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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – Effective Goal Setting Technique

By Last Updated January 20, 2020February 11th, 2021No Comments
ACT and Goal Setting

New year, new me

For many of us, the new year is a fresh start, a do-over of sorts! This can serve as a motivation to try something different or to recommit to those hobbies or tasks that you pressed pause on because you were too busy tending to other important things. When we think about the New Year, a word that often comes to mind is resolutions. We ask our colleagues and friends what their New Year’s resolutions are, finding out if yours is akin to theirs: is it to socialise more, lose weight or manage your finances….

We readily begin brainstorming these before the clock strikes 12 on December 31st,  but what exactly are resolutions? A resolution means to make a resolve to do something/take action. The dictionary states that to resolve is “to make a definite and serious decision to do something.” As promising as that sounds, what is the best route to do this?

The truth is, change is often slow. Sometimes we can make vast changes almost immediately, but more often than not change takes time. When creating new year’s resolutions we often fail to take into consideration and feel deflated when our goals are not completed come January 2nd. We become so fixated on the big picture that we don’t recognize or commend ourselves on all the small steps we have taken on the road toward change, thus we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure down the line.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers some profound ideas and tools that can be very useful in guiding us along our process of change. This model can assist us to keep our resolutions all year long!

What is ACT?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to increase psychological flexibility, which means that you can connect to the present moment consciously and choose to behave in a manner that is consistent with your values as the situation allows.

Clarify and connect with your values

A fundamental cornerstone in ACT is to get in touch with your core values (not those determined for you by your family, friends, society, etc) and then utilize these values to guide your actions and to create specific goals. This is typically what we are aiming for when we form new year’s resolutions. For instance, if I resolve to eat less chocolate, a useful place to start is to examine my values. Do I feel like I “should” eat less chocolate because I feel pressured by our health-conscious culture or am I doing it because my friends are too?

Or do I want to eat less chocolate because I value my physical health and I feel it will assist me in leading a healthier lifestyle? Or perhaps I value my role as a model to my family and friends and want to eat healthier for this reason. Once I determine my values and make sure that my resolution is driven by my intrinsic motivation, then I can create a solid plan of action to move forward with.

Setting goals with ACT

Set your goals

After (and only after!) you clarify your values, do you begin setting your goals. Goals are attainable; they are the concrete steps that bring you closer to your identified values. If you have the value of engaging in a healthier lifestyle, what are the process goals you can attain along the way? Goals can include exercising, learning a new sport, cooking a healthy dinner, etc.

When mapping out your goals use the ACT SMART goal formula as your guide:

Specific – Try to refrain from using vague statements such as “I’ll eat less chocolate”. Instead, be specific: I’ll refrain from eating chocolate during the week, only indulging in a bar or two over the weekend.

Motivated by values – Double-check this goal is aligned with your core values.

Adaptive – Write here how you feel this goal will improve or enhance your life e.g: help maintain a healthier weight, lower cholesterol, more energy throughout the day.

Realistic – Make sure the goal is realistic for the time and resources you have available to you in the here and now.

Time – Put a specific time frame on the goal: specify the day, date and time, as accurately as possible- that you will take the proposed actions, e.g: I will eat only two chocolate bars from January 2nd, reviewing my progress on January 31st.

Failing at your goals

What to do when you encounter a roadblock?

All humans are fallible, especially when we embark on a journey of change, therefore anticipate setbacks: there will be times when we are not able to meet our desired goals. When we “fail,” our natural response is to feel angry, ashamed, or guilty. After breaking our resolve and eating a pizza or smoking a cigarette after a stressful day at work, this setback if approached in a self-deprecating manner could lead us to give up on our resolution completely!

When we fall short, it is important to try not to judge ourselves. Not meeting our goal does not mean that we lack will-power or that we will never make it. We are just experiencing a minor setback that typically happens with any behavioral change when we fall break our resolve the most helpful thing we can ask ourselves is how can we get back on track and continue to make choices that are consistent with our values? This is why having clear values is so fundamental to this process, as it gives us meaning and motivation to act in alignment with that purpose.

Enjoy the process

Big success is often a culmination of small victories. If your weight loss goal is to lose 20 pounds or you plan to save 6,000 euros for a new car, chances are that these goals won’t happen at once. However, you can still celebrate your trousers fitting a little looser every week or enjoy seeing your savings account looking a little fuller. Having goals is important; however, we mustn’t stop living while we pursue them! Life is to be cherished while you are seeing your dreams realized. Don’t allow your focus on the outcome to keep you from enjoying the process! And thereafter once the outcome goal is accomplished (the new car or 20-pound weight loss), go back to the drawing board and figure out new and exciting ways to living out your values, whatever they may be!

Zevo provide some of the best workplace wellness workshops around and one of these is a workshop on goal setting that is designed to provide individuals with the knowledge on how to set goals, common goal setting mistakes and the process that is necessary in order to set effective goals.

Workplace wellness workshops cta

*This is not medical advice, please contact a medical professional if you think you need to seek further help.

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