“I can’t do it,” “I’m not where I want to be,” “I don’t see any progress.” These are phrases that I’m sure many of us say to ourselves—a lot. Maybe others fill our heads with these messages. But these are phrases that make us feel stuck, feel like giving up, feel like whatever we’re trying to achieve is not possible—or sometimes, not even worth it. But where does this kind of thinking get us? The short answer (and the honest one) is nowhere.
Recently my daughter Rachael and I were discussing this way of thinking. I have been noticing this way of thinking becoming even more of an issue during the pandemic as we are being told all the things we can’t do by our local governments. Our feelings of powerlessness through this are washing over many personal areas of our lives for so many of us.
Rachael is a pastoral counseling associate with Catholiccounselors.com. Her specialty is in success and performance psychology, so she spends a great deal of her time helping people overcome the mindsets that weigh them down or hinder them in meeting their goals. As we talked about my observations, I felt her insights may be helpful to many moms who are struggling with these thoughts, or who are trying to help their children overcome these kinds of limiting thoughts.
Lisa: So how do we overcome this habit of hurtful thinking?
Rachael: It starts with adding one, small word. Yet. “I can’t do it, yet.” “I’m not where I want to be, yet.” “I don’t see progress, yet.” Do you see the difference? Adding “yet” to the end of these sentences automatically indicates hope, possibility, capability, and opportunity. By finishing these sentences with the word “yet,” our following thoughts can more easily be directed towards creating a plan to achieve the things we want to achieve.
By adding this one, simple word, we are able to feel inspired to pursue other things to help uplift us, help us keep going, or help us make a positive change.
Lisa: It feels like that word reminds us that we’re allowed to learn, to get new skills, that we don’t have to have it all together immediately. Additionally, for me, it also interrupts that “I can’t” message enough to remind me that maybe “I can” because I have before. For instance, my automatic thought might be, “I can’t get all this laundry done.” But when I add the “yet”, sometimes my brain will kick in and say, “Why not? You’ve gotten it done in the past. Just do it one step at a time.” When that happens I feel less overwhelmed.
Rachael: Yes. Adding the “yet” interrupts the “I can’t” message enough to begin to let the problem-solving brain kick in, either with the “Yes you can because you’ve been able to before” message, or with a “What would you need to be able to do it?” message. Then you can break down that “one step at a time” into steps that will succeed.
Lisa: It’s also important to be able to break the problem that is overwhelming us down into those smaller steps. What is the technique you teach to help someone do that successfully?
Rachael: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy provides us with a wonderful approach to be able to make changes and accomplish the goals that we want to achieve. This approach is about setting SMART Goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Specific requires that our goals be just that—specific. For example, “Cleaning the house” is a goal we all may be familiar with. But this goal is very broad and includes a large number of tasks. However, setting a specific goal means we break this down into smaller, singular pieces. Meaning, “Cleaning the house,” becomes, “Putting away the shoes in the hallway,” or, “Going through the stack of papers on the counter.” Another example might be, “Having a better relationship with my spouse,” becomes, “Making time to check in with my spouse for 5-15 minutes this evening.” And so on.
Measurable means ensuring that we are able to track our progress. It is important that we set goals that allow us to be aware of the progress that we are making, how much we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. Measurable allows us to keep track of the necessary steps towards accomplishing our goals.
Attainable or achievable is a goal that is within our power to complete or accomplish. Often we set goals that require someone else’s involvement or participation, but when making sure our goals are achievable, we have to make sure that they are entirely up to us to make progress and complete our goal.
Realistic indicates that our goals must be reasonable or realistic within the timeframe or resources we have to work with. Let’s go back to our example of “cleaning the house.” If we have 15 minutes before we have to run out the door, it’s obviously not realistic that we can clean the entire house. However, we probably CAN put away the shoes in the hallway or go through the stack of papers on the counter.
Timely is last, but not least on our SMART Goals break down. Timely simply means having a set time frame for accomplishing our goals. We often say “I’ll get to it today,” or “I’ll do it later,” and sometimes we don’t have any time frame at all, we just say “I need to do this.” But this kind of thinking doesn’t set us up for success. If we set a time, I.e. “by 3 pm,” we will be more motivated and productive in achieving our goal.
So let’s take one, simple step by adding the word yet to our regular vocabulary. This way we will be able to shift our focus from the “I can’t,” to what we CAN do in a way that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.