I am constantly, CONSTANTLY on my patients and clients to set goals.
Not just the big, motivating, end-of-the-rainbow goals; but also the smaller, intermediate, steppingstone goals necessary to get to the end of the rainbow.
The reason for this isn’t because I think setting goals is what people are “supposed” to do, or what therapists or coaches are “supposed” to tell their clients to do.
(I’m not a big fan of doing things merely because they’re what we’re “supposed” to do, for that matter. It’s my experience that if “supposed to’s” are the main reason we do something, it’s probably not going to wind up being very fun or interesting for us in the end.)
The reason I’m so obsessed with goals, little and big, is far more basic: if you don’t have goals for your life, I guarantee you, somebody else does.
There are PLENTY of people who would happily take over your right to set goals for yourself if you’re not interested in that project.
These are people who have their own agendas, values, and interests in mind— and who will, necessarily, view you as basically a pawn or steppingstone to achieving THEIR own ends.
Mind you, I don’t think these people who would happily set goals for your life are all evil, or even that their goals “for” you would be necessarily bad.
But I do know there is a 100% chance that your self-esteem will notice that you’re chasing somebody else’s agendas, values, and interests…and your self-esteem isn’t going to like that very much.
Put another way: it’s virtually impossible to build positive, stable self-esteem while pursuing goals that were picked for you, rather than goals you chose yourself.
Why? Because self-esteem can only be built with your active, conscious involvement. Self-esteem doesn’t grow in a passive environment.
The primary reason why self-esteem needs our active, conscious involvement is because self-esteem is rooted in our survival instinct. The behaviors that create self-esteem are behaviors that our evolutionary ancestors found advantageous to survival.
Our cave-person ancestors who were passive didn’t do too well in the survival sweepstakes— they tended to be easily manipulated and defeated by their harsh environment and natural predators.
Self-esteem is the modern-day reflection of the qualities and instincts that were essential for the very survival of our species.
And when the survival of the species is at stake, you don’t want to bet on the passive horse. Or, in this case, the passive cave-person.
Self-esteem has two parts: an experience of worthiness, and an experience of efficacy.
“Worthiness” suggests that we are valuable. We deserve good things to happen to us— or, at the very least, we don’t deserve bad things to happen to us, just because we’re human. Worthiness is the feeling that we have worth— and if we have worth, we are certainly worth more than passivity.
If we have worth, we certainly deserve more than to limply accept someone else’s goals for us. We are worth setting our own goals, that align with our own, consciously-chosen values.
“Efficacy” is the experience of being “up to” the challenges of life. We may not have the tools to defeat every single challenge we face at every given moment, but if we feel efficacious, we have a general sense that we can handle what life throws at us. It involves a certainty that we can learn from experience and develop new skills and tools to succeed at life as necessary. Efficacy is the feeling that we are, literally, effective— and if we are effective, we can certainly do better than passivity.
If we are efficacious, we can certainly do better than to meekly accept someone else’s goals for us. We are capable of setting our own goals— again, that align with our own, consciously-chosen values.
If we fail to set our own goals— end goals, intermediate goals, big goals, little goals— someone else will merrily skip into that void.
If someone else merrily skips into that void, you wind up living your life and structuring your day around their goals and values, not yours.
If you wind up living your life and structuring your day around someone else’s goals and values, your self esteem notices, and you begin to wither inside.
You begin to feel depressed and you’re not quite sure why.
You begin to feel life and work are pointless.
You lose interest in things, and why wouldn’t you? You’re no longer the author of your own experience.
All of which is to say: my emphasis on goals at The Doyle Practice isn’t a “default” setting. It’s a very intentional choice, because our goal-setting habits (or lack thereof) are the building blocks (or lack thereof) of our self-esteem.
And without self-esteem, building any kind of a satisfying life is nearly impossible.
So humor me when I rant on and on about goals.
There’s method to the madness.
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