The Effective Pursuits of Goals – Part 1

By: Jonathan Wong, Psy.D.

One challenge in recovering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is transforming good intentions into action when implementing the lifestyle changes recommended by Dr. Lam. This process often begins with a desire to change one’s daily routine in regards to activities such as exercise, maintaining an AFS-friendly diet, reducing stress levels, and adhering to Dr. Lam’s supplement protocols. While good intentions can result in initial attempts at lifestyle change, lasting change requires more than personal conviction in order to achieve one’s goal. Peter Gollwitzer, social psychology professor at New York University, explains that good intentions alone are only moderately helpful in goal achievement as they have only a 20% to 30% impact on actual behavior change. Gollwitzer proposes that there are two key factors that can increase our success in achieving goals and making lifestyle changes: 1) how we frame our intentions and 2) how successful we are in initiating goal-directed behaviors using self-regulations skills.  This first article on effective goal pursuit will focus on how to create successful frames for lifestyle changes through developed specific goals that are not vague or indefinite, and viewing the pursuit of a goal as a learning process rather than a performance task.

Research demonstrates that individuals achieve more when setting challenging and specific goals as opposed to vague goals that encourage a “do your best” attitude. This difference is attributed to the increased ability to receive feedback and engage in self-monitoring when striving towards a specific goal (“I will exercise for 15 minutes) rather than a vague goal (“I should exercise today.) Having the ability to monitor your progress increases the likelihood that you will continue to engage in goal directed activities as motivation for change is improved when a person knows exactly when and how they can accomplish a goal.

The way a goal is defined also has a great impact on how likely a person will continue to strive towards it, particularly in the face of adversity. Gollwitzer writes that goal attainment is more likely when a goal is viewed as a learning opportunity rather than a performance opportunity. A learning opportunity is defined as a chance to increase one’s competency to perform a task. When health goals are framed within a learning context, both successful and unsuccessful attempts towards meeting the goal areconsidered a part of a learning process. Recognizing the value of both allows for a balanced approach to lifestyle changes that ultimately increases a persons’ resiliency to setback and mistakes. Performance goals, however, frame one’s attempts at making lifestyle changes as direct measures of their competency as a person. Thus, when inevitable setbacks occur, feelings of personal inadequacy arise that are not conducive for promoting resiliency and continued goal striving activities. Instead, feelings of helplessness become associated with the proposed lifestyle change that increases the chance that the goal will be abandoned in favor of easier, less personally threatening activities.

In the context of AFS recovery, it is thus important that lifestyle goals are specific and framed as learning opportunities. In the following newsletters, self-regulation skills will be reviewed that will aid in this process and demonstrate further how good intentions can be transformed into the necessary lifestyle changes that are critical towards AFS recovery.

AFS recovery is an important component of the neuroendometabolic (NEM) stress response. A functional holistic approach to the process in which the body responds to stress that is life threatening and harmful to our health. This NEM’s complex is made up of two main circuits being the neuroendocrine and metabolic circuits, both acting as a safety net of sorts to stressful impacts on our lives. Activation of the NEM’s response is automatic and is running all throughout the day, when stress begins to overwhelm the body, the circuits begin to malfunction and present with decapitating factors such as fatigue or depression and many more. Everyone responds to stress differently with varying levels of coping mechanism, some people being able to thrive on stress while others breaking down from the smallest insult. The way in which the body reacts to stress will vary among individuals. It is essential that with the setting of specific goals, that you work towards achieving a state of biological balance and health that allows time for rest and recovery.

References: Gollwitzer, P.M. (1999). Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans. American Psychologist, 54(7), 493-503.

© Copyright 2012 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.