to scare you a bit

Along this same line, your best goals are going to scare you just a little bit. A goal that is the right size seems a little scary and a little exciting at the same time. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. There is a fine line physiologically between fear and anticipation. So what you might experience in your body as being afraid is really the tingle of excitement.

Stop and pay attention to this feeling to determine if you are really scared or if you are just jittery with anticipation. If you still can’t tell, go ahead and do a risk vs. reward analysis. Ask yourself what could be the worst that would happen if you gave your all to this goal. If you’re ok with the answer then you know you’ve found your sweet spot.

4. Goal setting needs to be authentic

As I mentioned before, your best bet on accomplishing your goals is if they are set on your own terms. If your goal is something you think you “should” accomplish, based on external messages from others or those that come from a negative place within you, it’s never gonna feel right.

Either you’ll procrastinate and possibly never finish, or you’ll feel slimy and uncomfortable the whole time your doing it. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re reaching for a goal that is authentic. You’ll find yourself in the zone and you’ll have to be pulled away for things like dinner and laundry, and eating…

5. The way you attack your goals depends on where your motivation comes from

The final truth is that you cannot change yourself in order to reach your goals – even if your goal is to change yourself. Wait, what? What I mean by that is there are things about your personality, your demeanor, and the ways you work best that are just innate to who you are.

If you’re a person who’s extrinsically motivated and does best when competing with others, capitalize on this strength and use it to your advantage. Tell your five closest friends or shout it out on Facebook, whatever is going to hold you accountable. On the other hand, if your motivation comes from within, build the time it takes to check in with yourself into your goal setting plan.

Want to know more about this? I've written a whole post about it here. It even comes with a nifty personality quiz!