Do you ever wonder “where am I going?” 

Do you find it hard to set goals? 

Society these days seems to be focused a lot on goals. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the mention of the word. The workplace seems to thrive off words like ‘goal’, ‘predicted outcome’ or ‘key performance indicator (KPI)’. The message seems to always be “achieve more, do better and always meet your target”.

The two questions I raised above seem to always go hand in hand; when you don’t know where you want to go with your life, you might find it hard to set goals. 

Working hard towards that work performance target might not seem worth the effort – you don’t enjoy work anyway. Getting a high distinction in that uni essay might not seem worth the hassle – you don’t even know if this subject is in the career path you want to take. Exercise is boring and you just can’t get up early in the morning for that bike ride you know you should be taking…

What is missing in these statements? Values

You might have heard the word ‘values’ before in the context of goals and goal-setting. Sometimes we tend to think that values and goals are the same thing but there is a distinct difference between a value and a goal. Knowing that difference can make all the difference. 

What is a goal?
A goal is something you want to achieve, and it can be anything but it is always a concrete target. A great example of a goal is deciding to go for a run every morning for a week. It is simple, defined, and you can work towards achieving it. 

What is a value?
Differently to a goal, a value is not strictly achievable – it is something that you want to be. It could be a characteristic that you want to embrace, something about yourself that you want to change, something that you aspire to but can’t actually ever become completely. Say, you’ve decided that you want to be a better wife and mother to your kids. What can you do to achieve that? Do you ever stop trying to be better? Will you ever reach perfection in being a wife and mother? 
The reason why these questions can’t be answered is because being a better wife and mother is a value, not a goal. 

How do goals and values work together?
The great thing about values is that they become a source for new goals. 

Once you know what your values are, you’ll find that setting and keeping goals is a lot easier. Want to be a better mother? What could you do this week to get you a little closer to being a better mother? You might decide to give your children a compliment every day… now you have a goal based on a value. When you have goals that are based on values, you’re setting a goal in a firm foundation. 

Achieving your goals
Motivation is something that can sometimes be hard to find or maintain. One big motivator for achieving goals is the promise of a reward. You’re probably more likely to go for a run every morning this week if I promised I’d give you 20 dollars for doing so. That is what we call extrinsic motivation – the motivation is coming from an external source. Seems perfectly effective but the reality is that we cannot control the external. What if I stopped paying you to run? You’d probably stop running because the motivation has disappeared. 

Values-based goals have a firm foundation because the motivation is lasting. Essentially, by achieving your goal, you will be taking a step towards being the person you want to be. That source of motivation is intrinsic, and researchers have found thatintrinsic motivation is a lot stronger than extrinsic. You probably would still set and achieve goals to spend more quality time with your children, regardless of whether I paid you for it. That’s because the motivation comes from the sense that you are being more like the person you aim to be – and that positive feedback is inherently rewarding. 

Basically, the point I am trying to make is this – if you’re finding it hard to set and maintain goals in your life, stop and think about your values first. Ask yourself, am I striving to achieve things in my life that bring me closer to the person I want to be or am I simply aiming for goals because I think I should be? 

There is a lot of research to suggest that living a values-directed life is a good start towards promoting resilience and wellbeing in your life. If you find yourself stuck in a rut, not descending but certainly not flourishing like you thought you could, perhaps it’s worth taking the time to work out some of the things about yourself or others that you like and how you might move towards growing and refining those qualities within yourself. Set goals around those values. A good start can often be to think about someone you admire. What is it about that person that you admire? Often those things are your values. When you have them, start to think in baby steps what you could start doing right now to be a little more like that.


Recommended Reading

Values and Values-based living is one of the core aspects of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). If you would like to know more about values and ACT, I recommend the following books and websites:

1. Get Out of Your Mind and into Your LIfe: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. By Dr Stephen C. Hayes

2. The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling and Start LIving. By Dr Russ Harris

3. Dr Harris has a website titled The Happiness Trap.

Adam Wright is a practitioner at Alpha Psychology. Adam has training and experience in using ACT and mindfulness to treat anxiety, depression and other disorders. Feel free to check out his bio for more information or call Alpha at 9869 0377.