Value- and Strength-based Goal Setting

The life of a college student is inherently about change and living a transient life, so yearning for and relying on a little bit of sameness isn’t too much to ask.  Can’t we have some certainty and stability to keep us steady and upright while our mental and physical muscles are stretched?!  I believe so.  I believe a serving of change here and there, together with a pinch of discomfort every so often goes best when blended with a base mix of stability, familiarity, and predictability.

For me, I like the comfort of routine, feeling like life, particularly my life, is at least partially predictable, unchangeable, and under my control. The way I do that and the way I encourage my clients to do that is through daily goal-setting.  And like our previous discussion on time management, I want to take on the traditional view a goal-setting.  I want to turn concepts such as SMART goals and Bucket Lists on their respective sides and provide a fresh perspective that makes achieving meaningful goals relatively simple and effortless.  We’re going to making thimble lists, if you will.  So simple and effortless that it comes with a guarantee- a certainty and predictability of small achievements that build a grounding fortress strong enough to withstand all those daily challenges and changes that are outside of our personal scope or control.

Let’s start by taking a look at figure 1.  I’ve borrowed/adopted this figure from a growth activity that’s often a part of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), used specifically to build up one’s personal resources to take on the challenge of processing tough experiences/memories in one’s personal past.  Many call it the Wheel of Fortunate Resources.  I call it a Resource Wheel, which is a list of strengths and values that reflect a self-defined core value or belief of oneself.  One can use it simply as an illustration or act of self-awareness that reminds us that we are good, worthy people.  I like to take it a step further, using it as not only a symbolic reminder but a map and course of action of daily activities that provide us not only with meaning but protect us from the stress, self-doubt, and uncertainty that can grow throughout a busy and challenging day.

Let’s see how this works by putting it into practice with step-by-step instructions, illustrated by personal example:

  1. Fill-in the eight blank lines in the outer circle with a list of strengths and values, including perhaps a growth area or two (something your “best self” can do but you just need to be able to rely on it more consistently). Don’t worry too much about differentiating between a strength and value- the most important thing is that each one represents something that requires effort and attention, not something that just “is”.  Look at Figure 2 for my personal list, which includes the two growth areas of “patience” and “compassionate assertiveness”.

Figure 1

Figure 2

  1. Look over your list of strengths and values and begin working toward a rather simple sentence that brings it all of them together in a unifying proclamation about yourself. Put that it in the middle of the inner circle.  It may take a while and you may go through several iterations before you settle into one that feels right.  Look at Figure 3 for mine.  I can look at that simple statement, repeat it to myself several times, and “feel” or “hear” all my strengths/values listed, as my mind automatically conjures up various images and associations with each one.  When you’re done with yours, it should be a statement that gives depth, structure, and unity to your list of strengths/values.  It should also motivate you- fuel you with a positive, energizing force that not only makes you feel good about yourself but inspires you to act on that feeling and reinforce the statement.

Figure 3

  1. Now for the most important step. Pick one strength or value each day and make it a goal to honor that strength/value with small actions throughout that day.  In my example, if it’s Monday, I pick kindness.  I’m going to be kind to every friend, colleague, stranger that I meet that day- not necessarily extraordinary or out of the ordinary kindness- just simple kindness- pleasant eye contact, a smile, an open and nonthreatening posture, a kind word or two or a simple gesture of good nature or lightness.  Seems simple right?!  Perhaps it’s too simple that it makes it hard to do.  It’s so easy, that it is not easy.  It’s not easy because it’s so easy to neglect, take for granted, or minimize the simple activities we do every day that reflect our core beliefs and embolden us to be our true selves and honor that self-defined identity with action.  Make your day familiar and predictable by intentionally being you and doing what’s important to you.  It will make you feel good and it will protect you from and/or prepare you for the events and challenges that you will inevitably encounter on any given day.  Regardless of the wrongs and wrong turns, the shock and strain of abrupt changes or gradual transitions, “you be you” each day, intentionally and attentively, to provide a core of stability and self-assuredness through simple, daily goals.  So put your bucket in the closet and go find yourself a thimble, because you have a short, simple list of things you’ll want and have to do today.

You’ve Got Time On Your Hands

By John Brunelle
August 15, 2018

I’ve been charged with writing the first blog entry and have picked a topic that we believe may be helpful during this transition time, whether it’s your first or your last year at Davidson.  Wherever you are in your development as a college student, incoming freshman to rising senior, you’ve been taught and perhaps mastered the skill of time management.  This is arguably the most important skill you will either need to develop and/or brush up on to navigate this busy and demanding place.  You know this.  You have this skill.  But, I’d like to give you a little different take on time management, which I hope will add to your repertoire and maybe even transform the way you view and use your time.

First, let’s say up front, this is nothing original and it certainly didn’t start from my lips/mind.  But, I like to see myself as a pretty good messenger and the message I want to pass on now is based on psychologist William Glasser’s theory and practice of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy.  It’s more of a big picture perspective on managing your time in a value- and goal-directed way.

So let’s get into it!  The core of Glasser’s work is the notion that we as humans have 5 inherent needs that we need to fulfill to be healthy, content, and fulfilled in life.  Four of them we can actively meet through various intentional endeavors.  The fifth is really a byproduct of meeting the other four needs in a personally relevant and satisfying manner.  Glasser’s 5 Basic Needs are: 1) the need for love/affiliation/connectedness; 2) the need for achievement/purpose/mastery; 3) the need for fun/leisure/relaxation; 4) the need for survival (physical and psychological); and 5) the need to feel control/personal agency over our own lives.  See Figure 1 for a graphic picture of these needs.  If you meet and balance those needs each and every day, I bet you can look in the mirror at the end of the day and feel pretty good about yourself and your life’s path.  If you don’t meet these needs, or neglect 1 or 2, you can feel lost, trapped, depressed, anxious, and helpless.

