Reaching a Goal is Like Crossing a River
If you’re like me, you can feel overwhelmed when you set a long-term goal. It might be so far away it seems impossible to reach. Do you want to get sober, go back to school, get a job, or finally be stable? Long-term goals can feel too hard to do, especially if you have tried before.
It's like being stuck on one side of a huge river and wanting to be on the other side, but you can’t see how to cross. You can use the river metaphor to think about your goals, increase hope, and be less overwhelmed.
A note on systemic barriers
To be clear, systemic barriers exist. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and others exist. Changing your thinking will not prevent you from experiencing these barriers if you are marginalized. It is up to those of us who have the power and privilege to work on breaking these barriers.
If you are marginalized, I hope that this post will provide some helpful ways of thinking about goals. But I know it won't solve all the problems you may face.
Change your focus to stepping stones
When we are so focused on wanting to be on the other side of the river, it’s hard to notice the ways across. You can break down every goal into small tasks and mini goals, which bring you closer to the other side of the river.
You can use the idea of stepping stones across the river to think about the small things you can do to move toward your goals. Write these steps down and arrange them in a way that makes sense to you and your life. Focusing on stepping stones frees up mental energy and decreases being overwhelmed.
For example, one of your stepping stones may be to wake up at the same time every day, even if you don’t have to. The stepping stone before this may be to go to bed at the same time every night, even if you don’t have to. These may not relate to your goal directly, but they may help you create a healthy habit for future steps.
Celebrate each step
When you focus on the small steps, it gives you the chance to celebrate all your wins. Each step is progress, and each step is worth celebrating. Celebrate in a way that is meaningful and important to you. Get your supporters to celebrate with you.
Celebrating each step makes your brain feel good about your progress and makes it feel more real. This is very important when something happens, and you have to take a step backward.
Moving backward does not mean failing or starting over
Sometimes things happen, and there is nothing you could do to prevent it. This is like when the water rises on the river. This means you might have to step back to a previous stepping stone to stop from being swept away.
This is part of the process. It doesn’t mean you have failed or that you have to start from the beginning. Focus on the stepping stones you have already crossed and how far you are already to the other side of the river. Even if you have to take two steps back because of something, you may still be 50% of the way across!
Develop tools to help you across
To cross a river in real life, you could use a life jacket, good shoes, some rope, and other things to make it safer and easier. Reaching a goal might also need some tools and resources to make it easier.
Some examples of tools and resources that can help you reach a goal include:
- A support network (friends, family, service providers, etc.)
- Good habits (sleeping, eating, routine, etc.)
- Mental health treatment (therapy, addictions, trauma, medication, etc.)
- Physical health treatment
- Skills and strategies (training, education, self-help, etc.)
You can develop these tools as steps across the river, or you might already have access to them before you start. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, even if it’s asking for help to find out what resources you have access to.
Sometimes you need to take a break. Don’t push yourself so hard that you lose motivation to take the next stepping stone. Know your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual capacity, and make sure you recharge them all. Challenging yourself is good; pushing yourself over the edge is not.
The Family Centre’s resources
Mark Frederick, MC, CCC
Mental Health Therapist