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Goal Setting and Planning: A 7 Step Guide

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Goal Setting and Planning: A 7 Step Guide

In DBT, there is a concept that one can reduce their vulnerability to stress and anxiety by accumulating positive emotions in the long term. This essentially means focusing on, and taking steps towards, growing and developing as a person. By making personal growth a priority, we can create the satisfying life we are looking for. The way you can do this is goal setting and planning.


Common roadblocks to goal setting and planning:


  • Goal Setting and Motivation: Sometimes it may feel like it is impossible to find the motivation and drive to do what we need to do in order to work on our ambitions.


  • Goal Setting and Time Management: We often have a lot on our plates and it is hard to make time to work on our goals.


  • Goal Setting Bewilderment: You may not be sure what your goals are or even how to figure it out.  Alternatively, you might have a clear picture of your goals and just be stuck on how to achieve them.


The major root of these roadblocks come from feeling overwhelmed when we start to think about goal setting and planning. This can lead to anxiety and stress, which then manifests as a lack of motivation and inability to work through the confusion and work on figuring out and achieving our goals. The best practices for goal setting is to break down the process into small manageable steps. This allows for us to have the energy to figure out what our goals are, how to reach them, and how to make time for it in our schedule without feeling overwhelmed. Let’s break down these steps!


Best practices for goal setting and planning: A 7 Step Guide


  1. Create motivation: remind yourself on a daily basis why it is important for you to make personal growth a priority. Include empowering messages in your inner dialogue that remind you of your strength and capability. Remember that avoiding working on your goals just causes more anxiety and dissatisfaction, which can be eliminated by putting the next steps into practice.


  1. Identify values that are important to you: Values are ways of living; they are what you find most important in life. Sometimes struggling with goal setting and motivation comes from not really valuing what we are working towards. It can be easy to tell ourselves something is important just because we think that’s what should be. In order to determine what YOUR actual values are, ask yourself the following questions:
  • What in life matters to me the most? What are my highest priorities?
  • What direction do I want my life to go in?
  • What do I currently have in my life that I don’t want to lose?
  • What things do I value but am missing from my life at this time?
  • If anything was possible, what would I do and what direction would I take my life in?
  • If I could work on a specific value but not tell anyone about it, would I still do it?


  1. Identify one value to work on now: Trying to work on all values at once can cause stress and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to take any steps towards progress. Determining one value to focus on makes working on goals more manageable.  Ask yourself the following questions to help prioritize which value to work on first:
  • Which value is my highest priority?
  • In what areas do I feel my life doesn’t currently match my values very well?
  • Which value is not in my life right now?
  • What do I need to change in my life so that it will match my values?

Using these questions, rank your values from highest importance to lowest.  Look at what ranks highest and see if your life matches up with that. If it does, great! Move on to the next highest ranked value until you find the one that you feel needs work. Then move onto step 4.


  1. Identify a few goals related to this value: While values can be broad concepts, goals are very specific and show a clear result. Questions to ask yourself:
  • What is one thing I want to accomplish that fits in with this value?
  • What is something about my behavior that I would need to change to live a life that’s guided by this value?
  • What are some obstacles that I need to overcome in order to start living a life in line with this value?


  1.  Choose one goal to work on now: It is not possible to effectively work on all your goals at once. List your goals in order of importance and reasonableness. Start with the goals that are of high priority and are the most realistically possible at this time.


  1. Identify small action steps toward your goal: This will help with goal setting and time management because it gives you a small, concrete way to begin achieving a goal. Think about what steps will move you closer to your goal. Break down the tasks as small as possible.


  1. Take one action step now: Your action steps may need to be completed in a specific order, where you  have a clear step-by-step picture of where to start and what order to continue in. If that is not the case, and your action steps are not as interconnected, rank your steps in terms of ease and resources at your disposal. Start with the easiest first and move through your list in that order.


Once you complete the 7 steps, go back to step 6 and work on another action step until all are complete. Then you can go back to step 4 and work through all goals listed in the same process; one goal/one action step at a time. When a goal is complete, before going back to step 4, you may want to start with step 1 again. Our values and priorities can change over time; therefore, it can be beneficial to re-evaluate our original list from time to time. Overall, the idea is to constantly be moving through these steps as a way to maintain life satisfaction and happiness.

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