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How to Set Goals With CBT

Updated July 20, 2017

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that employs the idea that our thoughts, and not our environment, are responsible for our feelings and behaviours. CBT places an emphasis on educational models and homework, making goal-setting and attainment an essential part of the therapy. Goals are determined by the patient and can range from mastering a new coping technique to consistently reacting to a specific situation in an appropriate/desirable manner. Because setting and achieving goals is crucial to success with CBT, the popular and effective S.M.A.R.T. Goal-Setting method is useful.

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Choose a specific goal; S = Specific. A specific goal helps focus your efforts and attention and prevents you from choosing a goal that is too large or consists of too many parts.

Unspecific goal: "I will feel less anxious."

Specific goal: "I will decrease the number of anxiety attacks I experience."

Pick a measurable goal; M = Measurable.Being able to measure your progress allows you see positive change and motivates you to continue your goal-attaining path.

Unmeasurable goal : "I will have fewer anxiety attacks."

Measurable goal: "I will have [a specified per cent] fewer anxiety attacks."

Select an attainable goal; A = Attainable. If you pick a goal that is too extensive or long term, it will be more difficult to attain, and therefore more tempting to give up.

Unattainable goal: "I will have 75 per cent fewer anxiety attacks."

Attainable goal: " I will have 5 per cent fewer anxiety attacks."

Choose a realistic goal; R = Realistic. Realistic goals, when achieved after some hard work and perseverance, are an excellent source of motivation for future endeavours. Unrealistic goals are unlikely to be met and may only be discouraging.

Unrealistic goal: "I will stop having anxiety attacks forever."

Realistic goal: "I will have 5 per cent fewer anxiety attacks."

Set a time frame for your goal; T = Timely. Give yourself a specific amount of time in which to achieve your goal. With a time frame in mind, you will be more willing to push yourself and begin working on the goal immediately.

Untimely goal: "I will have 5 per cent fewer panic attacks."

Timely goal: "I will have 5 per cent fewer panic attacks each month."

Write down your goal, including how and when you will measure your progress, as well as the specific time frame. Refer to your goal often for motivation and to chart your progress. If you are currently seeing a therapist, share you goal with him.

Tip

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is most successful when practised with a therapist, psychologist or other licensed mental health provider.

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About the Author

Emilie Dennington has been writing about health and communication since 2008. Her work has appeared in public service announcements as part of an urban-health campaign, as well as at the 2011 International Communication Conference. Dennington holds a Master of Arts in communication from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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