Goal Setting in 2019: Increasing your Motivation for Change

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

It’s the first week of New Year’s and a lot of people like you are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and life hacking in 2019. There’s something about a new year that hits the restart button for us. It’s 1st quarter again, the challenges of 2018 are behind us, and the hope for a new beginning ahead.

Last year, I rained on your New Year’s parade by reminding you of the realities of setting new year’s resolutions. This year I’ll share with you my struggles, how I keep at it, and urge you to move towards your goals for a better health, relationship, and life.

My burden to bear

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my shoulder pain started. Has it been there for six or nine months? Mostly definitely after the two fender benders. Being in front of the computer most days doesn’t help. Leaning towards my clients during emotionally intense moments doesn’t either. I wake up everyday sensing the pain in my right shoulder. I make every effort to sleep only on my back. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lift my arm in the morning without significant strain.

Not a very good patient

You see, I get PT and massage every two weeks. The problem is, I don’t always follow through with recommendations. PT exercises will only take 10-15 min to complete each day, but I’m not a very good patient.*

*took a break to do one of six exercises

They’re not fun, quite boring actually, and I need to rest in between exercises before starting over. Sometimes I go off to do something else in between, leaving the TheraBands wedged between closed doors. It wasn’t until I tried to go to the bathroom and wondered why the door was shut did I realize, “Oh, PT exercises…”

The costs of staying the same

Aside from the significant pain I feel when I first open my eyes, I feel like a crab fumbling around as I dress myself. I need help getting the bed ready for house guests because my arm tires easily from pulling and lifting. I feel the strain when I do meal prep, carry heavy things, and reach for longer than 10 seconds. During yoga, I couldn’t lower myself all the way down from plank pose without my knees also coming down. I hesitate starting Orangetheory not knowing if my body will get upset with me the next day.

What I’ve tried

So I’ve read everything under the sun about setting SMARTER goals*, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-stamped, Exciting and Relevant. I even note PT exercises on my quarterly planner as a recurring goal. I tried to carry a TheraBand with me to work so I can do these exercises where I spend the most time, only to bring it home, untouched. I tried to set aside time in the morning before breakfast or right when I come home, but when that time passes, I’d tell myself, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow...”

The worst of it was when I tried to tie it to something that I routinely do, like, “If I don’t do my exercises, then I can’t floss either.” Yes, very strange indeed. Other people might have flossing as one of their goals; for me, I can’t go to bed without flossing. It just feels wrong. And yet, I did it one time because that was how much I didn’t want to do my exercises. I swiftly separated the associations between these two activities.

It just wasn’t working.

Why this matters

I don’t have an epic tale to tell you, one filled with a triumphant overcome, of a body free of pain and discomfort. What I will tell you is a daily reminder of why it’s important to do my exercises and why it matters that I experience less pain.

I want to spend less time commuting to this or that appointment. I want to be able to carry a Camelbak with 2 liters of water and to do so with ease when I hike in New Zealand next month. I want to start Orangetheory and see that my body is capable of healing from what has developed into more of a chronic problem. I want to put my arm around my husband’s waist like he does mine when we’re walking side-by-side.

The truth of the matter is, this shoulder pain has really limited me and I don’t want to live like this.

What’s working

I no longer set a definite time for when I need to do my exercises. My TheraBands are readily available and you don’t know this but I actually completed all my exercises for the day in between writing this blog. Every time I pass up an opportunity to do my exercises, I ask myself, “Why not now?” and use that minute to do a prep. I vary the order of the exercises so they feel fresh to me. Over time, I notice less pain, greater range of motion and that encourages me to keep going.

I still fall back into my old ways but I know it’s never too late to pick it back up. And, I don’t have to wait until it’s the beginning of a new year, the beginning of a new quarter, or the beginning of a new anything to do so. It can happen right here, right now.

But, that’s me. So, what about you?

Let’s talk change

I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions** as you set goals for 2019:

  1. Why do you want to make this change?

  2. Are you capable of this change?

  3. How might this benefit you?

  4. Why does this change matter to you?

Can you remember why you’d be willing to disrupt your routine to make this change, even when it’s inconvenient, boring, uncomfortable, or even painful? What are the costs of things staying exactly the same? What might you gain if you put one foot in front of the other? If you give up soon after the new year’s, who is there to support you to get you back on track?

When you ponder these questions and answer truthfully, it’ll firm up your “why” for making this change. When you’re invested in the process and the outcome, it’ll increase your motivation to see your goals to the end. But don’t stop there: While you can read and think about goal setting all day long, the most important step is still taking actions towards the things that matter to you. As you eat, live and breathe the change you want for your life, ask yourself, “How do I like this new normal?”

You can always tweak and adjust as you go.

Change is slow

No one likes to take it slow. Everyone, to some degree, want things to happen yesterday, with lasting effects and little effort. Sorry to break it to you, but Rebecca Solnit, an American writer, says it best -

“Even earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the buildup, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person, the sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops, starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow.”

