Set Yourself Up to Succeed

A couple of years ago during my counseling internship, my supervisor taught me something I’ll never forget.  

One day, as we were sitting in her office for a weekly supervision meeting, I began to discuss with her one of my clients.  This client in particular was a 15 year old boy who kept finding himself in enormous amounts of trouble at the adolescent rehab I was working at.  Initially, he was sweet, seemingly innocent, and wanted help —but it didn’t take long for him to start messing up.  And the more he messed up, the more he hated himself and everyone around him.  

Which made the problem even worse.  

At this point in the conversation, I was telling my supervisor that I was stumped.  I had absolutely no idea what to do with him in our sessions; especially considering he was in total defeat-mode. There was nothing I could encourage him to do that would give him hope to try again. Basically the only thing he could find himself thinking at this point was “I suck…I’ll never get out of here…I guess I’m a failure, etc.”   

That day though, my supervisor said something profound.

She looked at me and said, “Hmm….sounds like he needs some success in his life.”  

“What do you mean?”  I asked.  Internally thinking….well no duh. What do you think we’ve been trying to do this entire time?  

“What is he good at?  What does he like to do?” She asked.

“Umm…he likes basketball and track?  That’s literally the only thing he likes…trust me I’ve asked numerous times.”   

“Great…start to run with him in your sessions.”   

“Wait…really?” I asked.

“Yeah, set mini goals with him every week.  Your only task for him is to help him set a goal he can successfully achieve on a weekly basis.”  

For real?! (I thought to myself)  

Counsel this boy by making running goals?  This isn’t P.E.  This is counseling!  

That day I walked out of her office perplexed.

To my amazement, my client responded extremely well.  Within moments of us running together, something shifted in him.  All of the sudden, he was reminded of what he was good at.  And even a tiny victory such as setting a goal in an area that he was capable of achieving, quickly began to shift his mentality back into a healthy perspective.  Instead of keeping his eyes on this massive destination of completing the program, he learned how to celebrate the little successes in between which gave him endurance to continue on.  

Accomplishing tiny victories with my client was probably the most profound thing my supervisor ever taught me.  

The truth is, far too many of us make goals for ourselves that are unrealistic.  We go back and forth between extremes and we never experience the success we’ve been chasing—leaving us feeling defeated and often giving up.      

For my client, all he could focus on was the uphill battle of completing the program.  However, when he learned how to set tiny goals for himself in his treatment program and experience success in the day-to-day, he was empowered to achieve his greater destination.  

Personally, this has been a major battle for me in regards to food (up until the past couple of years).  I would either be ALL IN or ALL OUT with eating clean; and after multiple unsuccessful diets, I began to finally realize this mentality doesn’t work. 

Now days, I have learned how to set myself up to succeed.  

For me this look like asking myself the question “What's realistic?  What can I expect out of myself that is actually attainable?”  Setting myself up to succeed means no more extreme dieting or unattainable goals; setting myself up to succeed means celebrating the journey —and the little day-to-day victories along the way.  

I think that's the only reason why exercising in my life has been successful.  

For the past 5 years I have worked out about 5-6 days a week consistently.  And though most people assume my workouts mean I’m drenched in sweat and can barely walk the next day —let me expose that assumption real quick!   

Heres what I expect of myself when I exercise: 

I show up…and do something…preferably 5-6 days a week. 

Some days this means working out for 15 minutes.  Other days this means pushing myself hard for an hour. But what I personally value here is consistency. That's it!  Having some extreme and unattainable body image in my head that I’m trying to achieve has never driven me to succeed (trust me…I’ve tried that before and all it does is drive me into defeat).  

Consistency is what I have found to be realistic and attainable for me. And celebrating the day-to-do "when I show up" victories...are what keep me out of a place of defeat. 

Individuals are wired uniquely however.  So this might look different for every person.  In order to set yourself up to succeed, it's important to ask yourself what is realistic.  It’s also important to learn how to make small goals and experience victories in the midst of a desired destination.  

I've heard Kris Vallotton equate this concept to the game of football.  

Football celebrates not just the touch-downs, but the first-downs, second-downs, and the yards in between. Football celebrates the little successes on the way to the greater destination and victory.  

Friends, I believe in you!  You can do this!

And for those of you who are wondering what this looks like practically, here's a helpful tool I used to use with my clients!  

                           SETTING SMART/REALISTIC GOALS

S- specific 

M - measurable

A - attainable

R - realistic

T - time oriented

Ex:  I will run 1 mile 3 to 5 times a week over the next month.  

Specific -running

Measurable - 3 to 5 times a week

Attainable - is running a mile something you can attain?  Maybe start at half a mile!

Realistic - Is it realistic to expect 3 to 5 days a week?

Time - over the next month.