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A Glimpse Into Effective Goal-Setting

A Glimpse Into Effective Goal-Setting We have a complicated relationship with change. On the one hand, we crave change. On the other, we shun it.

As author and psychologist John C. Norcross, Ph.D, writes in his newest book Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions, “We have a love-hate relationship with the idea of changing our behavior. Change is desired and dreaded, venerated and vilified.”

One reason we fear change lies in its perception. “After all, we’ve been led to believe that change entails an unrealistic regimen of self-sacrifice that frequently meets with failure in the long run,” he writes.

According to Norcross, changes fall into four categories: bad habits, such as smoking and over-spending; new goals, such as playing the guitar and gardening; relationships, such as improving your marriage and getting along with your co-workers; and life satisfaction, such as wanting to be a better person and deepening your spirituality.

Norcross’s 5-step process applies to making all of these changes, whether you’re trying to quit smoking or improve your relationship. His five steps are based on over 30 years of research on successful and unsuccessful change: Psych, for identifying your goals; Prep, for outlining how you’ll go about making the change; Perspire, for taking action; Persevere, for managing slip-ups; and Persist, for maintaining changes long term.

In Changeology, Norcross gradually and systematically walks readers through all the strategies needed to accomplish every stage. In addition to the practical tips, you’ll find anecdotes from others who’ve accomplished their goals along with Norcross’s personal stories. He also debunks common myths about change, such as willpower being enough to effect change.

Norcross’s insight into picking goals and becoming more self-aware will get you started on creating change.

Picking Your Goals

You’ve probably heard of the importance of picking only one goal to work on. However, Norcross cites research that found that individuals are just as likely to be successful if they pick two goals. It’s especially helpful to pick two changes that are related, such as quitting smoking and managing stress.

You also have a better chance of succeeding if you pick goals that are further along the 5-step process. In other words, according to Norcross, “You’re far more likely to succeed with behaviors that are already in Perspire than in Psych or Prep.”

But if a behavior is immediately hindering your health or your ability to change, then choose that as a goal. Norcross used depression as an example.

And, lastly, “chase your energy right now.” So, simply, pursue a goal that you’d really like to pursue.

Sharpening Your Self-Awarenes

Self-awareness is vital to achieving your goals because once you can figure out the patterns of problematic behaviors, you can create an action plan that targets them.

(For instance, one way to take action is to replace your problematic behavior with a healthy alternative, such as “relaxation in place of anxiety.” Another is to create an environment that reduces your triggers and fosters change.)

According to Norcross, self-awareness involves “enhancing your insight into yourself, your problems, and your goals.”

To sharpen self-awareness, you need to become what he calls a “behavioral detective.” The key is to identify what prompts and perpetuates your problematic behavior. Consider “environmental, interpersonal, and mood” triggers.

For at least five days, Norcross suggests tracking these four elements:

  1. Time or times of day that are problematic.
  2. Your triggers, which include the situation and your feelings.
  3. Behavior, “the magnitude or amount of problem behavior,” such as the amount of money you might spend.
  4. Short-term and long-term consequences of the behavior.

Recording this information helps you realize that your behavior isn’t capricious, but actually quite predictable. That’s a good thing, because it means you can raise, reduce or get rid of the behavior altogether. And simply by paying close attention to the problematic behavior, Norcross writes, you just might improve it.

Realizing your goals goes beyond willpower. It’s a process that requires thoughtful planning, hard work and the willingness to learn new skills.


Learn more about Changeology at John Norcross’s website, which also offers additional support for accomplishing your goals.

A Glimpse Into Effective Goal-Setting

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). A Glimpse Into Effective Goal-Setting. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Mar 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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