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Find Solid Ground in Rough Waters: The Usefulness of Goals

Rachel Alexander April 17, 2014

Sometimes a clear goal can work like a life preserver, pulling you through tumultuous waters onto the safety of solid ground. When things in the present are in disarray, a fixed focus on a future goal can help.

  • Do as a dancer does:In order for a ballerina to pirouette properly, she uses a technique called “spotting.” She picks a point at eye level somewhere in the distance and focuses on that spot through each rotation, avoiding dizziness or loss of balance. Spotting allows her to control her movements during a difficult dance step and then move on with her performance (without having to pause to recover her wits).

    • If you are going through a divorce (or any challenging life issue), I suggest emulating this approach. Focus on a clear, precise future “spot” and allow it to shape your actions and choices today.

  • Pick something that resonates with and motivates you: To be effective, a goal should be specific and concrete. A good example may be training for and running a half marathon in September, or planning and taking a trip to Europe next summer. Something that engages you in positive thinking and planning can provide a sense of efficacy and control (also called empowerment).

  • Avoid the nebulous and the negative: A goal such as “feel better” or “lose weight” is too vague to measure and probably too uninspiring to be helpful. It also concentrates more on what is lacking in the present rather than on envisioning a future of your choice. When framed thoughtfully, your goals can encourage you to create more of what you value in your life, rather than find fault with areas you wish to improve.

  • Take literal steps toward achieving your goals: Once you have chosen one or several goals, the next step is, well, taking the next step – taking one small action towards realizing the goal. For example, if your post-divorce goal is to take your children on a vacation once a year, saving $20 every week towards funding this trip, and making an appointment to consult with a travel agent about prices and options, are great ways to work toward your eventual goal.

Sailors navigate the seas using the bright, distant stars. If they get waylaid with the multiple distractions occurring below deck, they can lose their course. By focusing on the stars, seaman find their way, regardless of troublesome waters. This offers hope for all.