At many different times in our lives, we may be told or we may come to the conclusion that something needs to change.
Making a change is that little bit easier when we come to that conclusion ourselves, as we understand and have self awareness, the emotions that go along with it, maybe a slight plan, a certain level of motivation, and what we value at heart.
When we are told we need to make a change, this can be difficult as we may not understand the other person’s perspective. We may know they are right but we don’t want to acknowledge that just yet, we value this behaviour too much to change it, and perhaps that feeling that we have to change to suit someone else.
Depending on what that change is, we can have a hard time coming to terms with it and we can find ourselves in a state of ambivalence. This is where we are a little stuck between wanting to change and not wanting to change at the same time (Frost, Campbell,, Maxwell, O’Carroll, Dombrowski, Williams & Pollock, 2018).
Sometimes the ambivalence can be in relation to not understanding how to change, the dangers (and realities) of the continued behaviours, if it will be effective, and how we may gain the same or similar reward the particular behaviour gave to us etc.
In counselling, a method called motivational interviewing is generally used in these situations to help with:
- navigating the ambivalence and understanding the readiness to change (Pugh & Salter, 2018);
- providing harm reduction (if needed);
- exploring the pros and cons of the change together;
- increasing the confidence needed for making a change;
- and making a plan of that change by setting goals.
How Goals can help us with Making a Change
When we feel a bit stuck in life, making a plan to change or achieve something can help us to move forward with some direction. It can help us define what we want, what we value, help us to feel more in control of our lives, and give us the stepping stones to get there.
When setting a goal for ourselves, it is always a good idea to make it a S.M.A.R.T. one.
Specific: Try to have as much detail as possible in the primary goal and sub goals.
Measurable: Checkpoints to track our progress to know if we are achieving/have achieved.
Achievable: Ensuring the goal is not too ambitious, we don’t want to struggle and lose motivation.
Relevant: The goal should benefit you directly; why the goal matters to you.
Timebound: Setting a reasonable timeframe helps to have an end date, keep on track. (MacLeod, 2012).
What Goal Setting can Look Like
First: We need to work out what it is that we want. Think about where your ideal self might be in 3 months, 1 year or even 5 years from now. Make sure that when you imagine your future self, the goals are:
- Important to you;
- Clear enough for you to know when you have reached it;
- Not too easy or difficult to achieve.
Second: Identify the means that will help you get there, or that may be a barrier to achievement.
- What are some of the resources within you and outside of yourself that can help or hinder achievement of the goals?
- This can help you decide what steps to take.
Third: Break down each goal into bitesize steps. Taking it step by step can help make that bigger end goal more achievable and structured.
It is important to consider:
- What needs to be done
- Who needs to be involved
- When does this need to be done by
Fourth: Check in with your progress. Regular check-ins with your progress help you to understand if things are on track, or if some of the steps or those involved need to be altered to realistically achieve the goal.
- Your check ins could be weekly, fortnightly, monthly etc
- Changing the timeframe for completion is OK to do, remember it needs to be realistic and if it takes a little longer than anticipated, that is OK too.
- A visual representation of your progress is helpful, for example ticking/crossing off or highlighting the tasks achieved, marking it off the calendar etc. This helps keep track of your achievements and can help to motivate you to have the list completed.
- You may find that you want to add in new minor goals or steps to achieve the original goals
An important part of goal setting, progressing towards and achieving the goals are time management and motivation (Johnson,1997).
Some people can struggle to manage their time effectively, to be able to get everything done for the day that they need to. Sometimes it feels like there is so much to do (but we can’t figure out what; that it’s too much effort; that all the things need to be done and it’s too overwhelming etc) and generally we will avoid it and zone out by scrolling our phone, binge watch something etc.
Tips to Help you with Making a Change
Here are some handy tips to help you manage time and increase motivation about making a change:
- Make a to do list (cross off, tick, highlight when you have completed a task).
- Writing down your tasks/chores can help you with not forgetting something that may be important, and this acts as a way for you to drop these out of your mental checklist (yep, that one that we constantly have going and things get added in and we struggle to keep up with it all).
- Prioritize your tasks. Work out what the most important ones are and focus on completing those first (even if there are still some left on the list, the important ones are completed).
- Break down the bigger tasks into smaller pieces (this helps it to feel less overwhelming and helps you get started).
- Limit the distractions. An interesting experiment would be to record how much time you spend on the things that distract you (such as social media, texting, TV, gaming etc). You can then work to cut out the distractions that you don’t enjoy (you know when you’re still bored doing them). Schedule in TV, phone, gaming time into your day so that you still get to enjoy it but in a more purposeful way. If limiting your distractions is very difficult, move away from them (such as going to the library for study rather than the lounge or your room, turn off your phone, go to a cafe).
- Set an alarm/timer. Time can get away from us. Setting an alarm or timer to signal to stop that activity or move to the next one, or even to go to bed, can be helpful in managing your time and yourself.
- Leave yourself some downtime between tasks, arrive at appointments early (this can alleviate the stress and anxiety of running late) and have something productive and meaningful to do whilst you wait such as read a book, write etc.
Most importantly, it is OK to not be on top of everything all the time. Part of the human experience is that our moods, motivation, ability and capacity to complete the things we need to in our lives fluctuates. We have some days where we feel like superheroes, managing all the things and then some days the things can get on top of us. Sometimes having a structured way to start to manage again can be half the battle.
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Frost, H., Campbell, P., Maxwell, M., O’Carroll, R. E., Dombrowski, S. U., Williams, B., … & Pollock, A. (2018). Effectiveness of motivational interviewing on adult behaviour change in health and social care settings: a systematic review of reviews. PloS one, 13(10), e0204890.
- Johnson, Sharon L. (Sharon Lorraine). (1997). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention : the 1-2-3’s of treatment planning. San Diego :Academic Press,
- Les MacLeod EdD, M. P. H. (2012). Making SMART goals smarter. Physician executive, 38(2), 68.
- Pugh, M., & Salter, C. (2018). Motivational chairwork: An experiential approach to resolving ambivalence. European Journal of Counselling Theory, Research and Practice, 2, 1-15.