3 reasons why your life goals should not be the focus of external supporters
High performance teams, executives, entrepreneurs and coaches have been espousing the effectiveness of writing goals down for decades. Although minimal research has been done to prove it, many people who have achieved great things name this process as being helpful and it makes sense. Setting yourself goals and writing them down is a great thing to do. However, sharing those goals and making them the focus of your paid support makes you vulnerable to a number of pitfalls of accessing support. In this blog we will look at 3 of those pitfalls and what you can do about it.
As human beings our goals are a fluid and living part of our identity. As we forge a life, our perspectives change and our goals change too. Sometimes these changes are sweeping and obvious and other times they are subtle and nuanced and we can’t always articulate exactly what they are. This is a healthy and human way to live.
So, what happens when we are struggling with some very real barriers and decide to ask a paid support service for help? They ask us about our goals and make them their work. This is all done with the best of intentions, but unfortunately most services and funding models miss a crucial piece of the puzzle (which I will explain later). Our goals become defined and concrete, written down and interpreted by someone external to ourselves. Rather than being something living, exciting and flexible, they take up residence in a service’s filing cabinet and they become “work”.
How can our goals stay fluid, living and nuanced when they have become the work of someone external? The short answer is, they can’t. And when we try, they become painful, lifeless and demotivating. They are also a terrible way for a service provider to understand their role and measure their success.
Below I will outline 3 of the key reasons you may suffer as a result of your life goals becoming the focus of your paid supports and what you can do about it.
Boulders are heavy!
1. Have you ever felt like you “fall off the wagon” whenever you get close to your goals? We only engage a paid support service because we have barriers preventing us from reaching our goals. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need a service. Our goals are not the part we struggle with, it’s the barriers getting in our way. Our barriers are the thing we really need support with NOT our goals. Furthermore, we need to get very good at unpacking exactly what makes our barriers hard for us. It's not enough to just ask what’s the barrier and then continue on with goals. We need to break it down into the exact struggle and what exactly a service can do to help. Imagine your barriers are rocks or boulders. When a supporter focuses only on setting goals and breaking that into steps, we miss the key piece of work. We are basically asking ourselves to pack those boulders into a backpack and carry them with us. The longer you trudge the more exhausted you feel. The more responsibility you take on, the harder it is to do those things with your boulders in tow. This is what happens when our supporters try to get us to achieve our goals rather than helping us overcome our barriers. On the outside you look like you’re doing well. But on the inside, it's only a matter of time before you collapse. To the external observer, it may look like you have self-sabotaged. But from the inside, getting to the goal was never the solution- unpacking the boulders is what you needed.
Goals don’t motivate, needs do!
2. Do you struggle with motivation even though your goals seem good? All human motivation is driven by a desire to meet our needs. We all have the same basic needs, they are simple and there are not very many of them. There are many models for understanding human needs. Marshal Rosenberg founded the Centre for Non-Violent Communication. His model for understanding needs, human behaviour and communication is wonderful and there are lots of great resources (link 1). Tony Robbins has some fabulous ideas on needs and motivation and you can find his ideas below (link 2). Dr Saul McLeod (2020) has written a comprehensive review of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs which is available below in (link 3). All models agree that humans are only motivated to do something that is a better and more efficient way to meet our needs. However, one key mistake we often make (especially when engaging paid supports) is that we mistakenly name strategies as needs. If you or your worker is naming: support workers, NDIS funding, medication, a job or friends as a need stop now! These things are strategies, and they are just one of many ways to meet your needs. Naming something as a need gives it a lot of power. We start to feel like it is essential, non-negotiable and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get that thing. We set it as a goal and fail to see other options that might be more motivating. If this “goal” is actually not a more efficient strategy for meeting one of your basic needs you will struggle to be motivated to do it. You may need to look at what your basic needs are (using the links below) and analyse what strategies you are using to meet those needs. Then look at what additional strategies you might want to add to your repertoire. What do you need help with in order to find more efficient strategies; strategies that aren’t dependent on others; strategies that excite you (even if they don’t make a lot of sense to others). Rather than helping you with your life goals, your supporters could help you with this process.
Shortcuts generally get you lost
3. Sometimes, even when we do achieve our goals, we feel empty. We thought that when we got the house, job or new friends we would feel amazing. However, when we get there, we realise that the old problems have come with us or we are missing the skills or confidence to maintain this goal. This can happen when we allow an external supporter to take responsibility for our goals. You see, that age old adage that it's not about the destination but the journey rings true here. Human beings need the struggle and the learning and growth that comes from it. When we hand our goals over to an external supporter, they take this work very seriously. They genuinely want to see you with this goal and they believe they know how to get it for you. So, they do a really good job of getting you there. They may advocate for you, pull some strings, get you special access or treatment based on your disability or they may link you in with a specially designed group that tries to shortcut the struggle of trying to get there yourself. Unfortunately, while this supporter has done exactly what you asked, what they sometimes accidently do is shortcut or shelter you from that naturally beneficial struggle. You get the goal ticked off on your goal plan, but you missed out on the struggle and the sense of achievement, mastery and skill development that was meant to come from the journey. What we really need is someone to support us to make the journey ourselves; be there for us; support and encourage us; hold a space. Rather than getting us to our goals, supporters should be helping us to make the journey and struggle with the difficulties ourselves whilst walking alongside.
So, what should we be asking our supporters to do instead?
1. Before you even ask a paid support service into your life, spend some time getting clear about what actually stops you from achieving your goals. What are those boulders in your back pack? Write them down and think about what you would have to get really, really good at in order for that to no longer be a problem. The Mind-Life resource “Rules of engagement” has some pages that might help with this (see link 4 below).
2. Think about ways you could hone that skill without using a paid service. Maybe a friend, family member or a community organisation could help?
3. Once you have done that, if there is anything left that you need help with then maybe a paid mental health or psychosocial support service could help. You may choose not to even share your life goals with the service. Specifically ask them for help with the small piece of your barriers that you can’t do naturally. This becomes the focus of the service. This is much easier for the service to measure their support against and help you avoid the pitfalls above.
You have the right to the journey, the struggle and all the benefits that come from it. If you do engage an external supporter to help. Imagine how different support would feel if rather than trying to get you to your goals, your supporters were helping you unpack your barriers, find more efficient strategies that motivate and excite you and being there for you as you did the important work of the journey yourself. Imagine how good it would feel to know that your goals could change and it wouldn’t impact on your support and that with this kind of support you could go in any direction you choose whenever you wanted.
Tony Robbins Discover the 6 Human Needs (accessed 13 August 2021) www.tonyrobbins.com
Marshall Rosenberg, Centre for Non-Violent Communication (last updated 2020) Needs Inventory (accessed 13 August 2021) www.cnvc.org
McLeod. S, (29 December, 2020) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (accessed 13 August 2021) www.simplypsychology.org
1. The Center for Nonviolent Communication - www.cnvc.org
2. 6 human needs: why are they so important? - Tony Robbins https://www.tonyrobbins.com/mind-meaning/do-you-need-to-feel-significant/
3. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
4. Mind-Life - https://www.mind-life.org.au/resource-sign-up