by: Nicole Rhodes (Marble Wellness Grief + Chronic Illness Specialist/Therapist)
What achievements are you proud of?
I’d been slowly working my way through a blog post about Tips for Starting Small to Achieve Your Goals or The Importance of Doing What You Can when a client shared an assignment that was offered to them in class: write about five achievements that you are proud of. The client - an exceptional student - was stuck. Totally stymied in a bog of thinking, what have I achieved? Is it noteworthy? Do I have anything to share that isn’t connected to [this major life experience?]
After processing this with the client (freeze frame: they did have noteworthy achievements), I found myself wondering how other clients would respond. Some answered practically, while others questioned the meaning of an achievement in itself - is it a public thing? Defined? Rare? How is it different from an accomplishment?
These conversations led to two main takeaways:
1) clients have achieved much more than they give themselves credit for, and
2) only YOU get to define an achievement.
When you are in the thick of anxiety, self-doubt, grief, depression, and more, it can feel like you have nothing to be proud of - current you or future you. I get that it’s easy for me, the person on the other side of the room (or screen) to say that this couldn’t be further from the truth, but I want you to know that you have done great things and are capable of great things. Promise.
When it feels like your goals, whatever they may be, are too overwhelming, remember that it’s okay to take small steps. Simone wasn’t the GOAT on day one AND it took at least 8 tries to make the best Spider-Man movie (I said what I said).
Conventional wisdom tells us that if you repeat a phrase or tool 3 times in therapy, it might make a decent blog post. I’ve repeated this next idea a few times in sessions recently when discussing goals, so I thought I would share it with you: I have been a distance runner for at least half of my life. When I was in high school, I participated in my school’s cross country and track & field teams - easily one of the most influential experiences of my life. My Coach was great in all the ways that make coaches great, including his quotes and life lessons (we have a whole Facebook post dedicated to it). Among the things my coach was known for saying was:
The bigger the base, the higher the peak.
In distance running, the meaning is simple: the bigger the base – things like stretching, attention to nutrition & hydration, long run Sundays, rest, etc. – the greater performance you have the potential to reach. While the base was sometimes difficult to build (I mean, who really wants to run 10+ miles on a Sunday morning), I concede that there was something to this ideology. As Coach would say, the proof is in the pudding. And this pudding had a lot of #winning.
Like many of his classic phrases, I’ve found that these nuggets of wisdom have relevance in the therapy world, too (thanks, Coach!). Pick your metaphor of choice – baby steps, stepping stones, building blocks – and understand that it often takes incremental steps to make lasting change.
Here are 7 tips from a St. Louis, MO Therapist for building your base and reaching your goals:
1. Break down your goals.
How many of us can attest to gathering our sharpies and decorating the crap out of a vision board with our goals and dreams? But then … crickets. We didn’t thoughtfully plan out what’s needed to get to a place of adding a big, fat checkmark next to the goal. And - generally - there ARE steps between where you are now and that thing you want to do. Say that you want to return to daily hiking, but chronic pain is in the way of you even getting out the door. What do you need to accomplish the task? Is there a space between doing nothing and climbing mountains? Start with the most basic of steps, like sitting outside with your climbing boots on. Slowly add the rigor - walk outside, add elevation/distance, practice adding a pack on your journeys, and finally, climb that mountain! This thinking transcends physical endeavors, too. Almost any metaphorical mountain we want to climb has stepping stones to get to the peak - repairing relationships, sorting clutter, and more.
2. Do what you can.
Very similar to breaking down your goals is the idea of doing what you can. Emphasizing our can-dos helps make our list of can’ts seem a bit more digestible. Consider this example: I once worked with an older, widowed client who experienced chronic pain. They were upset with themselves that they would be leaving a house full of “things” to their adult children to sort, having no knowledge of what was a family heirloom vs. a run-of-the-mill piece from Home Goods. After some discussion, the client was empowered to write notes to attach to the back or bottom of pieces around their home to help make the sorting process much simpler after their impending death. The client was thrilled to find a can amidst the list of their can’ts. This can be true for you, too, in so many realms.
3. Use the tools already available to you to help you make change.
Your phone can be a great asset helping you reach your goals - if you use it correctly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as the next person of doom scrolling and taking in the latest small-town gossip, but I’ve also had success in using the timer function and a streak-counting app on my phone to reach my goals. Example: You have a goal of meditating once/day for five minutes each day. Set a reminder or an alarm on your phone to meditate at the same time each day. Use the timer to know that you’ve been practicing for five minutes, then use the streak-counting app to keep track of the # of days you’ve been at it. It’s oddly motivating, like an e-version of a sticker chart for adults!
4. Enlist someone to hold you accountable.
It kinda sucks to tell someone that you didn’t do the thing that you wanted. Identify someone - a friend, a coworker, your therapist - who cares about you reaching your goals and let them know what you want to achieve. Let them know the best ways to support you - notes of encouragement, accountability texts/pics, meetups, or more.
5. Adjust your thinking.
Our brains are a muscle to be toned. It takes self-reflection and practice to get us to a place of believing in our ability to reach our goals. Consider this:
If you are looking for evidence that says you can’t accomplish something, you will find it. Similarly, if you are looking for signs that you say your goal is possible, you will find them. Look for reasons and examples to support you reaching whatever it is you want to accomplish.
Pay attention to what drains you. Consider the moments you feel most exhausted and defeated – where are you? Who is there? What tasks are you doing? Did you eat well and drink enough water? How is your sleep? Look for trends and adjust.
Be aware of cognitive distortions. Are there patterns to your thinking? How can you reframe or challenge your thoughts?
6. Use visual reminders.
Remember the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind?” This can be true for goals, too. Add notes to your mirror, car dashboard, keys, phone lock screen, shoes, or wherever you are sure to look each day to remind you of whatever it is you want to accomplish.
7. Honor the progress, no matter how small.
This is key. The mountains - literal or metaphorical - will seem infinitely bigger if we don’t take note of the base we’ve built. No mess-up can outweigh the work we’ve put in to better ourselves. When we honor how far we’ve come, we can see the potential for what we can reach.
What tips would you add to our list to reach your goal? Let us know!
You, your Goals, and your Mental Health are worth it!
Counseling services designed to help set you on a path of living a more fulfilled, calm, and happy life. We specialize in anxiety, depression, grief, chronic illness, therapy for men, couples, and maternal overwhelm. We can also help new moms with various postpartum concerns, moms in the thick of parenting, and moms with teens. We can also chat from wherever you are in the state with online therapy in Missouri and online therapy in Illinois. No matter where you are in your journey, we would love to support you.