Goal Setting

Goal setting is an essential first step in the movement toward empowerment. Although goal setting seems intuitive and simple, it is not a trivial exercise. Many individuals have learned to function in a goalless and reactive manner rather than a goal-directed and proactive manner. Previous history and experience have reinforced the mind-set of not setting goals when they most likely will not be met.

The absence of goal-setting behavior may especially be the case with individuals who have been oppressed, disadvantaged, and/or discriminated against. These individuals may have learned that goal setting may not always be productive and in fact may be a waste of time. Under circumstances of oppression and discrimination, things happen to a person rather than the person controlling what happens or making something happen.

However, goal setting can be learned, even among individuals who have not lived in a culture where goal setting is a cultural norm. An important first step in goal setting is to learn how to set realistic goals. Realistic goals are attainable, practical, concrete, and individualized. Goals should also be time defined. The goal of obtaining a graduate degree may not be attainable within the time desired by a given person, but having the goal to enroll in a specific training course may be. Goals should not be so difficult that attaining them are impossible nor so easy that little effort has to be put into reaching them. Goals should also be individualized. In our group, each member identified a goal they wanted to reach after six months. These goals were used as a starting point for discussing the practicality and attainability of goals.

Once a goal has been specified, smaller subgoals should be delineated. The goal of many members in our group was to obtain employment. Therefore, several smaller goals had to be realized before the employment goal could be met. For example, a subgoal might be as simple as scheduling rehabilitation and medical appointments at the appropriate time period. A second subgoal might be to learn how to use public transportation to get to these appointments. A more complex long-term goal might be to find suitable employment. Each of these small goals will need to be met before the larger one can be achieved.

We can also set cognitive and affective goals, along with behavioral or action-oriented goals. For example, an affective goal may be to decrease one's negative thinking pattern following an aversive situation. If I don't get a job, I will be able to control my anxiety (affective goal) and not view myself as worthless (cognitive goal). As with behavioral self-efficacy, strategies can be used to increase cognitive and affective self-efficacy by identifying cognitive and affective goals (Maddux & Lewis, 1995). Cognitive and affective subgoals, along with behavioral subgoals, can be used to reach larger goals. For example, one affective subgoal may be to repeat an affirmation to oneself each day. Another may be to think about a pleasant experience whenever one starts to feel anxious.

A suggestion is to write down one's goals and subgoals. The process of writing down goals makes them more real in the person's mind. Reviewing and referring to these goals every day is also helpful. Sharing written goals with significant others should also reinforce and provide support for reaching goals.

Following the identification of a goal, the next step is to develop a plan to carry out these goals. Through extensive practice one begins to act on that goal. Guided mastery experiences (practice) can be used to achieve desired outcomes and is discussed next.

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