Note: This story appeared in the April issue of Grayson Magazine.

For those interested in making changes for the new year, the first step is setting achievable goals. Whether the goal is to be more physically fit, to eat better, become more fashionable or to better manage your finances, there are some goal setting habits that are better than others.

Local counselors explain how to take dreams and turn them into a healthy life plan.

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With the end of the year approaching, people often want to take the time to rethink their goals for the new year.

“I believe that some of the changes that come with seasons come from the stereotypes we grew up believing,” Hope for Texoma Licensed Professional Counselor Intern Pamela Smith says of why people like to take the time to plan new goals during spring. “For example, winter is associated with holidays, family and celebration. Autumn is synonymous with the beginning of a new school year and cute boots. Spring is associated with new beginnings and new life — trees blooming, winter blues decreasing and the sun shining brighter and longer. And summer is representative of vacations, fun and relaxation.”

Smith earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Walden University and is a certified mediator in the state of Texas. Hope for Texoma is a Sherman-based organization that offers Christian counseling, wellness coaching, cognitive behavioral counseling, marital and family counseling, along with eclectic counseling and more.

Smith says that seasons are also viewed as mile markers.

“And, as we reach each marker, we subconsciously set goals and make changes,” Smith explains.

Strengths Coach Brent O’Bannon of Sherman is a professionally certified coach, mentor coach and author of an Amazon No. 1 best seller. His coaching and training company has worked with Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Alliance Data, the city of Dallas, Harley Davidson, GALLUP, Citi Bank, AT&T and Cigna Employee Assistance programs.

He says that when the winter is ending, people often think about the ending of old ways. With spring comes new growth and a new start.

“People also think about Sunday evenings as being a natural period of change,” O’Bannon says about times when people naturally think changes should occur. “On Sunday evenings, people are thinking about the start of a new week.”

Take it step by step

Smith says that people should take these five tips into consideration when they are attempting to set goals.

Patience – Have patience with yourself and the process. “Change doesn’t occur overnight. It took some time to get to your current state, it will take some time to form a new habit.”

Realistic and Honest - Set realistic and honest goals. “Check in with yourself and any progress you have or have not made and revise if you need to. No one is going to judge you for being true to yourself.”

Mindfulness – Become and stay aware. “This tip piggybacks on the previous tip. Becoming aware of your actions affords you the opportunity to take a moment before reacting. Awareness lends to accountability. Both are key in successfully achieving a goal.”

Words matter – A “diet” is what we eat. Eating healthy is a lifestyle change. “When you change your words, you change your actions. When you change your actions, your results change.”

Be kind to yourself - We are our own worst critic. “Our background program running subconsciously is comprised of years of influence and experiences — not all are positive. The negative noise is usually louder and more damaging.”

O’Bannon also has five tips for people that are looking to take on what he calls a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG).

“These are things like getting a master’s degree, writing a bestseller and more,” he says. “The BHAG is made up of microactions. It is how we chunk things down. We make smaller goals in pursuit of the BHAG.”

Write affirmation goals - That means that we want to make the goal personal. “We want to use our own name when thinking about the goal like using ‘I Am’ statements. We also want to make the goal present tense and positive. It is about what you want to do, not what you do not want. Instead of saying “I do not want to smoke,” we would say, “I want to be smoke free by the end of 2018.” The brain gravitates to negative things. We want to stay away from that. A good affirmation goal is, “I am healthy working out once a week with Rhonda and attending two dental check-ups a year by December 2018.” This also shows that the goal is time bound.

Aim goals with your strengths - Take the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment. When you write your goals, tie your strengths in with your goals. For example, “I am celebrating paying off my Discover Card with my restorative strengths by December 2018. My restorative strength means that I see a problem and I find the solution. It is what I am good at.”

Create a one-page life goal sheet - “I like to laminate mine. I also have it in a three-ring notebook that I carry around with me everywhere. It looks at each area of my life. I look at it almost daily. If not daily, I look at it weekly. It just helps me remember, and it reiterates the goals that I have set for myself.”

Create goal cards with a vision board - “Several years ago, I wrote a goal on an index card. The goal was that I would relax traveling with Rhonda in Greece. It was around the time of our 30th wedding anniversary. I got a picture of Greece, and I taped it on the back of the index card. I carried the card around with me. I took it everywhere. It was in my pocket where I could always pull it out and look at it. I even went to sleep with it. By the end of the year, I took my wife to Greece. I took a photo while we were in Santorini, Greece. It was the exact same photo that I had been carrying around with me, but this time it was my wife in the photo.”

