Goal Setting and Problem Solving

When I decided to go back to school several years ago, I sat down and mapped out how I was going to manage it. How many hours I could I work versus how many hours I needed to work to pay bills. Would my job work with me while I went back to school, or would I need to find another job. What career did I want to pursue? Did I want to do online school? In the classroom? Which fit my learning style better as an older student? And how was I going to pay for it? All of these questions and many more I wrote out, figured some out on my own, asked advice from family and friends and then took the plunge. Many more problems, obstacles and life would sometimes pop up and I would have to reevaluate the problem and my ultimate goal, and come up with a solution, dig a little deeper in my desire to graduate and keep going.

What I was doing, over and over again is setting goals and problem solving. A skill I was taught as a young child and one that many of us do daily for small things. It tends to be the bigger issues or goals that we need to find a solution for that often get people stuck, many do not know how to break down the bigger goal. The worst thing is giving up.

The following example is a conversation of statements I hear quite a bit in my profession from someone who is attempting recovery.

Client: “I’m going to stay sober.”

Me: “Great, how are you going to do that?”

Client: “I’m going to stay away from alcohol (or whichever drug of choice they are struggling with).

Me: “Great, how are you going to do that?”

Client: “Well I’m not going to buy it.”

Me: “Great, how are you going to keep yourself from doing that when you are struggling?”

Client: “uhm, I’m going to call my sponsor.”

Me: “What if they don’t answer?”

Client: “Uhm, call someone else.”

Me: “What if they don’t answer?”

Client: “I’m going to keep busy.”

Me: “Doing what?”

Client: “Uhm, I guess, well I don’t know.”

Not having a relapse prevention plan is a big reason why people relapse. Staying sober is a great goal, but how are you going to do that? You can’t climb a mountain by standing at the bottom taking two steps and say “Wahoo, I made it to the top, I’m done now.” You have to get the right gear, get a map, follow the trail, plan it out and then start walking. It takes time, patience, and endurance.

I’m going to go over a seven-step process of how to solve bigger problems and how to break a goal down into smaller attainable parts.

Step 1 is defining the problem and the ultimate goal. You want to use your practical thinking skills here. Ask yourself some questions:

  • What is causing the problem?
  • What is the goal I want to accomplish?
  • Where is it occurring?
  • How is it occurring?
  • Why is it occurring?
  • What is your role in the problem?
  • What has already been tried?
  • How am I going to accomplish this goal?

Step 2 is Brainstorm; this is where you write down everything you can think of. Set a timer and write down anything that pops into your brain. Don’t worry about how ridiculous it sounds, write it down. After your time is up, you then will read through all of your solutions. You will cross out which ones you know are not realistic. Narrow it down to 1-3 options, anymore for the bigger issues and you can feel overwhelmed.

Step 3 is using logical thinking by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are the pros of each option?
  • What are the cons of each option?
  • What are the consequences of each option?

Step 4 weigh each idea to each course of action, do this by asking yourself these questions:

  • How does each fit with my core values?
  • How will people around me be affected?
  • How will each action improve my overall wellbeing?

Step 5, this is the step which can be the scariest, because this is when you are going to pick which solution is the best one for you and helping you. This is where some people freeze and don’t make any kind of decision. They become so overcome with fear, or they haven’t been able to forgive themselves for past mistakes they decide to keep going on the same path, no matter how destructive.

Step 6, you are acting on your decision. You have decided which one you are going to attempt and you are taking that leap of faith and you are jumping in with both feet.

Step 7, evaluate how it’s going. Are you doing good, so staying on this path is the right thing for now? Do you need to make some tweaks to your course of action? Or do you need to make some wholesale changes and go back to step four, or maybe and earlier step.

Remember you need to identify your goal? What is it? Is it going back to school? Paying off your bills? Getting physically fit? Staying sober? Getting mentally fit? If that is your goal, how are you going to accomplish that? This is where the problem setting steps are going to help you. They will help you break it down into smaller goals so that you can accomplish the big one.

Example, going back to the staying sober conversation. “I’m going to stay sober for twenty-four hours.” How are you going to do that? You can go to work, go to school, work on skills you learned, deep breathing, drink water, chew gum, meditation, exercise, etc. All of these things can help you stay sober for the twenty-four-hour period. After the twenty-four-hour period, you give yourself a pat on the back. You did it! There is no it was “just” twenty-four hours. You did it, you accomplished your goal! At the end of your day you evaluate, what did you do right, what could you have done better? If you need to make changes then make them.

If you would like help in learning more about how to set goals and problem solve. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


LECS Counselor