You are human. There, I said it. You are a human being. They say that the first line of any blog or article really needs to be eye-catching and memorable. Ummm…that one wasn’t. You are human – Duh! I know that sentence does not seem like a grand revelation or deep psychological insight, but it actually is. You are human, and it’s perfectly human to forget that sometimes. As a human, you make choices. You make literally thousands of choices every day and most of them seem completely innocuous. You choose to get out of bed, what you’re going to eat for breakfast, how long you will brush your teeth, what you will wear, etc. These thousands of choices that you make every single are doing two things non-stop – turning you into someone new and communicating who you are to the world. Every choice has internal and external implications. Everything you do says something about you. Stop and think about what messages you are sending to the people you love by living your life the way you do. I’m not saying the message is always negative, but chances are that you have never thought about this before. This is called self-evaluation and it is the most crucial part of Reality Therapy developed by Dr. William Glasser. Without an honest self-evaluation and an understanding of who you are, it’s impossible to plan a journey to become someone else.
I was 20 years old and I was fat…like, super fat. 275 pounds fat. It wasn’t because of genetics or a thyroid problem; it was because I was choosing to be fat. I was lazy. I took a dead-end job in an electrical warehouse because I didn’t want to look for anything else. I was unmotivated. I had been kicked out of community college twice for signing up for classes (a full class-load) and then not attending. Today I am 30 years old, 190 lbs., I have a masters degree in counseling psychology, and I am in a career I love. What changed? I gave myself an honest self-evaluation one day and realized the messages I was sending to my loved ones ran contrary to my words and wishes. I was newly married and told my wife “I love you” every day with my words, but my actions said, “I really don’t care about you or our future.” I knew we would have kids one day and I would tell my son to reach for the stars and try his best, but my actions would say, “Don’t try for anything. Be lazy and settle for whatever comes your way.” That realization hurt – badly. I wiped away the tears and resolved to take control. That day was just the beginning, and I’ve been improving ever since. Reality therapy is the ultimate framework for setting and achieving goals.
Reality therapy asks a profound question – what if you could intentionally take control of every choice you make and therefore control both the person you are becoming and the messages you send to others? It sounds simple, but alas, simple does not mean easy. It takes work, and you have to set goals. When you set goals within a reality therapy framework, you can better understand your own motivations and be more successful.
We humans often make the mistake of thinking goal setting is like math; there really is no gray area with math. Math is black or white, right or wrong. Nearly every equation has one answer – of all the number (and sometimes letter!?) combinations in the world, there is one right answer. Just one. You are either right or wrong. Life is not like that…life is not pass/fail. There is a lot of wiggle room, and mostly because of this unique phenomenon called perception. When it comes to goal setting we tend to see things as being like a math equation. “I want to lose 20 lbs. in 6 moths”. If you don’t make it…fail! “I want to be out of graduate school by the time I’m 28”. You are ¾ of the way there at 29…fail! Life is not a math equation and is not pass/fail.
Our perception of what happens is far more important than what actually happens. Did you catch that? Our perception of what happens is far more important than what actually happens. Things that happen to us or things we do are just that…things. We then evaluate those things (perception) and we assign values to them. If Bill Gates finds a $100 bill on the ground he might laugh and kick it around a little, amazed they still make money in such insignificant amounts. A homeless man could stumble across that same $100 bill, but his perception of finding the cash would be a bit different. The money is exactly the same, but the reaction is different because of the value assigned to that cash based on perception. Do you know a person who never lets anything bother them? These people are so annoying, but oh so cool. They are faced with some life-altering difficulty and face it with a smile while you wonder, “What are you doing? How do you remain calm and deal with all this?” They just keep their smile and say something like, “It’s all good. I don’t sweat the small stuff.” You then walk away and curse them under your breath because you were hoping for some sort of zen secret to be revealed. Now think about the person you know who catastrophizes (that might be a made up word…don’t judge me). This person freaks out every time they get a hangnail. Oh dear God, they are screaming about quitting their job because the printer won’t work (it’s not even turned on). What is the difference between this person and Joe Cool? Perception. Stop and think about it. The things that happen to you…they’re just things. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”. Believe that. Quit putting so much value in things and examine your perceptions.
Let’s put all of this back into the scope of goal setting. Goal setting is not algebra; it’s not right/wrong, pass/fail. I’m about to let you in on a little secret. There is no such thing as failure. That’s right, I said it. You need to know – there is no such thing as failure. You literally CANNOT fail when trying to reach your goals. “Whoa”, you’re probably thinking, “I fail every year about 5 weeks after new years!” Your perception is off my friend. Failure is a lie and it’s a lie based on a faulty perception. Here are two steps to changing your perceptions:
- Change the question: Faulty perceptions begin with a question we all ask ourselves when we fall short of a goal. “Why am I terrible?” (or some variation of that question). We all do it. We wonder what happened, why we’re not strong enough, why we cannot ever seem to jump over that hurdle. New question time! “What did I learn?” Ask yourself that every time you fall short. “What did I learn?” If you learn and you grow in ANY WAY, you have achieved my friend. Change your perception, change your life.
- Recognize the small victories. Change begets change, positive momentum can snowball, and progress is progress. Did you shoot for 20 lbs. and only lose 5? Sounds like failure…EEHHHH (annoying wrong answer buzzer sound). You lost 5 lbs. and you are lighter than when you started. Sure, you didn’t achieve everything you wanted…but you made progress! This stuff is not black and white, right or wrong folks. Did you want to be debt free by the end of the year but still have some lingering credit card debt? FAIL! I don’t think so…you are in less debt than when you started, right? That’s progress and progress is SUCCESS! It is human nature to look at the negatives and start a shame spiral, but a small change in perception can be the difference between success and failure. Change begets change, positive momentum can snowball, and progress is progress. After all, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, right?
Setting goals and figuring out who you want to be and what you want to accomplish is where most people start, but it’s not step one. Take an honest self-evaluation – really look at who you are. Now, determine who you want to be. Set some goals, take control of your choices, and make it happen. Reality therapy baby! I published a book in April of 2014 based on my life story, the principles of reality therapy, and how a new perception can lead to goal achievement. My book is called The Thrive Life and it is available on Amazon as a hard copy or an e-book. Please feel free to email me any time the email@example.com
*Some of the lines in this blog you will also find in another of my blogs. I did that on purpose…settle down haters.