Category Archives: Pursuing Goals


[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 12] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D



“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” ~Alfred D. Souza                                             

Life is filled with difficult choices, and making decisions about long-term goals can be especially challenging.  When we select long-term goals, we generally try to choose the ones we think will make us happy. But, accurately predicting our happiness can be very difficult because no matter what strategies we use to try to sort out what we want, we’re susceptible to cognitive biases that can mislead us.  To minimize the influence of these biases, it’s helpful to understand how they can affect the decision-making process.

BIAS #1: SELECTIVELY FOCUSING ON THE MOST SALIENT FEATURE – Most of us are inclined to selectively focus on one salient feature of a choice we’re trying to make, while overlooking or minimizing other features. Although the element we emphasize may appear to be the most important feature, by approaching the decision in this manner we’re likely to be underestimating the effect other features will have. To reduce the impact of this bias, we need to step back to look at the bigger picture, and give some thought to how we feel about the features we may be minimizing.

BIAS #2: OVERESTIMATING THE LONG-TERM EFFECT ON OUR HAPPINESS – A subset of the focusing bias is the tendency to concentrate primarily on how we think we’ll be affected by a decision in the short run, even if we’ll be living with the decision for much longer. It’s important to remember that over time we adapt to change, and as we adapt, the intensity of whatever we’re feeling about that change diminishes. In order to learn more about what it might be like to live with this choice over time, it can be useful to talk with others who have experienced it on more than just a short-term basis.

BIAS #3: PUTTING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS – All of us are susceptible to being influenced by external opinions and social pressures. Some of us may even trust the opinions of others more than our own. As mentioned above, it’s definitely a good idea to seek the input of others who may be able to offer us a different perspective, especially if they know us well and also if they have experience with the choice we’re considering.  But in the end, our own personality, values, strengths and interests should play a more prominent role in our decision than the opinions of others.

BIAS #4: TRYING TO MAKE THE “PERFECT” CHOICE – If we convince ourselves that there is a “perfect” choice, we’re likely to be disappointed. Further, those who look for perfection risk being caught in “analysis paralysis.” Instead of being immobilized by fear of making the wrong choice, we need to recognize that there is no perfect choice, and aim for a choice that’s “good enough.”

Beyond correcting for these cognitive biases, it’s important to remember what we’ve been discussing throughout this Happiness and Well-Being series: external factors account for only 10% of our happiness whereas the smaller choices that we regularly make account for up to 40% of our happiness (e.g. see Happiness and Well-Being, part 1).  We need to remain mindful of the fact that our happiness isn’t determined by making “perfect” decisions, and it isn’t a steady state.

Happiness has more to do with how we view and approach the opportunities and challenges in our life. It has more to do with making choices that are inherently rewarding for us, that add meaning to our life, and that honor our own values and strengths. And, it has more to do with cultivating significant social connections, with allowing ourselves to appreciate and enjoy the moment, with understanding what’s really important to us, and with being grateful for what we have. But, even knowing these things, the reality is that in the midst of dealing with the pressures and stresses we all experience, it’s easy to lose track of things that  give meaning to our lives, and instead end up focusing on things that don’t really matter in the long run.  We need to keep in mind that where we focus our attention influences not only the types of choices we make, but also significantly impacts our happiness and well-being. So, from time to time, it can be very useful for each of us to focus on the bigger picture and think about what truly matters. 

Research on hospice patients offers a big picture perspective on the choices all of us make in life. Hospice workers interviewed their patients about the regrets they felt as they faced the end of their lives. The workers then summarized the top 5 regrets of their dying patients: (1) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard; (2) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends; (3) I wish I had let myself be happier; (4) I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self; (5) I wish I lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others expected of me.

You can see from these answers that when the hospice patients came face-to-face with their mortality, it changed their perspective about some of the life choices they had made. Like most of us, they probably took a lot in their lives for granted, lost sight of their real priorities in the face of the pressures and stresses in their lives, and placed undue importance on some things that didn’t really matter in the long run. Because they were willing to share this perspective with us, we have the advantage of being able to use their wisdom to think about our own choices as we go forward. So, put some real thought into what it is that you value and what gives your life meaning and purpose.  Then, try to honor and live out your values, and factor them into both the big and small choices in your life.

Write a letter summarizing your life, your values and your accomplishments up until this point.

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  1. Of the things you’ve done, which are most meaningful to you?
  2. What memories bring you the most pleasure?
  3. As you think about what you want to put in the summary, what do you learn about your strengths, talents, interests, and values?
  4. Does thinking about these questions help you to recognize some things you might want to do (or do differently) as you go forward in your life?

