Small Victories

A lot of the work I do with people centers around goals and goal setting and accountability. It would seem that this is one specific area of service, but truly it encompasses nearly everything. Keeping my mission of holistic well-being, I work with people in a variety of areas: getting started with fitness, career exploration and development, relationships, self-esteem, and sometimes even spiritual connection.

To make changes in any of these areas, or in all of these areas, it is important to be able to create, state, and meet goals. It is central to all growth and development. Yogi Berra, the famed Yankee player and coach, once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.”

The man was a genius.

There is truth in this statement. There is a trajectory to follow in goal setting: Idea. Plan. Action. Assessment. Evaluation.

There are two important components to goal setting that I employ in the work I do. The first includes a practical process for setting the goal and the second is a theoretical orientation to the cognitive and behavioral processes individuals experience that will increase the likelihood of goal achievement. In simpler terms - there is the act of writing the goals down, and then there is the mental stuff needed to see them through.

So, where to begin? Smartly, of course.

The SMART method is one of the most commonly utilized goal setting tools and helps ensure your planning takes into account all of the most important factors for success.

S: Your goal should be SPECIFIC. Describe it in detail.
M: Your goal should be MEASURABLE. To restate Yogi, how will you know that you’ve met your goal?
A: Your goal should be ATTAINABLE. Your goals should be set high, but they should also be realistic. One of the concepts that will be discussed later in this essay is tiered goal setting and that will help clarify this.
R: Your goal should be RELEVANT. Goals that make sense and enhance your life or work in some way are going to carry more intrinsic, or internal, motivation.
T: Your goal should be TIME BOUND. Your chances of success are increased if you put a deadline on your process. Hold yourself accountable and work toward a designated end.

This format is used by students, educators, counselors, and coaches - and is very similar to treatment plans used by medical professionals and psychotherapists. It is easy to find templates for SMART goal planning on Google {or I have them and can send you one!}, allowing you to get started today.

Theoretically, the ideas around goal setting that really resonate with me comes from the psychologist Albert Bandura (1977) and what he called Social Learning Theory. His work was expanded to look at both general behavioral change (Social Cognitive Theory) and career development (Social Cognitive Career Theory). In fact, it was studying SCCT in graduate school that ultimately shaped my professional path, so interested was I in this work. I could write about this for days but I will try to keep it simple here.

SCT looks at the complementary relationship between cognitive processes (what you think), behavioral processes (how you act) and reinforcers (whether you receive positive or negative feedback). How you behave will carry a reinforcer, which will then shape you how think about that experience.

A personal example is that for most of my life I was not good at things I was not good at. If I did not experience an immediate positive reinforcer, it was tough for me to keep going in an activity. You may relate to this. Many of us do.

What I truly love about the SCT is that it provides a way for coaches, counselors, or educators to work with clients on the critically important factors of self-efficacy and outcome expectations. What does the client believe about their own ability to meet the goal {self-efficacy} and what does the client believe about the probable outcome of the goal {outcome expectation}. By exploring, and challenging, negative belief systems, the coach and client can work to eliminate self-sabotage, limited beliefs, and what theorists call “foreclosed options” - things the client won’t even explore based on negative beliefs.

This framework meets the client exactly where they are at and takes into account their prior learning experiences, values, and personal motivators, both internal {self-esteem and personal satisfaction}, and external {rewards, status, compensation}. This theory works to capitalize on the client’s sense of agency and empowerment by building on current and past experiences.

Returning to the Attainable aspect of SMART goals - maybe your ultimate goal is not quite in your grasp yet. That’s ok. Set smaller, realistic goals that are attainable and build upon those successes. Each time you hit a new mark, you build confidence and a sense of greater self-efficacy, your belief in your own ability to achieve the goal; and within that framework, set the next goal. And the next. And the next.

Small victories add up. Every time you prove (to yourself) that you can, you increase your belief in future goals. Set that path, and follow it. Big things await.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Berra, Y. (2002). When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!: Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball's Greatest Heroes, Hyperion.