How To Begin Setting Goals

When setting goals, it is important to distinguish between short, medium, and long-term goals.  Short-term goals can be anything from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks.  Medium-term goals tend to encompass anything from a month to a few months. Long-term goals can be thought of as more than six months out.  Within each time frame it is important to pick measurable and specific goals. These are goals you can quantifiably check off.  When deciding if a goal is most appropriate, I recommend living by what I call the 7-Rule.  Set a goal and honestly check with yourself on a scale from 1-10, 1 being no confidence in completing it, and 10 being 100% confidence.  If you do not reach a 7 on the scale for each goal, it is important to pick a smaller goal that will get you to a 7.  You should be able to set 7-Rule goals for short, medium, and long-term goals.  The reason it is important to distinguish between time and confidence is because of the power of accomplishment.  The more we achieve, the more motivated we are to keep pushing.  It is also a good way to measure by looking back to see how far we’ve come.

I recommend focusing on a short-term goal and checking the 7-Rule.  Often, people think about where they want to be rather than where they are.  It is important to start with the simplest step and gain confidence from there.  By simplest step, I mean just that.  The act of crossing something off a list and feeling a sense of accomplishment can be contagious, and set you up on a path for success.  Runners in-training often say, “If you think you are running slow, run slower.”  This motto applies to turning intentions into action and then into accomplishment.

Writing down your goals is always a good idea in order to a) remember what your goals are, b) see the progress you have made, and c) allow yourself the flexibility to add and adjust your goals.  If there is a place where you get stuck, fall back on the 7-Rule and come up with a game plan for new short, medium, and long-term goals.  There is no reason to stay fixated on the original list if you are stuck. It is perfectly acceptable to make adjustments and set yourself up for success moving forward.  If you have been successful with your goal setting, push yourself. See if the goals you set for yourself were too small, and if they were, come up with a new list and check again with the 7-Rule.

Top Qualities of a Strong Relationship

Strong relationships involve flexibility, communication, intentionality, fun, compassion, and an overall sense of togetherness.  Life can be challenging and it’s special to go through it with someone that has your back.  Having a sense of togetherness does not necessarily mean agreeing all the time.  Being able to mutually see that what your partner is going through makes sense for them, based on who they are and how they think and feel, is crucial for good connection.

Flexibility in a relationship means that there is a sense of give-and-take.  There will be times that your partner asks you to participate in something that you're not so keen on doing, and yet, because your partner is someone that is important to you, there's a willingness to share the experience. It is important, however, to not fall into the trap of bargaining. This is not a tit-for-tat relationship.  Each moment is a separate event where you check with yourself about what is most important to you.  To be in a strong partnership, it is important to show up to support your partner.

Good communication involves acknowledging what is happening for you in the moment and telling your partner. When they are speaking to you about something meaningful, being able to disconnect from your own internal dialogue to show up and really listen to your partner, without reactivity, is essential.  Too often we get stuck in the trap of trying to come up with our own response or quickly reacting to what our partner has said, rather than listening with empathy to what it is that our partner is telling us.

Strong relationships involve being intentional.  Often times, we run on autopilot and we fall into the trap of reacting or going with the flow without thinking.  In a meaningful relationship, you are aware of what is most important to you, as well as to your partner, and are intentional about what is best for the two of you.

Can't forget about fun! Whether this is scheduled fun or spontaneous fun, there are times to drop the seriousness and just go and enjoy your time with your partner.  This can even be done during times of conflict.  Fun can come in a variety of ways, whether this is low-energy fun like sitting by the fire and reading a book, or high-energy fun like playing sports or dancing, it is important to be able to enjoy your partner's company.

It is important to have compassion not only for yourself and your own struggles, but also to have compassion for your partner.  Life can be so tender, which is why sensitivity, loving energy, and togetherness are at the root of a strong relationship.

Can You Choose Your Feelings?

When working with couples in counseling, my focus is to help my clients interact with each other intentionally instead of reactively.  An example of a reactive response is when anger gets triggered. Anger is a secondary emotion which shields us from more painful and vulnerable emotions, such as shame, loneliness, or sadness. In relationships, we often use anger as a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from something hurtful that our partner has said, or something that will effect us in an unwanted way.

As an alternative, I advise my clients to hear their partner’s words and experience them differently, as if they are their partner’s best friend.  The goal is to not allow the secondary emotion of anger to overtake us. We have the ability to choose what effect words have over us, rather than simply reacting without control. This enables us to communicate with our partner better, to respond in an intentional manner without acting out of anger, and to problem solve in a more creative way that’s good for both people.

The Magic of Mirroring

When working with couples in therapy, I work to facilitate better communication and a deeper connection between partners. “Mirroring” is one technique I teach to couples in this process, in order to reduce reactivity and increase empathy.  How mirroring works is that a partner will share an aspect of the relationship which they see as problematic.  After carefully listening, the other partner will repeat exactly (or mirror) what was just said, until the speaker feels fully heard and understood. Turns are taken and specific issues are chosen to be examined in more depth.  This exercise enables both parties to ultimately feel cared for and understood by their significant other.

The key to a healthy relationship is not necessarily to agree on everything. Instead, it is to find a space in which individuals in a relationship can express their thoughts and feelings about difficult matters, reassured that their partners hear and understand them.  This new space is not about right and wrong, but where two different perspectives live side by side and add to each other’s lives. Who doesn’t want to hear their partner tell them  “Hey, you’re not crazy. I get it.” By practicing mirroring, both during and outside of therapy, couples can learn to communicate better and have longer, more fulfilling relationships.