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Monday, May 19, 2014

Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Successes Along the Way to the Final Goal

In an earlier article, Staying Positive and Focused on Your Goals, I discussed strategies for successfully accomplishing your goals.  In this article, I'd like to focus on a specific aspect of success in achieving goals, which is learning to celebrate the steps along the way to achieving your ultimate goal.

Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Successes Along the Way

Staying Motivated
Often, when people are so focused on achieving goals, they only give themselves credit at the point when they have completed the goal and not for the interim steps that represent small successes along the way.

In order to stay motivated to stick with a big goal, rather than only focusing on the end result, it's important to acknowledge and feel good about all the steps along the way that add up to a big transformational goal.  

When you feel good about the steps that you're taking, you're more likely to stay focused on your goal than when you don't' attribute much importance to each step.

Let's compare two examples, which are fictionalized accounts of many people's experience of working on goals:

Mary's Story:
After her doctor warned her that she was prediabetic, Mary decided that she was going to lose 50 lbs with a combination of a change in diet and increased exercise.  She joined the gym and she also joined Weight Watchers and attended their support groups.  She also started therapy to try to understand what triggered her overeating and to develop better coping skills.

Achieving Your Goals: Mary's Story

After the month, Mary lost 7 lbs., which her friends, therapist and Watch Watcher peer group applauded.  But Mary was unable to accept their praise, and she was only focused on her end goal of losing 50 lbs.  She brushed off the praise by saying, "But I'm still very overweight and I won't be happy until I lose the 50 lbs."

By the second month, Mary lost another 5 lbs., and even though the people who were part of her emotional support system, once again, praised this accomplishment, Mary was beginning to feel discouraged.  

Even though her doctor told her that she was losing weight at a healthy rate and, if she continued with her healthier lifestyle she would eventually get to her goal, Mary still felt down because she wasn't "there yet" at her goal.

By the third month, Mary was still berating herself.   Even though she lost another 5 lbs., rather than using the coping strategies that she learned in therapy, she felt so discouraged and impatient that she had not lost the 50 lbs. that she stopped dieting and exercising; she stopped going to therapy, and she resumed her unhealthy lifestyle until she gained back all of the weight that she lost.

Betty's Story:
Betty's doctor told Betty that she needed to lose 50 lbs in order to avoid developing diabetes, which runs in the family.  Betty knew that it would take a while for her to accomplish her goal of losing 50 lbs and that it wouldn't be easy.  She knew it would be a process.

So, in order to stay motivated, she set reasonable interim goals to the final goal of losing 50 lbs.  Her goal was to lose 5 lbs per month over 10 months.  She joined the gym and Weight Watchers, and she also started therapy to stay motivated and manage the emotional triggers that caused her overeating.

Betty also made a plan that she would reward herself for every 5 lbs that she lost along the way.  So, after she lost the first 5 lbs., she treated herself to a massage, and after she lost the second 5 lbs., she treated herself to a day out with friends to see a play.

Achieving Your Goals: Betty's Story

Betty was able to take in the praise of friends and other supporters and allow it to sink in so she felt good about herself along the way.  This, in turn, kept her motivated while she learned to deal with the emotional triggers of overeating in her therapy.  

Within 10 months, Betty achieved her ultimate goal of losing 50 lbs. and she learned how to keep it off with the new coping skills she learned in therapy as well as the other healthy habits she learned in therapy.

Comparing the Two Scenarios:
It's obvious from comparing the two scenarios that Betty was successful in achieving her overall goal by:
  • breaking down her goal into smaller, manageable parts
  • seeing her final goal as a process and being patient
  • rewarding herself for her smaller successes to stay motivated along the way to her ultimate goal
  • being able to feel good about herself and accept praise from her emotional support system
  • sticking with her plan, learning new strategies, making changes and not getting discouraged
We can compare this to running a marathon vs a sprint.  If a marathon runner started the race by only focusing on the end result, s/he might get discouraged before the halfway mark.  Being able to complete the race (or achieve the ultimate goal) means having a strategy to go the distance.

Getting Help in Therapy
Even when people know that they need to celebrate their small successes along the way, there are often emotional obstacles that make it difficult for them to do this for themselves, especially if they don't feel good about themselves.

Many people struggle with this issue, and everyone needs help at some point in their lives, so you're not alone.

Getting help from a licensed mental health professional and sticking with therapy can help you to overcome the particular emotional obstacles that are keeping you from accomplishing your goals.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to achieve their goals and live more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

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