It all started with a coffee maker. My desire to trade in my morning stop at the coffee shop for a fresh cup of home brewed coffee opened the door for my treatment progress. Who knew?
My counselor did.
In my mid-twenties I experienced some family trauma that left me in a constant state of anxiety. I found myself spinning my wheels for a few years personally and professionally. My body produced enough adrenaline for me to function in my anxious state while I occupied myself with just enough distraction to get by. I kept myself so busy that I can’t even say I made bad decisions, but rather I didn’t make any at all.
Eventually the combination of distraction and anxiety became too much, and my body started to give out. I had aches and pains that were no longer new, but constant reminders that I didn’t have it together. I had no confidence. I didn’t know what I wanted. But I knew that what I had wasn’t it.
I had been seeing a counselor during this period but that seemed to be going nowhere, until I opened up about what may seem like the most simple of frustrations. “I can’t even get myself to make my morning coffee at home instead of wasting $25 a week at the office coffee shop,” I recall telling her. She picked up on that and ran with it.
We set a goal for me. Make coffee at home at least 3 days a week.
It seems pretty simple, but it was the beginning of what my counselor would call “living intentionally.” Every night before I went to bed I had to make the decision whether or not to prepare the coffee maker, since I knew my morning routine left no time for that. I had to decide each day to work toward my goal, or not.
It is important to note that making coffee at home does not make you a better person, nor do I make any promotion that a regular coffee schedule promotes healthy decision making. The point was that I wasn’t doing things that I wanted to be doing, and making coffee was just one manifestation of that that I had fixated on.
Read more about creating measurable goals and objectives in Measure Goals and Objectives With Data Informed Treatment Planning
After four consecutive weeks having success with my coffee objective, my counselor did not suggest increasing the number of times a week I made coffee. That never mattered. What mattered was that I made decisions that lead to a change in behavior that I wanted. But it all started with a goal that we measured – about coffee.
It was a small success, but after years of apathy, it was a success in an objective area that mattered to me. But my body was still worn down. I lamented that I missed going to yoga class, and as soon as my body felt better I would return. After getting me to admit that yoga was likely to improve my aches and pains, and that my plan to “wait until I felt better” was unlikely to work. My counselor took another chance to intervene with a new goal.
We set a second goal for me. Go to yoga class at least once every two weeks.
I went 6 times before my next counseling appointment. I felt so much better after my first class that, while the aches did return, I went back again and again and they began to lessen. We set a goal, I took the action, and then got to enjoy the benefits. My return on investment was a body that didn’t feel like it was crumbling. It all started to make sense. Set goals. Take the actions that will achieve the goals. Then enjoy the benefits. Rinse and repeat.
Data-driven goals and objectives weren’t about making me a statistic. A positive or negative outcome. It was about creating the numerical goals I needed to feel successful at the behaviors that I wanted to adopt. You don’t have to be a “numbers person” to find satisfaction in achieving a number when that number matters to you, and a simple counting of the right occurrences was enough for me to feel a sense of accomplishment.
In the years since I started the innocuous habit of making coffee at home, I left a good job that I didn’t hate for a good job that I love. I have maintained the activities that keep my body running and healthy. I put myself out there to find the type of relationship I wanted, and am now happily married.
All because my counselor knew to measure the number of times a week I used my coffee maker.
Read more about data driven treatment planning in the white paper “The 6-Sigma Clinician”