Published on June 20th, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles
by Jim Duke
We do it every morning: “Today I’m going to ______.” We do it every change of season: “By this summer I’m going to ______.” We do it every New Year’s Eve: “This year I’m going to ______.” Yet each day, at the start of every season and by the end of each new year we have a stack of unmet goals. They must have been important to us, must have had some sort of meaning in our lives if we felt the need to identify them and make plans for them. So what happened between our intent to do something with our lives and an actual chance in outcome? What happened that our goals remain unmet? What gets in the way of our meeting the goals we set for ourselves?
The short hand version is that it’s a hell of a lot easier to set a goal than it is to actually do the work involved to achieve it. I don’t particularly like that explanation since it implies that we are basically lazy souls who are best suited to sprawling out on riverbanks and dreaming the day away. Daydreams and fantasies have their place – they unlock possibilities – but there is a distinction between imagining what it would be like to win the Powerball Lottery and have money handed to us versus what it would take to actually work to achieve a financial goal. Some folks are better at dreaming than they are at planning. As gay men, our goals aren’t all that dramatically different from the rest of society – feel safe, be successful, feel loved.
One of the challenges I see with the guys I work with is the difficulty in getting them to move from fanciful wishes of how life should be to concrete clear goals to work towards. So often I hear people say that they want “something” different in their lives, but they are not sure what that might be. There is a vague sense of being uncomfortable with the way things are, but it has no form or substance. Strangely enough, many people suffer from what are termed “luxury problems.” It’s not a matter of struggling to figure out where your next meal is coming from, whether your have a roof over your head tonight or clothes on your back. The troubles and struggles more often come from having too many choices – the result of too much food to eat, too much money to spend and lots of time on your hands. Too many choices can leave people spinning their wheels, not sure what direction to go because they are unsure what they really want.
I like using the analogy of a GPS. It’s an amazing device – I’m still trying to figure out how it knows where I am and how to get me where I want to go. But that’s the catch; it’s a pretty useless device unless you tell it where you want to go. There is no “Somewhere” button on a GPS, as in, “Just take me somewhere.” It can tell you where you are, but it can’t decide for you where you should be. You have to feed it that information, just like in life. It’s why I refer to myself as your “Gay GPS” – tell me where you want to go and I’ll help get you there. But first, we need to work together to get a clear picture of where you want to be.
We all have goals. Maybe you’re a single gay man who is interested in changing his single status. Perhaps you are planning how you are going to manage your coming out and deciding who you should tell first. You might be trying to decide which career path would suit you best or what type of living arrangement you most want. We constantly face choice, and in so doing we make decisions about the direction we want to go – or at least we should. If it’s all just a great dream, it’s not really a goal. For it to become a workable goal, it needs to have certain traits.
To begin with, a goal has to be specific. It can’t be just a vague “something” that you are gearing towards, but rather a precise and explicit objective you want to reach. Finding a boyfriend may be a great dream, but it’s unlikely that Mr. Right is just going to happen to knock on your door one day. You have to do something for that to happen. In order to achieve what you want, you have to put yourself in a position of meeting other guys, and that is really the goal – what are you specifically doing to increase your social connections and build better relationships?
Taking it a step further, a goal needs to have a quantifiable element. How are you going to know if you are in the ballpark of meeting the goal you set out to achieve? If it’s measurable, you know how close or how far you are from meeting it. Think of the GPS analogy – once you tell the device where you want to go, it tells you how many miles you are from that goal. It’s the same with goal-setting. If you want to know how far along you have come, find a goal that can be measured. For example, if your goal is to improve your health by losing weight, you might decide to start exercising three days a week. At the end of the week you know whether or not you exercised three times.
Two other traits that make up good goals are that they be attainable and realistic. Let’s stay with the example that you have decided to get in shape, loose weight and bulk up. It fascinates me to watch guys at the gym – and no, not just for the reason you might think. I recognized a long time ago that everyone has a particular body type and as such, they have certain assets and limitations that are simply part of their physical structure. For example, some bodies lend themselves to muscular bulk while others to lean flexibility. Aging also places limitations on what kind of results are reasonable to attain. Expecting your gym workout will result in unattainable and unrealistic goals is very likely to leave you feeling frustrated and depressed.
The final piece to goal-setting is that it is time-bound – a measurable segment of time in which the goal can be achieved. How long do you expect to work on this? Remember that your GPS not only tells you how far you have to travel but also how long the trip will take. If your trip takes 14 hours to complete are you better off finding a place to stay for the night and breaking it into two travel times? The idea is to prevent goals that spin on endlessly, but also to designate a marker that allows you to take a look at the goal, reformat and revise it as necessary. Think you can find a boyfriend in six days? Go ahead and set that as the time-frame for your goal, but be prepared to revise it when the seventh day arrives.
That’s also the beauty of goals that you devise – they are yours. They are not being handed to you by some outside force such as an employer, and you are free to change them as you see fit. In fact, many people start out in a particular direction and then discover along the way that another direction suits them better. You get to amend your goals to what works best for you.
By the way, you may be familiar with these elements of goal-setting – you’ll notice that the bolded italic words above spell out the acronym “SMART.” Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound goals have been around for awhile, and with good reason. If the goals you set meet those criteria, you have a better chance of reaching them and achieving success.
Jim Duke is the Founder and President of “Guide For Gay Men,” a service which provides personal life coaching and consultation primarily to older gay and bisexual men. Navigating the issues involved in coming out, dealing with relationships, love and sex and the transitions of careers, life decisions and aging can be daunting… unless you have someone experienced to help guide you. Contact Jim and read what he has to say on these and other topics at G4GM.com.