Figure 1

1.   Now Glasser’s theory and approach to counseling, like all therapeutic orientations, can take some time to process, digest, and incorporate into one’s life to make substantial changes on how you think and act.  However, I love coming up with practical shortcuts that students can take home with them after one session.  So here’s my take on how to incorporate Choice Theory right away to make substantial change in your life. It’s a 5 step process that I’ll try to illustrate below, helping you incorporate Glasser’s ideas into your current time management system.

2.  Take a snapshot of Figure 1, print it out, and write ways (in the appropriate circle) in which you like to personally satisfy the different needs. This is your blueprint of behaviors, actions, and endeavors that you should set out to do on a regular, balanced basis (i.e., you should do some fun, belonging, achievement, and survival each and every day).

Now take a snapshot of Figure 2 (a spreadsheet that covers all the hours of a given week) and print it out. For a week, I want you to watch yourself, and at the end of each day, reflect on how each hour and fill in each hour block with a brief description of how you spent most of the hour.

Figure 2

3.  Now pick your favorite crayons, markers, or colored pencils to fill out the spreadsheet in the following manner: achievement hours = red; survival hours=orange; belonging hours=green; fun hours=blue. See Figure 3 for an example of a student-athlete who I worked with a couple of years back.

4.  At the end of the week (I like to do it on Sundays), take a look at your completed spreadsheet. I like to view it several different ways.  First, big picture- what color(s) dominate?  For most goal-directed people, orange and red activities will take up most of your page/time.  Take a particularly close look at your sleep!!!  Adults need, on average, 7-9 hours to fully function and be as happy as their biology/life allows them.  You are late adolescents/young adults who need even more sleep because your brain is very active pruning old teenage brain connections and growing new adult brain connections.  Don’t short change that process!!

Now take a look at the sheet for colors that are not well-represented.  Not a surprise, but this Davidson student had very little blue and green during the week with a little “binging” of fun/belongingness (these often overlap) on the weekend.  This is an unbalanced schedule that could at best lead to stress, unhappiness, and resentment, and at worse suffer from eventual cracks that lead to an eventual breakdown of the time management system in which no needs are met satisfactorily.

Figure 3

5.  The final and most important step is to take a hard look on small and large ways you can change your time management and management of your life. Although big changes may be inevitable (e.g., changing majors; retiring from your sport), I argue and suggest that small changes may be enough to make a substantial change in your life and well-being.  Here are some examples:

  • Add a ½-1 hr sleep a night (you’ll make up time by being more efficient in other hours). If you do this, and only this, you’ll make significant changes in your functioning and mood.
  • Look out for the “wasted hours”, or hours in which you really can’t remember what you did, if anything at all, or you wrote something down but you really didn’t give full energy or focus- essentially no need was really met that hour. There are several ways of doing this eliminating these types of times.  For example, break up long study blocks- without breaks the later hours will be ineffective anyway.  Actually schedule in fun/leisure or connectedness, just like you would schedule in classes and study time.  You should do this for two reasons: (1) it gives you permission to take care of yourself without feeling guilty, and (2) it allows you to control your fun/leisure time rather than it controlling you.  Often times, if you don’t have fun/leisure scheduled, the need creeps up on you and you find yourself doing things like playing video games, mindlessly surfing the internet, or passively viewing social media.  The first hour may be meeting the need for fun/leisure, but eventually guilt and boredom take over and you are just avoiding and depriving yourself of meeting any needs.  I call this mastery of avoiding wasted hours as “procrastinating better”, simply because we’re taught or we believe that we should always be working on mastery or achievement.  But, you know, it’s really a bad name for it, because it’s really not procrastinating if the activity is meeting a legitimate need in a legitimate manner and time.
  • Change your perspective on studying and/or listening to lectures by perhaps have a little fun with the learning (instead of focusing on grades) and emphasizing the connection that you make with your peers and professors discussing the learning (instead of focusing on your grades). What you can do then, at least in your mind’s eye, is to change some red blocks to a shade of blue or green.
  • Meet with staff from the Student Counseling Center or Academic Access and Disability Resources to improve your technical time management skill or study skills to make you use your time more efficiently and effectively, essentially giving you more hours in the day.

6.  Actually, I lied. The final step is to do this all over again on a regular basis.  In my opinion, we spend too much time on the details of “to do” lists and too little time on the big picture.  Continuously reflect on your values and needs and make sure your days are balanced and that what you do each day is tied to the big picture of overall wellness and life fulfillment.

So, there you go, our first Student Counseling Center blog entry.  More to follow!!  We hope you find them helpful.  At the very least, we hope they pique both your self-awareness and curiosity about how you tick and how you operate in this world.  Go Cats!  See you next time.

Welcome (Back) Wildcats!


Welcome (back) Davidson Students!  And also welcome to the Student Counseling Center’s New Blog.  Besides our normal duties as counselors, we are reaching out to the Davidson community in a variety of new ways this year (e.g., the blog, workshops, walk-in groups and counseling hours at the Union) with a mission of getting out of the office (literally and figuratively) and meeting students outside the context of traditional therapy.  We’re hoping to build relationships outside the therapeutic setting as a chance to meet you where you are, perhaps share a helpful tidbit of knowledge here and there, and ultimately travel more alongside you in your exciting but challenging journey at Davidson.