If you want to make sustainable changes that will last throughout the year, we’re here to help. We’ll be truly human, seeing you through your “stops, starts and stutters” without judgment, while moving you closer to the life you want to live. Give us a call today.

* Borrowed from The Full Focus Planner
** Borrowed from Motivational Interviewing

People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A day after writing this blog, she went to her first Orangetheory class. For the next few days, she walked around the office like a crab. She will go back. “You’re not out of shape,” says Jake who checked her in, “We just need to get you feeling stronger.” So it is.

How Standup Paddle Boarding Informs my Life and Counseling Practice

I'm out and about, living my life and I see stories that tie into how I practice counseling. Here is an example of such.


I first tried SUP in O'ahu. I took a lesson with my husband, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law and we were in very calm waters inside a canal. I was the only one who didn't fall in. I used to be proud of that, except when I look back, I knew it was because I was the only non-swimmer and was tensed the whole time. I really didn't enjoy the lesson as much as everyone else. They were laughing and splashing around and I was, just scared.

Is it possible that falling into the water is a part of the SUP experience?

SUP + falling

Now a few years later, I've grown less afraid of water and have been out on many more SUP adventures. I've decided that falling in is inevitable: a friend can threaten to tackle me, I can collide into my husband, the currents might be too strong... When I fall in, it is an opportunity for me to work on my chicken, airplane, solider stroke. And while there really isn't a graceful way to fall, it is still preferred to fall directly into the water rather than to hit the board first.

SUP + waves

It's not always calm like the canal. Boats and jet skis pass by, it's breezy, or the water is just choppy. I've learned that if we waited until it's calm, we might never head out.

It's tempting to sit down when the waves come. Sometimes I sit too long before I get back up. And I've tried avoiding the waves, only to have them catch up with me. It seems counter-intuitive, but the most effective way to go through the waves is to face them head on. When I point the nose of my board perpendicular to the waves, while I still feel the motion, I'm actually more stable.

Now I'm not saying there isn't a time and a place to sit and ride out the waves, or even take a break ashore. My husband and I were in Maui and the white caps barely missed us. It wasn't wise to stay out, especially not with a sea-sick husband. But, it's important that that experience did not keep us in the rest of our trip.

SUP + joy

So, what's all the rave about SUP? Why bother? SUP takes us places we couldn't otherwise go. Today, we started out at Madison Park and explored the Arboretum. It was a gorgeous day in Seattle. We got to watch the clouds change patterns, feel the warmth of the sun on our backs, say hello to kayakers and canoers, and explore beneath the 520-bridge. The waters gave a beautiful reflection of the sky and the motion of swaying side-to-side soothed and comforted us.

SUP + life

What parallels am I drawing here? There are times when life is calm. Enjoy those moments. And when it gets rough, know that's also a part of being alive. Falling is inevitable, and getting back up can take a while. After getting back up, it's tempting to stay put so you don't fall again. But when you're sitting down, it's also hard to go very far.

What if feeling the currents of life and feeling off balance at times is a part of living? There's no way around that. And when you try to run away from problems you need to face, they will catch up with you. Like in my previous blog post quoting Robert Frost, it helps to keep going.

That begs the questions, “Where are you heading? What do you want life to be about? Have you let the current of life swept you in another direction? Or, are you distracted by where others are going? Can you pause to orient yourself to where you want to go and keep heading in that direction, even though you can't see very far?”

Focus on what's near you. You can make immediate choices and overcome challenges that will get you closer to where you want to go. Then, remember to zoom out and look ahead. Don't lose sight of where you're heading. You can always change direction based on what you value and the goals you set.

Sure, have your me-time, but know that life is not meant to be journeyed alone. It helps to have someone share with you the joys and the trials. This could be a partner, and it could also be family and friends. In a recent blog post, I talked about why relationships are important.

SUP + psychotherapy

What about my counseling practice? How does this apply? I believe you want your life to matter for something. I want to help you get there, one moment at a time. Try swiping your paddle in the water this way, what happens? If you went back to the gym only 1x/week, what would happen? What if you reached lower with your paddle, how does that affect your speed? If you were to practice this defusion exercise I give you, would you let me know how that worked for you?

Ultimately, you don't HAVE to do anything I ask you to do. After all, I want your life to be about wanting to, rather than having to. However, I'm guessing you want your life to be different, and I would want that for you too. Would you join me in braving the waves, the falling in, while learning ways to face your problems as you live a value-driven life? I'm ready when you are.

Note: while I love being on a SUP, I want to clarify that I don't practice psychotherapy on one. 

Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond counseling practice in WA. She has a vision to help people flourish and live vital lives. One thing she loves about SUP is the little waves she creates when she goes perpendicular to the current. It makes her feel like she's chartering a small boat.