If you’re like me the concept of “goal setting” conjures images of inviting a member of the third reich into your home to crack the whip to keep things done orderly, efficiently, and on time. Oh, that god-awful yelling.

Can’t you just chill Jörg? Sit down. Have a lemonade. Take off those tight boots. Isn’t your arm starting to hurt? I’d be angry too. Set it down. Remember that time you broke your hand going through the hallway at the wrong angle?

My apologies to all the Jörgs out there. You’re not all nazis.

I’m about 1 quarter german so I’m allowed to make fun of the nazis. Or maybe that only works if I’m 1 quarter nazi?

Oh who cares? Since when did we all get so hell-bent on protecting the nazis anyway?

Sorry Jörg.

It’s not your fault you’re a nazi.

The goal setting I’m talking about is flexible and fluid, not rigid or fascist. No big comittments, it’s just a thought process. And you’re already doing it, even if you don’t mean to be. Whether it is positive or negative depends on your training. Positive goal setting makes life good, negative goal setting makes it miserable.

Every time you say or think, “I’m sick of this back pain,” or “Why is this house always dirty?” or “My boss is so irritating, he did such and such, I wish I didn’t work for him,” that’s negative goal setting. It tends to propogate the very situation that seemed to bring it about in the first place.

Trying to plan an evening with an extreme version of a negative goal setter goes something like this:

“What would you like to do tonight?”

“Well, I don’t want to go to a crowded movie theatre, people always kick my seat. And I’m not about to eat at such and such restaurant. The drinks there are way overpriced and they never fill up my water. And we can’t go to that bar with your friends again, the music is too loud.”

“Well, it sounds like you don’t want to do anything at all.”

Miserable evening anticipated, miserable evening received.

Many reading this already see where I’m going, but maybe not entirely. Unless you’re some sort of psychic phantom, in which case, why aren’t you out solving crimes? Get your black cape on and get out there Psychic Phantom, the world needs you.

You’re right Psychic Phantom, positive goal setting means saying what you do want to have happen. Things like “I want my back to feel amazing,” or “I’d like to find some way to keep the house neat, organized and just a dream to live in,” or “I want a job where I’m well respected and well paid” are all positive goal setting.

Early on in my practice the patients that were negative goal setters always got the worst results. Story after story of their misery and frustration until I’m finally sold on the idea that nothing can go right in their lives, so what can I possibly do for them?

The same patient with the same physical ailment(s) but a different attitude who says, “I really want to start feeling better, getting up earlier, feeling more energized, etc.” would always get the best results.

It turns out this was a problem with me (thank God for that insight and the frustation it has saved), and not with the patients. Now patients get the same results in both the positive and negative groups and they’re all a joy to treat. All it takes is planting the seeds of positive goal setting for them.

This is an extremely simple technique and you can use it to work on yourself as well as people you encounter during the day.

If she says, “I don’t want to go to a crowded movie theatre, people always kick my seat.” You say, “OK, sounds like you want an atmosphere that’s a bit more intimate where you can be at peace and comfortable in your own skin. I don’t like being kicked either, ever since that shin kicking contest with that high school soccer team I’ve decided kicking is best left to the professionals.”

If she says, “I’m not about to eat at that restaurant where they never fill up my water.” You say, “OK, sounds like you want to find a place with great service and people that treat you as you deserve. That’s understandable. I mean, who needs dehydration? Is this a restaurant or a desert waste-land? Mr. Waiter sir, the vultures are circling, would it be too much trouble to top off my thimble with some of your stale tap water?”

If she says “I don’t want to go to that bar with your friends, the music is too loud.” You say, “Yeah, loud music, who can speak, let alone think? And they always play that same damn drum beat, like someone’s banging a door closed over and over again. Why don’t they just put my head in the door while they’re at it? Sounds like you want to find something that has a little more peace and quiet, where you’re fully at ease and happy to be alive. ”

“So let’s go through the list: Intimate atmosphere, people keeping their hands and feet to themselves, peace and comfort, great service, fully at ease and happy to be alive, I know just the thing…”

At this point she’s putty in your hands. She’s so focused on having a good evening that you could suggest eating as many bean and cheese burritos as possible and then sit around lighting your farts on fire. It would seem reasonable and even fun given the fact that she now has a positive expectation (or goal) of the evening to follow.