Journal for all 12 months of the year - Put top three action items that you did towards your goals each month in your journal. “I wrote that I paid off my Discover Card in September of 2017 in my journal entry for that month. I put down any small, medium or large action steps that put me closer to my goal. I hired a personal trainer. I walked with my spouse three times a week.”

Setbacks are not the end

“It took my three years to pay off my Discover Card,” O’Bannon explains a time when he took longer than he wanted to achieve a goal. “I was disappointed after the first year when it was not paid off. The second year, I ended up having to put a few items back on the card. Then during the third year, I finally paid off the entire balance. So I understand that when you set a goal for yourself, it can get hard, and you can get discouraged when you do not complete it in the time that you set to accomplish it.”

Two things that O’Bannon encourages people to do so that they do not get discouraged in their life journey is join a mastermind and hire a life coach.

“A mastermind is a small group or a business with people that share the same interests as you,” he explains. “It can be a fitness group. It can be a cooking group. It’s like a support group. You can share your triumphs, and you have people to ask questions. You get to share your journey with others.”

Also, if a journey takes an unexpected route, it does not mean that you did not achieve a lot.

“Say you make the goal of making $1 million,” O’Bannon says, breaking down how hitting milestones works. “If you make $700,000 would you still feel good? Yes, because you did great. You became bigger and better as you pursued your goal.”

Smith said that even though people may become discouraged, there are healthy ways to deal with that, too.

“Some healthy ways to deal with this kind of disappointment are to retrain your brain — go on a journey of self: identify your triggers, motivation and strengths,” she says. “Awareness provides us with the opportunity to retrain our brain. We can change our perceptions and consciously reroute our emotions. If our goals don’t align with our beliefs, it causes a discomfort resulting in a full-fledged war between emotions and actions.”

Smith says that people that struggle with depression tend to set unrealistic goals, which perpetuates the depression. That is why, she says, that healthy goal setting should be a priority.

“Setting goals is always good, as it gives you something to look forward to,” she explains, suggesting that people set five-year and ten-year plans. “The brain likes certainty. It likes to see what’s coming. When we can’t, fear rears its ugly head. A common misstep that we often make is to make large, lofty goals. We get caught up in the excitement and are overzealous in our planning. Our goals become unrealistic, we get disappointed when we don’t achieve them and prematurely terminate them often feeling as we have failed.”

Then the cycle continues.

“Some ways to achieve those lofty goals are set the main goal but break it down into smaller, obtainable steps,” Smith says. “Imagine drawing an upside-down triangle. Starting from the bottom up, list steps you can take to reach the top of the triangle, hence obtaining the goal. It is important to reward yourself for each step that is mastered. When writing out the steps to reach the goal, list the reward with each step.”

Visualization is very important in priming the brain to accept change.

“Use techniques like vision boards, pictures or, my favorite, mental maps,” Smith suggests. “Mental mapping clears mental space in the brain. It allows you to map out a visual plan that aligns with your written goals. It ignites the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left side is ignited when planning occurs. The right side is ignited when your get your creative juices flowing. Knowing how the brain processes change makes it a little easier to successfully make the change.”

Always dream

We do not dream enough. Goals are just dreams set to a time-bound plan.

“It is because we are often afraid of the disappointment of not reaching your goal,” O’Bannon says, breaking down the human psyche. “Goals help us dream. It is a good idea to make a ‘Be, Do, Have’ list. Write 10 things of each type that you would like to complete in the next 10 years. A lot of the time when we dream, it is hard to maintain focus or to make a dream into a goal.”

Another thing that Brent asks of his clients is to apply the 5-25 rule by Warren Buffet.

“Write down 25 goals and then organize them,” he says. “Take the top five goals that you have on the list. Then, forget goals number 6-25 until you have accomplished the top five. Often times, we have 25 goals and we think about all 25 and forget each individual goal.”

Then record your goals using your voice.

“You can record your goals on your phone,” O’Bannon explains. “Some phones come with a voice recorder, but if not you can download one. By recording your goals in your voice, you can hear yourself say these goals daily.”

Smith advises that it is easy to fall back into old and familiar habits. Through hard work, dedication and patience, positive, new habits are formed.

“Don’t give up!” she exclaims. “Be creative in your planning, make it fun and obtainable.”

The brain is where it begins, so learning how the brain works is the best way to effectively make changes and form new habits.

“I am also a firm believer in iron sharpens iron,” she concludes. “Surround yourself with people that share similar goals and interests. There is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that says, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ If you want different, you have to do different. Start with a small goal and build on it until you see the personal growth you wish to achieve.”