Goal setting with Dr. Sophie Muir, Clinical Psychologist

Hi Sophie,

Thanks for joining us to talk about goal setting and maintaining motivation.

Thank you!

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself:

Sure! I’m a Clinical Psychologist based in Takapuna. I support clients with concerns they may have about their mental health, behaviour and lifestyle. A big part of my role is helping people find direction and make change. I feel really lucky that I get to be part of that process.

Why are goals important?

Being able to set goals beyond our basic survival is what sets humans apart from other species. Pursuing goals can make life meaningful and helps us to organise and direct our behaviour. This is how we’ve built complex industries and achieved great innovation and physical feats.

What do you think is important when it comes to setting goals?

When setting goals, it’s helpful to create a road-map. Start by writing down your primary goals, then break these down into what you will actually do week-to-week, or day-to-day to reach them. These plans for how you’ll make change are key. Adapt them to suit your resources and ability level so you feel confident you can manage them and will enjoy the process too.

Are there any tricks to keeping motivated to continue reaching for goals?

Definitely! Our brains love immediate rewards. So it’s hard to stay motivated when you focus too much on reaching your distant, end-goal. Instead, turn your attention to the little things you can enjoy along the way. For example, feeling more energetic after a nutritious meal, or experiencing a lift in your mood. Or perhaps it’s the new skills you are developing through the change process. Focusing on these everyday rewards ensures you are getting enough positive reinforcement to keep you motivated. It also means that regardless of whether or not you reach your goal, the process of change has been meaningful.

Another trick is to pair something you already really enjoy with a new habit that you may be struggling with. For example, if you don’t feel at home in the kitchen, pair cooking with an upbeat playlist, podcast, or call to a friend. With repetition, your brain will begin to associate the positive feelings of these activities with the other one.

What’s the reasoning behind eating out of boredom, and are there any tips on how to overcome this?

Boredom eating is similar to stress-eating- it’s about difficulty sitting with unpleasant feelings. At some point in life- usually very early on- people learn that food can improve these moments. Over time, subtle signs of boredom or stress may trigger you to reach for a snack or meal to soothe those feelings- without consciously registering this is what you are doing.

To address this cycle, know your triggers- what are the situations or times of the day when you are likely to feel bored or stressed? Are there other things that you can do at those times to relieve and soothe those feelings? Research tells us you will have more success breaking an old habit if you replace it with a helpful alternative.

What would be your advice for when we feel we have lapsed in our mission to achieve our goal, when we feel we have failed or ‘fallen off the bandwagon’?

One of the errors people make in this situation is to consider a lapse a ‘failure’ and throw in the towel altogether. Aiming for perfection is a killer for motivation- it’s near impossible to attain and contributes to self-criticism and guilt. Instead, it’s important to recognise that change is an imperfect process- lapses are a very normal part of the journey.

If you have a lapse, don’t panic! Lapses actually provide really useful information. See if you can identify what might have led to the lapse and whether there are things you can put in place to address them if they come up again. Then keep going. You are far better-off doing something imperfectly than nothing at all!

Any final advice?

Sure! Overall, see your pursuit of goals as an experiment not a pass-or-fail test. This means expecting and embracing mishaps and approaching this process with curiosity and a non-judgmental attitude! This is a really exciting opportunity to learn about yourself and create some new habits to make life more satisfying.

Find Sophie on Instagram at @dr.sophie.m or on her website, www.drsophiemuir.com

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