Probably lighting farts on fire isn’t going to fly, but hopefully you get the idea.

So the formula is simple:

1. Acknowledge your own or the other person’s reality while in the midst of a negative goal setting crisis. Reiterate what they’ve told you including the points you agree with them on, if possible. So he says “I hate cold weather,” you meet him in his reality; “Yeah, who wants to shiver all the time? I guess it burns calories, but come on my tears have frozen my eyelids open. I can’t remember the last time I felt my toes.”

2. Plant the seed of positive goal setting, hint at something they want. Sometimes the first step can be skipped entirely, depending on the situation, but this is the important one. If you just stop at meeting the other person in their reality you only reinforce the negative goal setting.

So after the cold weather comment, you’ve already met him in his reality, now say: “This is the perfect time to be warm and cozy inside, I know this great coffee shop with comfortable couches, a working furnace, and hands down the best coffee/tea in the area.”

Even if the coffee sucks it will taste fabulous with that set up. Contrast that result with if after the cold weather comment you just say, “why don’t you just wear more clothes and drink some tea or something Mr. grumpy-pants.”

Which brings about the next point. How many relationships would work better if positive goal setting was applied by just one of the partners? Instead of jumping on what you think is the solution to get the other person to shut up you meet them in their reality, and then plant the seed of a positive goal.

The problem with just shouting solutions is the person is still stuck in the negative goal mindset when you propose your solution. While they are still in the negative mindset your solution immediately seems like it is going to fail because they are still focused on failure.

But plant a positive seed in their mind and the most cockamamie scheme will seem absolutely plausible and reasonable, and because of that it will be.

A couple more examples of positive goal setting:

So I’m thinking: “Alright, 3 hours in the car and I’m just over 1/8th of the way to my destination. These cars never drive at an even pace and my left butt cheek is getting sore. F%#! this was a bad idea.” So I say back to myself, “Driving in traffic for 5 minutes sucks and after 3 hours you want to sideswipe that guy next to you so you don’t have to keep looking at his goofy haircut. It sounds like you want to enjoy this ride more, body and mind at ease, feel like you’re piloting the bat-mobile down an open race track. So I’ll tell you what, throw in a better CD, lean a little more weight over to the right side and rock out. Yeah, that’s the stuff. I own this road. Back in business.”

He says, “Oh, there goes my back, yep, won’t be standing up straight for about a year. Oh well, at least I’m limping too.” She says, “Yeah, I hate it when I can’t stand up, it makes it hard to lie about my age. It sounds like you want to feel like you should be able to, like you did when you were 18, running, jumping, ready for whatever life throws at you. Well I know this great acupuncturist that works wonders. Let’s give him a call.”

A few caveats:

Use this technique on yourself first and foremost, before you try it on anyone else. It only works on other people if you are working from a postive standpoint to begin with. It will work much better for others if you have proven to yourself that it can work for you.

Pay attention to the person’s tone. If they have a positive tone while it sounds like they are negative goal setting, you probably don’t even have to do anything. Chances are they will stumble upon a positive goal on their own without too much guidance from you.

There is nothing wrong with negative goal setting per se, as long as it ultimately results in a positive goal. That’s why it’s OK to meet the other person (or yourself) in their reality for a bit. The problem comes about when the awareness of the negative situation never leads to a positive plan of action or thought process, then you get the downward spiral of negativity.

Sometimes the solution is just to feel better, and sometimes it is to actually change a situation. If no plan presents itself immediately for either of these two options the best thing is to just ‘plan to plan.’ For example: “Hmmm, so we know what you want, but we have no idea how to get there. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to plan on coming up with a plan over the next few days” (or weeks or months or whatever).

Lastly, if you’re going to use this technique on yourself you can do it as frequently as you like, but if you apply it to others do so sporadically or at least with a healthy dose of humor. There are other ways to increase the positivity, and we want to present ourselves as humans, not robots. Unless you are a robot, in which case 100111100 00101011010000000000000010010101110000010100000011111111111110111111 1111111111111111110010000101010111010100100111000000. 1010001. 0.