Staying Open to Change In Plans

Setting goals would be included in a book titled “Therapy 101” if one was looking to learn about the most basic tenants of mental health counseling. We are educated as counselors to urge clients to create goals not only for their treatment but also for life in general. Some counselors go as far as to have paper copies of goal statements made with clients where one can track progress and remind oneself of their goals. While this is not my personal strategy, it surely can be effective in encouraging people to make positive changes. Goal setting has also become very common outside the therapy world, where people are now tracking personal goals with technology like never before. Fitness goals in particular are a part of every new smart watch owner’s life it seems. Goal setting is a great force for change, but I have noticed that a lot of people struggle with adjusting goals when circumstances change. It creates a lot of stress and anxiety when people realize that either their personal circumstances or even ones more akin to societal changes have made their goals unachievable.

Let’s look at some reasons why it is a good idea to adjust goals and how to do so without feeling like we have failed at following through.

When We Need to Change Our Goals

A lot of people have very strong personalities, so when they commit to a goal they can’t imagine anything deterring them from reaching it. This is a positive trait in a lot of ways and shouldn’t be looked down upon, but like all personality traits it has times where it can be a trap. One example of a challenge that forces change and has nothing to do with an individual person was the COVID-19 pandemic. There were plenty of people who had travel, career, financial, and even fitness goals who were simply not able to pursue them during the heights of COVID due to the shut down of society. Quite frankly, there were so many people who took this as a personal failure when there is literally nothing any one person could have done to avoid the situation we all found ourselves in. You would think as intelligent and rational creatures we would be able to easily cope with the fact that a personal goal is no longer attainable due to a worldwide health crisis. Yet, so many of us instead saw it as coming up short for our own goals. I remember in my case I was trying to a reach a personal financial goal, but COVID lowered the amount of clients I was seeing due to the offices being closed. I didn’t hit my financial goal and was down on myself for not doing things right but in reality it was an outside factor preventing me from achieving my goal.

We will run into situations like this where we have to be open to changing our goals. This does not need to be a major stressor, even though for a lot of people who are sometimes referred to as “type A” and very driven, this is hard not to get upset about. It is important that we separate external factors from internal struggles when we assess if a goal that we fail to reach is due to us or due to the situation. Sitting down and playing out exactly what prevented us from achieving a goal can be helpful, as long as we stay away from the “ya but” thinking that will always find something we could have done different.

How to Change a Goal Effectively

Once it is established that a goal needs to be changed, there are better ways to do it then simply throwing up ones hands and saying forget it. Even a goal that isn’t truly adjustable and is no longer possible has value in it if we approach it in a health mindset. Take for example a fitness goal. Let’s use a pretty extreme one to illustrate the proper way to change a goal that needs to be let go of into something that is still positive.

Say an individual wants to lose 100lbs in 2 years. Quite a challenge, and there are a lot of unhealthy ways to do this. Setting the unhealthy ways aside, they are going about their efforts in a healthy way and are seeing results. However, after 6 months and 30 pounds down, they are struck with a major injury to their knee. This injury will totally prevent high impact cardiovascular exercise for at least 3 months, and the doctors are even worried about permanent loss of some function to this person’s leg. Well, the weight loss goal is not totally impossible now but is far less likely to be achieved due to a limiting factor that cannot be changed. The stubborn approach could lead to further injury by pushing the already injured leg too hard, other injuries by relying on overusing other muscle groups, and quite a bit of mental anguish as the physical pain is exacerbated by the individual refusing to let go of their original goal. So, if the goal is no longer obtainable we can still look to what we learned in the pursuit of it and apply that to our current situation. During the planning of the goal, the person likely learned how to self-motivate as well as their ability to create a good routine. These things can become normal parts of their life even if the original specific goal is no longer obtainable. In this way, even falling short of a goal can give us an increase in our lives and be a good thing overall. Focusing on these positive aspects will not only make it easier to accept a goal cannot be reached, but also make goal setting in general less intimidating.

“Giving up” on a goal does not undo previous progress nor does it make lessons learned during the pursuit less valuable. If a goal is no longer attainable, take the positive things that can come from it as a reward and realize that a goal that is not achieved is only a “failure” if someone convinces themselves it is.

If you would like to work on some personal goals and how to manage them in a mentally health way, 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