Setting goals for yourself

A goal definitely focuses the mind.  Photo by Andy Hu on Unsplash

Different types of therapy advocate different methods of improving client welfare.  Some therapies focus on gaining unconscious change, hoping that, through this, more conscious levels of thought and behaviour can be changed.

Some therapies, in contrast, work more consciously and collaboratively with clients, setting in place plans whereby the client can make progress in a more evidence-based fashion.  But all therapy has some focus on helping a client’s life to improve.

This short article explores, briefly, the use of goals in self-improvement.  (In self-improvement, I include collaborative work with therapists.)


When we are on a journey of self-improvement, setting a goal can be quite a powerful focus.  Simply by deciding on an improvement we want to make, and then trying to follow it through, we can discover a lot about our strengths and weaknesses, and even delve into blocks, both conscious and unconscious.

It is arguably better to focus, at least initially, on one or two key goals.  That way, things don’t get too confusing.  Different goals can impinge on each other in weird ways, and just having one, for a fixed period of time, keeps it simple and powerful.


When choosing what to focus on, it is worth taking into account:

  • Time constraints – is your goal realistic in terms of time available?
  • Abilities – are you trying to do something that is actually possible for you?
  • Dangers – have you considered any risks to yourself, or those around you, and mitigated them?
  • Support system – what support system can you get in place to help you in the hard times?
In other words, try to choose a goal which you have the time and the ability for.  Also, consider the down side, and make sure you have some support available.


Try to choose a goal that is consistent with your values.  There is no point in improving your status, if at heart you don’t believe that status is important.  There is no point in becoming more beautiful, if you don’t think beauty matters.  Know what truly matters to you, and focus on that.

This is complex: as humans, we are a confused bundle of mixed motivations, and we need to do a lot of work to disentangle the delusions from the simpler values.

As a general rule, if you base your goals on delusions, achievement of them will never make you happy, since you are chasing something that does not have enduring substance.  For instance, if you want to achieve something out of revenge against someone, then you may feel strangely hollow when you have proved your point.


Just like an athlete, you may only improve in tiny increments, from day to day.  Athletes do not simply appear at the Olympics, having been magically transformed on the day before.  Theirs has been a very long journey of self-improvement.  In the same way, when improving yourself, allow for small steps, which you can monitor regularly.

To give you an example, let’s say your problem is anxious meltdowns.  You are unlikely to cure these overnight.  But what is distinctly possible is to choose a situation that tends to trigger anxious meltdowns, and then, bit by bit, try to become better at handling it.


Finally, try to enjoy the journey.  The point of using goals for self-improvement, is to make life a bit of an adventure.  An explorer gets a kick out of climbing a mountain; it is an interaction between a crazy decision and a challenging context.

Self-improvement is the same.  It can be strangely satisfying to make your own crazy decision to improve an aspect of your life or behaviour, and then to keep an eye on how you are rising to the challenge.


Spend some time thinking about what you truly value in life.

What small change would you like to make, in order to make your behaviour more consistent with your true values?

If you wrote it down in a sentence, what would that small change, that goal, be



If you want to improve yourself, setting a goal can be a powerful tool.

It is good to choose just one or two things to focus on.  Also, take into account your time and ability, and be realistic about the level of risk to you, and what support you have available.

Try to choose a goal which is consistent with your deeply-held values.

Then, like an explorer, have an adventure, improving steadily in small steps, and enjoying the journey.

You could start by writing down, in a sentence, one thing you would like to improve about yourself.

One small change.

What would it be?