29 Jun 2022

ASK THE DOC: We all need goals in life

Prof Eddie Murphy gives his expert views

ASK THE DOC: We all need goals in life

Set goals that are achievable but still stretch you

Increasingly, research has indicated that having goals orientates us to a more positive future. Indeed, feeling good about the future is important for our happiness.

Goals help us and motivate us, but they need to be ‘stretch goals’ which are challenging enough to excite and engage us.

Yet they also need to be achievable. If our goals are unachievable or impossible, they become an unnecessary stress.

Choosing ambitious ‘stretch goals’ gives our lives direction and brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve them.

Goals Are Good For Us

One way to think about goals is that they can turn our values and dreams into reality. Happiness, contentment and inner peace don’t just happen — they come from thinking, planning and doing things that are important to us.

Scientific research shows that setting and working towards goals can contribute to happiness in various ways, including:

l Being a basis of passion, engagement or pleasure

l Giving us a sense of meaning and purpose which acts like a magnet towards our future

l Bringing a sense of accomplishment when we achieve what we set out to — I am thinking of how I have taught my boys to ride a bike and swim. This also builds our confidence and belief in what we can do in the future.

Goals help focus our attention. It’s often about the process, not the end point. Working towards goals appears to be as important for our wellbeing as achieving the end results we are aiming for.

Goals are most successful when they're something we really want to achieve and when we set them for ourselves, rather than being something someone else wants us to do.

So what goals would you like to achieve? What would motivate you this summer?

Making Good Goals

Goals can be long-term, short-term or even day-to-day. A long-term goal might changing your job, graduating, building an extension (the last one is one for the Murphy family — we have grown out of our 900 sqft house).

A short-term goal might be a plan for the coming weeks or months — for example, planning a communion (another Murphy task!).

A day-to-day goal might be just to cook something different or contact an old friend. This I like, as too often we lose contact with people who are important to us.

Smaller goals may seem unimportant. But having personal projects that matter to us, and are manageable, has been consistently shown to boost well-being, especially when they're supported by others around us. And it's even better if we can link our smaller goals back to our bigger aims and priorities in life.

The way we set goals influences the actions we take to achieve them, the effort we put in and how persistent we are at sticking to them.

Good goal-setting can be learned. Indeed I believe perseverance is a key life skill.

Some of our goals may be ambitious, but it's important that they're still achievable. Achieving our goals brings a sense of accomplishment and makes us feel more positive about the future.

The Positive Role Of Optimism

Would you think you are optimistic or pessimistic? Science shows that people who are optimistic tend to be happier, healthier and cope better in tough times. In effect, they are more resilient. Although we may have a natural tendency to be more optimistic or pessimistic, there are things we can do to take a more optimistic outlook, without losing touch with reality.

Optimism is about believing that things are more likely to turn out good than bad. Not surprisingly our level of optimism can influence how persistent we are in aiming for our goals and how we deal with setbacks.

Taking an optimistic approach to our goals includes:

l Choosing goals that take us towards something positive we want to achieve, rather than goals that help us avoid things we don't want.

l Being proactive when problems arise and looking for ways to resolve them, rather than ignoring or putting off dealing with issues.

l Avoiding dwelling on the negative, learning to accept difficult things that we can't change and re-adjusting our goals rather than avoiding them.

Although there is some evidence of benefits to pessimism, or realism, for example assessing risks to our health, the research suggests that optimism is better for our health and happiness overall. Studies show that in difficult situations, optimists appear to experience less distress and higher well-being than pessimists.

Taking a realistic but hopeful view of the outcomes seems to increase the likelihood that things really will turn out OK.

Finally I would ask you to consider some short, medium and long term goals that you can work towards. Believe me it’s a good investment for your future happiness. Now where is that number for the bouncy castle for the communion!

Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist

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