Making Goals from the Inside Out

It’s pretty common when people come into therapy that there is a struggle for clients to identify what their goals are. Whether it’s goals for therapy or life goals in general, it’s impossible to avoid being influenced by information and people who surround us. However, there is a fine line between deeply important goals and goals that are only meant to appease other people.

I see people who are struggling with identifying important goals for themselves all of the time. This is true for people who are dealing with addictions, dealing with relationship problems, and dealing with sexual issues. I actually blame my field for some of this. There are 100s of expert voices in the psychotherapy field who will tell you that they have the ways to get away from difficult feelings, situations, etc. A lot of it is sadly bullshit, meant to sell products.

So here is the one takeaway that I want you to take with you after you’re finished reading this. If you can’t name a goal or why that goal even matters to you, you’re not going to make lasting change. You may make some temporary changes. For example, you may avoid some conflict in your relationship, so your relationship may temporarily feel a little better, but you’re likely to be dealing with either internal or relationship problems down the road.

In fact, I believe it’s a lack of internal awareness that gets people in a cyclical loop where things fail to make long-lasting change. What do I mean by a loop? A loop is when a person attempts to make a change and you take logical steps to make that change, only to realize nothing has changed at all. In these situations, you might find that you feel the same, your relationships go unchanged (or might even get worse), or you continue to engage in the same behaviors.

These loops are often built around satisfying people around you, more than they are figuring out what is most important and valuable to you. There’s something logical about appeasing people around you. First of all, it can keep you from dealing with some uncomfortable or painful truths. It also can make you feel safer (more on that later in this article). However, people don’t give up easily when logic doesn’t work. When everything around you tells you that you should be able to make changes by following a particular path, it can seem as though maybe you just didn’t do it right and you need to do it more perfectly. I have literally worked with hundreds of clients over the years who have spent decades trying to perfect this logical line, only to continue feeling frustrated and inept when it doesn’t work.

So what is missing from the equation? It’s not really an equation at all! Instead, it’s a daily practice. You have to be aware of certain things and continue practicing that awareness. Then you can put a plan in place to change things in your life. 

In order to make real changes, you have to make authentic, personal goals. Think about it like a business plan. Any good business plan starts with asking you personal questions about who you are. Then you can focus on committing to a change in your career, relationships, or any other behavioral goal that you might have.

Here are some considerations to get you building that business personal plan.

  • It’s a journey, not a destination.
    • Although you may have long term goals, there are smaller daily goals that occur at the same time. There are also ever-changing life circumstances and feelings. Goals evolve as you make authentic changes in your life, because you’ll change in the process. There can be an illusion that you’ll reach some final destination where you don’t have to make any goals ever again. That’s simply a mirage. Day-to-day, you’ll make small goals. You’ll also have to try out small experiments on a regular basis.
  • There will be setbacks.
    • You have to learn form setbacks. Expect them. Build a plan on how you can practice handling setbacks and failures, rather than working to build a perfect plan to completely evade them. Not all of your experiments will work, but you can learn from all of them.
  • What is important to you and why?
    • Learn about what is most valuable to you. What are the things that you have to stand by? Where did those values come from? Recognizing how your values developed can push you to look inside yourself to recognize why you’re making the choices that you’re making. They can also help you when you fail to remember why you ever were trying at all.
  • Learn about your feelings rather than just trying to change them.
    • So many people want to “just feel better” or “good.” I could write blog posts about this topic on its own. Our society teaches us that successful people are always happy. So a logical conclusion is to just try to feel better or good. But real humans are complex with all kinds of feelings. Some of them are more pleasant than others. Rather than trying to force your feelings to be different than what they are, you can practice learning about them. When do you feel happy, sad, angry, anxious, etc.? For example, anger can give you a lot of information about how you feel about boundaries. Obviously, it’s not a good idea to act on every emotion that you have. At the same time, they can teach you a lot about yourself. So practice asking yourself “what is this feeling trying to tell me right now?”
  • Get support.
    • As you can see, when you make changes, there are a lot of potholes. Have a support system around you when you get stuck or fail. These are people who will support you for trying. They might also be people who you can tolerate feedback from as well. But overall, you want people who don’t judge you for trying. Instead, they’ll encourage you to try again.

When you have these things in place, you can identify what you’re going to commit to. What is it that you want to change in your life? What steps are you willing to take? What mindful risks are you considering? I will often ask my clients, what is one thing you can do today that starts to get you where you’re wanting to go? These little commitments aren’t always going to feel real gratifying. Change is progressive. It happens over time.


If you’re in Texas and you’re looking for help with making lasting changes in your life, feel free to reach out to us for help.

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