A Kinder Take on Goals Using Positive Psychology

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

Author’s Note: I believe this strategy can help us as we deal with change during the current crisis. Life is different now. Our views of productivity and progress must also adjust.

We all engage in goal setting. Historically, it’s simply what we do.

Yet, goals can help or hurt us — depending on their inherent ability to energize. As a work life strategist, I’ve advised clients to refine or even lose goals that no longer serve them. Why? Goals can actually let us down and fail to direct us in a meaningful way.

I’m forever wondering, can we craft goals that are better for us?

One strategy, is to apply what we already know about Positive Psychology. With its roots in humanistic psychology, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive.

Goals could stand a re-framing right now. So let’s follow this thread.

Consider the following passage:

“Positive psychology is…a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” – Christopher Peterson

We could re-frame goals (and progress) with a nod toward what is right and not wrong with our work lives. As we look toward the future, we might recognize what has actually worked during the past 6 months. (Sustaining energy requires that we actively acknowledge the good.) Taking the time to remind ourselves of what we have accomplished, can provide the fuel that we need to build both energy and resilience.

So — ask yourself: What brought you a feeling of accomplishment recently? A sense of meaning? Joy? Then write a “Goal Story”.

First, carefully consider your goal. Document what you have you already achieved, by drafting a list of the steps already taken in the right direction. (Remember, no step is too small to acknowledge.) Celebrate those small steps and take something constructive from each failure or setback.

Secondly, craft a few behaviorally-defined steps for the future, which build upon progress. Try to avoid broad, overwhelming resolutions such as “Find a better job.” or “Write a book”. Be specific, yet supportive, of your on-going journey.

Then — think of yourself actively accomplishing your goal.
What are the actual steps?
What are you doing specifically?

Here’s how my goal story might look regarding one of my key goals: To identify opportunities for collaboration regarding my work in core stability. Please note: I have not firmly established a collaboration opportunity during the last 6 months. There were stumbling blocks (obviously), yet there was progress. Acknowledging the latter is important.


  • Continued to refine concept message.
  • Engaged in many useful conversations (virtually) regarding core stability as applied to both people & organizations.
  • Was asked to speak on the topic.
  • Wrote & published the concept’s “origin story” and guiding principles.
  • Began identifying HR/Change micro-influencers whose work aligns with my own.

What’s Next:

  • Hone list of possible HR/Change contacts.
  • Reach out on social media, where possible.
  • Write an email a week regarding a potential collaboration.
  • Schedule one conversation per week regarding possible collaborations.
  • Continue to define collaboration possibilities: subjects, scope, funding.

I’ll let you know how things go.
Let me know if this process brings you clarity & progress.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.

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