Goals

I sat in my clinical office one Friday afternoon feeling utterly helpless as I hung up the phone after talking with my friend.  Two weeks earlier I had referred him to an addictions treatment center a few hours away so that his son could get a good jump start on his recovery from an addiction to prescription drugs.  Although I screened the treatment center staff and had several calls with their clinical director, the treatment center dropped the ball and ended up allowing the young man to connect with locals who fed him more pills.  In that moment, I made a bold decision and set a lofty goal.  I wouldn’t refer out for addictions treatment anymore.  Instead, we would treat addictions in house at our clinic using innovative methods to help individuals struggling to find hope and healing.  I started dreaming in my office that afternoon, determined to do something special for those struggling with addiction issues but was gripped with fear at the prospect of turning this passion into a reality.  This moment would prove to be a defining moment in my career and in the life of my clinic.  Almost four years later, we have a thriving addictions treatment center that is indeed helping many people find freedom from drugs and alcohol.  On the eve of this New Year, many of us are metaphorically sitting in the clinical office dreaming about a new goal.  We have things we would like to work on, things we would like to change in the coming year.  And we have fears about the prospect of turning our passions into a new reality.  I’d like to share a few insights I have learned along the way about what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to achieving our goals.

  1. Dream about your goals

I look back to the time I spent in the office on that Friday afternoon as the most pivotal moment in the development of our addictions treatment center.  Maybe it was because I felt as if I had let my friend and his son down or maybe it was frustration that I felt helpless to affect change in the situation; but for whatever reason I took a long minute and let myself develop a vision of what it would feel like to have a treatment center that would actually help addicts recover.  I envisioned what it would feel like to watch people just like my buddy’s son walk out of our clinic with new skills to deal with addiction.  I thought about how it might feel to have families restored and marriages redeemed.  The emotion of my vision has sustained me many times through the pains of the growth process.  I have been motivated and steadfast in my commitment to the goal because of the passion I developed in those moments in my office visualizing my dream in detail.  Whatever you want to do next year, it is important that you spend time dreaming.  Allow yourself to envision what it will feel like to be successful; to meet your goal.  What would it feel like to get the new job, to run the marathon, or to live in that new relationship?  The positive emotion you feel when you dream is the very thing that will sustain your motivation when the going gets tough and you want to quit!

  1. Define the process clearly

If I told you to get in your car and drive to Little Rock, Arkansas, what is one of the first things you might do as you started your trip?  I hope you would pull out your cell phone and GPS some good directions.  Could you make it to Little Rock without clear directions?  Maybe, but it would be much harder than if you had specific steps that guided your entire trip.  Reaching your goals and realizing your passions is contingent on defining clearly, step by step, every aspect of the process that will be required to get where you want to go.  If you want to lose weight, you can’t just decide ‘I want to lose 15 pounds’.  You will be much more successful if you plan out how much weight you want to lose per month, adopt an eating plan that has been proven to shed pounds, connect with a trainer that will teach you how to work out, and carve out time in your schedule to prepare meals and to exercise.  When I started our addictions program, I sat down and created a thorough business plan that included a clinical rationale for why our program was important to our community, a marketing strategy for how we would tell people about our program, and a thorough operating budget for 3 years.  I’ve refined this plan many times, but I have benefited greatly over the years by having a coherent, step by step understanding of what I will do next to advance the vision and reach my goals.  As you enter the new year and start to work toward realizing your goals, it is imperative that you create a road map that will guide you to your destination.  Make sure you are specific as you define the process and write out your plan in detail.

  1. Embrace your fears

When I sat in my office dreaming about starting our addictions program, I simultaneously experienced great passion and deep fear.  Although I initially tried to push the fear out of my mind, I found that embracing the fear was actually a big part of our success over the years.  Instead of pushing the fear of failure out of my awareness, I started to proactively define what failure might look like.  I imagined talking to clients who had relapsed and to families who continued to be fractured by addiction.  I let myself feel the fear and then I allow myself to let that fear motivate me.  Then I could directly create plans to prevent my fears from coming to fruition.  I could plan how I might repair negative treatment outcomes and respond to setbacks before they happened.  Perhaps the most positive result that came as a result of embracing my fear was actually considering the cost of inaction.  If I let my fear have the power to distract me from driving toward my goal, could I live with the consequences?  I choose, every time, to press on toward the goal of treating addictions because I can’t stand the idea of these people not having access to effective treatment.  As you pursue your new goals this year, do it with a keen awareness of your fear.  Understand that your fear is the very thing that could cause your inaction, and consider whether or not you are willing to live with the consequences of not pushing forward.  Can you stand the idea of being in the same job next year this time?  How do you feel when you think about going through another year without running that marathon or improving your marriage?  Use that fear to motivate you to anticipate how you can respond to setbacks before they happen.  In the end, you can choose to confront your fears head on and then press forward toward your goals this year.

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