A client comes to you for goal setting coaching and after four sessions, you notice a pattern emerging. The client has enthusiasm in setting goals, but during reviews of progress, the client consistently tells you that he has not achieved any process goals because “something always comes up.” Client says he finds himself easily swayed by distractions and his self-motivation waning after a couple of days.

As the coach, how would you help this client?

I would take a step back from the goal setting focus and ask the client some questions to determine the importance of these “something always comes up” circumstances. If the obstacles are indeed distractions, then working on the process goals more thoroughly might be enough to move the client along in achieving the goal in question. If however, these distractions are consistently described vaguely, such as “I just can’t find the time”, “I’m too busy”, or the like, then perhaps a further exploration into the client’s values/beliefs would be appropriate.

When there are incongruences between our values/beliefs and our goals, it can be incapacitating. Often, when we set goals that are consistent with our self-perceptions and values, the self-motivation needed to start the process of achieving them is kick-started. When we find that obstacles and distractions often take us away from the path of our goals, it should serve as a signal that there is possibly a misalignment between your values and your goals.

Finding out your client’s values may be a matter of asking a simple question or it may be a whole exploration of client’s worldviews, perceptions, and possibly views the client holds strongly against. Whatever may be the case, it is a very important exercise for the client’s well-being to be clear about his values/beliefs before you can move ahead with appropriate goals that will be achievable and valuable to the client.

Often we state the goal as the behavior to be achieved. However, if we go a step further inside ourselves, we may find that it may not the behaviour that we are striving towards. For example, my stated goal is to lose 10kg in 5 months, and achieve an ideal weight of 55kg by 30 April 2013. Now, with the right process goals and reinforcements in place, why is it that I cannot maintain the motivation to work towards my goal? Is it really the weight loss that I am trying to achieve or is there another underlying result/reward I am hoping to gain from the weight loss?

If it is purely a behavioural change I am aiming for, then following the process goals that I have set would most likely yield the results I want. If however, my underlying aim is to win a bet I made with a friend that I can lose that weight in the time, it may be harder for me to maintain the motivation needed for the achievement of that goal than if my underlying aim is to be rewarded with a prize of $1000 for the achievement of that goal (here I am assuming that both a slim physical appearance and money are high priorities on my personal value list and being a winner is not).

Once the client has identified and prioritised his values, questions that you can ask to address the congruency between his values and goals can include:

  • What would happen when you achieved that goal?
  • How would your life be different after you have achieved that goal?
  • What would others around you notice that is different about you once you have achieved that goal?
  • How important would it be for you to achieve that goal?

Other scaling questions can also be used if the client finds it difficult to visualise and verbalise the difference after goal achievement. A few examples are:

  • On a scale of 1-10, what is the value you place on this goal being a priority in your life?
  • If you had to rank your priorities in your life between 1 and 10, where would the achievement of this goal be for you on that scale?

From these questions, you can gain a clearer insight into the client’s self-perception and values in relation to the goal in question.

If it appears that the client does indeed put a very high priority/value on the goal but is unable to follow through with working on it, then perhaps it would be appropriate to explore the need for the client to shift the focus of having goal setting coaching sessions to other issues client may be experiencing in his life that are possibly preventing him from moving forward.

Written by Raynette Kise, MSocSci (Counselling)