It’s about the journey,
not just the destination
By Tara Watkins, LICSW
For many, the High Holidays are a time for reassessing goals, those achieved as well as those that remain unfinished. We might ask ourselves, “would our (unfinished) goals align with our core values, be realistic, or hold meaning in our lives?” If the answer is “no” then perhaps they were created for the wrong reasons and therefore not truly useful for us.
Studies have shown that the more we align our goals with core values and principals the more we are likely to find satisfaction in goal setting. Meaningful goals involve values, bind us to reality, and call for self evaluation. They help us more fully understand what is important. (Chowdhury, 2019.)
Meaningful goals also play an important part in the development and maintenance of our psychological well-being. When we are making progress on our goals, we are happier emotionally and more satisfied with our lives (Pychyl, 2008).
Unfortunately, too often we might find ourselves focused on the end result, rather than the process it takes to get there. The goal process, or journey, is itself full of rich opportunity for personal growth. Some experts suggest that the journey towards our goal is even more important than the ultimate completion of the goal itself (Robbins, 2014). When we ignore the process and focus only on the attainment, we lose sight of what we are trying to achieve.
Studies show that goal progress is related to positive emotions and overall wellbeing. (Pychl, 2008) When we make progress on our goals, we experience positive emotions and more satisfaction with life. This in turn increases our sense of overall well-being.
Positive emotions also contribute to our motivation to act. Thus, working towards our goals is a win win situation, if we can just begin the process.
The following are four simple steps to help us get started in goal setting:
1) Make a plan (and write it down). As the famous saying goes, “Begin with the end in mind.” The most crucial aspect of goal-setting is to build an effective plan. Plans, especially written ones, make habit forming and maintaining easier.
Research shows that goals that are not kept only in our heads but rather written down have a higher completion rate. Personal goal setting might be as simple as writing up a daily “to do” list (depending on the complexity and time frame of the goal).
2) Explore resources. The more we educate ourselves about the goal itself, the easier it will be to see it through. For example, we might begin to broaden our knowledge base by talking to experts or engaging with others who have also completed this goal.
3) Be accountable. We tend to succeed with goal setting more often when we are held accountable by/to someone else. If we must be accountable only to ourselves, keeping a log or journal of our progress can help with accountability.
4) Use rewards. Rewarding ourselves – whether it’s spending time with a friend or engaging in a special activity we have really wanted to do – motivates and boost us up. Using a rewards system, particularly when we are trying to achieve a difficult goal, may help continue with the plan and not lose motivation. (Chowdhury, 2019)
Remember that there may be set backs along the way. Realistic expectations should factor in a certain amount of getting off track. But, please do not allow yourself to remain stuck here. Accepting ourselves as we are – both our strengths and our weaknesses – helps in maintaining realistic expectations. By allowing ourselves to bend sometimes, we are able to adapt to the changing needs of our lives while not losing sight of the goal.
Need a little help with getting started with goal setting or figuring out what went wrong with a particular goal? As the Kesher social worker for the temple, Shana Prohofsky is available to help with exploring any obstacles or barriers in achieving goals as well as other personal challenges. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 401-420-4084.
Breuning, Loretta G. Ph.D “Four Common Obstacles That Interfere with Goal Setting” Psychology Today posted on March 17, 2013.
Chowdhury, Madhuleena Roy. “A Look at the Psychology of Goal Setting” PostivePsychology.com June 6th 2019.
Clear, James. “Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals.” Jamesclear.com https://jamesclear.com/goal-setting
Mitchell, Marilyn Price. Ph.D “Goal Setting is Linked to Higher Achievement” Psychology Today. March 14, 2018.
Nowack, Kenneth, “Facilitating successful behavior change: Beyond goal setting to goal flourishing.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol 69(3), Sep 2017, 153-171.
Pychl, Timothy, Ph.D “Goal Progress and Happiness” Psychology Today, June 7th, 2008.
Robbins, Stever. “How to Set Goals for the Life You Actually Want.” Work Smart April 29, 2014.
Samantha Clark is part of the Kesher Worker team at Temple Sinai. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Collaborative Services of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and private donors. Katie can be reached at 401.415.8213 or by emailing