Goal Setting and Forgetting : Breaking the Cycle

I remember sitting in a meeting when I was spending two years in a far away land where we were taught how to set goals. I dutifully followed the instructions to take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it. On the left side, I labeled the column, “What?” On the right side, I was instructed to label the column, “How?” I was young and enthusiastic, so I put my whole heart and soul into the assignment. Then I took my 4 pages back to my apartment and taped them to my bedroom wall. I worked on these goals like there was no tomorrow! After about 5 days, I forgot the pages were taped to my wall and returned to my old ways of doing things. I think those pages were there for a few weeks before I considered taking them down and throwing them away because they had become pointless.

Yes, I was obsessed with psychology even back then, so instead of just throwing them away, I started self analyzing what went wrong with my system. I have since learned after interviewing many, many people, that I am not the only one who has a history of doing this kind of thing. I feel better now, learning that all the work I put into fixing this pattern might actually apply to other people.

As I self analyzed (and analyzed others), I came to realize that for some reason, although we may be reminded by a posted page what the goal is that we are hoping to accomplish, if we forget why we made the goal in the first place, our motivation to achieve the goal will deteriorate over time.

If you notice on the “Goal Sheet” page that I described in the first paragraph, there is a big space under the “What?” column. I learned to put a second heading under the “What?” and I now put a “Why?” When first setting a goal, I can usually put 1-3 reasons here. I have found since then that if I really want to achieve a goal, I can add a line under the “Why?” column almost every day. The more “Why’s” I have, the more motivated I am to accomplish the goal.

It has been my experience that it is more important to spend time on the left side of the page than the right. With almost every therapy session I have, one of my first questions I ask is, “Why are you fighting? Why don’t you just give up?” The faster and stronger the answer, the more confidence I have in an individual’s ability to win whatever psychological war they are having.

So, if you want to break the cycle of dropped goals, get a 3×5 card, and at the top of one side, put what you want to accomplish and start listing some “Why’s” underneath that. Flip the card over and list the “How’s” on the other side. Keep this card with you at all times so you can add to, edit and review the card to help it maintain its intensity. (If you are a more modern person, you can use an app on your phone.)

This is one significant tool for achieving goals, let me know if you would like some more ideas.

Maurice W. Harker, LPC


About Maurice W. Harker, LPC

Director of Life Changing Services, Director of Sons of Helaman, Facilitator of the WORTH group, Consultant for the Daughters of Light program.