Goal setting for people who hate to plan

At the beginning of the employability  course I teach, we always work through a section on setting short and long-term goals. 

It makes sense.  You’re not going to accomplish anything without a plan to get there, right?

Trouble is, more than half of the class typically balks at this exercise. I don’t know how this compares to the general poplation, but among offenders I’ve worked with — getting those goals down and then following through can be a challenge.

“It just  so overwhelming. I put down all these ideas, then I  don’t know where to begin.”

“Writing down your dreams is depressing.  What if you fail?

“What good is it to make goals if you don’t know the steps to reach them?”

And those are just the comments students have made aloud.

These concerns are understandable. Particularly when you consider that people who get in trouble often wrestle with goal-thwarting behaviors like impulsivity, substance abuse, dishonesty or the need for instant gratification. Making a list, being systematic and having  patience can be a lot of work.  And not just for ex-offenders, by the way.  As someone who has struggled with this personally, I’m well aware of all the tricks the mind can play when it comes to not doing what you set out to do.

So in this post, I’ve tried to lay out some goal-setting tips to help even the most reluctant achiever stay on track:     

1. Write down your dreams . . .
 I’d like to tell you that you can get around having to writing about what you want to do in life — that if you just hold the idea  in your head you’ll get there.  Unfortunately,  it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to get your thoughts down, somewhere, in some way so  that you can see them, acknowledge them, remember them and hold yourself accountable. As education recruiters at Spelman and Johnson Group in Eastham, MA have noted : A goal not written down is just a wish.

2. ….but do it your own way
Some people begin by listing their long-term goals —  things like working at their dream job, getting married and  having a family or saving a certain amount of money. Then they break each of these goals into the  individual steps it will take to achieve them. You, on the other hand,  might feel  more comfortable just writing in a journal about what you want to do. Once some goals emerge you can start breaking them down into individual actions from there.  Or maybe you’re a more visual person, who likes to see all the options.  As one student said to me, “what if one goal falls through, where do I put my plan B?” This student felt more comfortable diagramming her goals in  a web so she could see how everything was connected.  That way if one option didn’t pan out she could plot some alternatives.

So don’t worry about format — just get it down.

3. Take baby steps.
 Once you’ve have acknowledged what you want, the next step is to consider what you need to do to get it.. If your long-term goal is to be working as a healthcare technician, for example, some short-term steps might be to:

  •  Find out what education/licensing  is required.
  • Explore interim  jobs, perhaps in the industry.
  • . Research grants and scholarships.
  •  Talk to people who work in the industry to learn what they do.
  •  Fill out an application for school.

Each step by itself might not seem like much.  This is a good thing. You can  tackle them one by one and feel a sense of accomplishment each time.  Rewarding yourself at each step in the process will keep you motivated and make it more likely that you’ll reach your goal.  If you wait for the big payoff at the end, you’re not only being unrealistic, but setting yourself up to get discouraged.  

4.  Let go of perfection.
No matter what you hope to achieve, not everything is going to go as planned.  A job you want could fall through.  Or you may start pursuing a path or interest only to later realize it doesn’t work for you.  This is not failure, but part of the  process.  The key to keeping it from derailing you is a) realizing this is going to happen, and b) Try to identify and write down the obstacles you might encounter along the way beforehand.  This will help you think through alternative actions to take if a goal proves unrealistic or otherwise unattainable (as some goals do in everyone’s life).

 For example, say your dream is to be a  medical technician.  Only in doing your research you discover that in your state, getting licensing with a felony might be difficult. Although this would be disappointing, if you’ve planned properly, you’ve also considered what other professions you might pursue if healthcare doesn’t work. You’ve also saved yourself time and heartache by figuring this out early.  Instead of feeling like a failure, you can  use the setback to revise your plans and change direction.
5. Don’t think. Act.

For many of us, it’s easy to get stuck. Putting those goals down can take so much effort it may seem like it’s time for a break.  Or there’s so much to do, you’re  overwhelmed or afraid to begin.  Or maybe you’re so good at seeing that picture in your head, that you want to keep looking at it, or to keep revising it on paper until it’s perfect.
Don’t.  The purpose of goal-setting is to provide a plan of action.  So if you feel yourself getting lost in the dream or the details, just stop.  Go down your list and find something — anything — you can do.  And do it.  Right away.  Goal-setting guru Jill Koenig offers some great advice here on following through on your goals even if you don’t feel like it.  According to her, if you take action now, the motivation will follow -, not the other way around.
So what are you waiting for?

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Filed under employment ex-offenders, goal-setting

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