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.

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.