Biswas-Diener, R  & Dean, B (2009). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Biswas-Diener, R. & Diener, E. (2010). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Wiley Publishing. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). The myths of happiness: What should make you happy, but doesn’t, what shouldn’t make you happy, but does. Penguin Group US. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Jane McGonigal “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”


If you haven’t yet read the eleven previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness & Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                                       Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                      Happiness & Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                                 Happiness & Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring                                                                                        Happiness & Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence                                                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 9: Mindfulness                                                                                     Happiness & Well-Being, Part 10: Mindfulness II
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 11: Finding Flow



Do you tend to put off some of the things you need to get done? Most of us do, at least some of the time. Yet, we all know that putting things off doesn’t make them go away.  To  push  past  your  desire to procrastinate, try some of these tips:

  1. Stop badgering yourself. Many times people are their own worst critics. But mentally berating yourself only drives you deeper into guilt instead of spurring you to action. In fact, it’s been found that self-compassion actually helps to motivate people more than self-blame.
  2. Since we need to exert a certain amount of self-control to get ourselves to do things that we don’t want to do, keep in mind what we’ve learned in recent years about how to develop more self-control:  self-control, like a muscle, gets stronger with practice. So, the more you practice self-control, the less you will have to struggle to push past procrastination. At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it because your self-control “muscle” needs time to rest and recharge.
  3. Ask yourself what’s blocking you from doing what you need to do and then figure out how to address the issue that’s getting in your way. It could be that the task too big and you need to break it into smaller steps. Maybe you find the task boring and you need to develop a way to make it more interesting. Perhaps you need to get more organized before you can begin working on the task. Possibly you simply need to rest and allow your self-control “muscle” to recharge. Whatever your reason for procrastinating, approach the task in a way that will enable you to address your specific concern and move toward accomplishing your goal.
  4. Remind yourself of times in the past when you’ve successfully accomplished your goals, and think about what strategies were helpful in those situations. Try to apply those lessons now.
  5. If past experience indicates that a particular task is likely to be very difficult for you to accomplish, it may be helpful to  seek out additional information, learn new skills, or look for assistance. Don’t allow negative thoughts about the past to determine your present.
  6. Make a list of your reasons for wanting to accomplish this task. Write down: (1) how you will benefit by doing this; (2) how you imagine it will feel to have it finished; and (3) what negative things will happen if you don’t get this done.
  7. Go public with your goal, and have others hold you accountable. This has been shown to be a very helpful strategy for accomplishing goals.
  8. Eliminate temptations and distractions that can take your attention away from your task, such as the computer, TV, phone, etc. Instead, use those temptations as a reward for meeting the smaller goals you set.
  9. If you are truly struggling to get started, try to take just a small step. Doing even a small amount of the task can dramatically increase the likelihood that you will finish. The small amount you work on doesn’t even have to be the first step in the process either; it’s fine to skip ahead to a part that is less difficult for you to accomplish.

Finally, once you finish the job, think about what you helped you succeed and how you can apply that lesson in the future. And, be sure to take time to recognize your efforts and accomplishments.


© mcarrel (


As we head into 2016, many of us think about how we didn’t accomplish some of our  goals in the past, and we wonder if things will be different this year. If this sounds like you, there is some really good news:  we now know that there’s a key  for unlocking your potential, and it’s something that anyone can learn how to do.  Studies have found that the  key to success  is to develop a growth mindset.

In order to develop a growth mindset, you will need to change how you think about yourself, your abilities and your potential. If you tend to believe that your intelligence, aptitude, or any other aspect of yourself is set in stone, then you probably believe that you can’t improve significantly no matter what you do. If you have this type of “fixed mindset,” you might brood over what you see as your shortcomings, and you may feel defeated in the face of setbacks and obstacles. Consequently, having a fixed mindset makes it more likely that you will give up on your goals and dreams.

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Ironically, it turns out that to succeed,  it’s very important to give yourself permission to make mistakes and even to fail. Still more intriguing, studies have found that people who do give themselves permission to make mistakes are much less likely to end up actually making them. When you take on a challenge or begin something new, you should expect that you will make errors. Not only are mistakes acceptable, but they may be necessary to your ultimate success.

Instead of trying to do things well from the start, if you put your focus on learning and improving, you are less likely to feel anxious, overwhelmed or defeated. So, when you are working on something new, remind yourself that it will take time for you to get really comfortable with it, and that you will inevitably make mistakes along the way. When you do make mistakes, or encounter a setback, instead of putting yourself down, add the word “yet” to any negative things you are tempted to say to yourself. For example, “I’m not able to do this yet,” or “I don’t understand this yet.” Rather than trying to prove to yourself and others that you are smart enough, talented enough, or good enough, try to view the process of pursuing goals as an opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills.

If you run into difficulty while you are pursuing your goals, give yourself permission to ask for assistance. Rather than comparing yourself with others, focus attention on how you’re improving. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for what you have accomplished in the past (see “Stepping Stones to Success”). Remember to also give yourself credit for the things that go well now as you pursue your goals, including each small accomplishment along the way. (And, by the way, that includes giving yourself credit when you’re able tolerate making mistakes or when you’re willing to ask for help!)  Here’s to your growth and success in 2016 and beyond!

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If you want more information about cultivating a growth mindset,  you can take a         look at:

or you can read:                                                                                                                               Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset: The new psychology of success. NY: Balantine Books,

                                                             Stepping Stones to Success

As the new year approaches, you may be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you hope to improve your life by  eliminating unhelpful habits and/or by establishing  new positive  habits.  While contemplating what you want to do in the coming year, you might find yourself thinking about resolutions you made but didn’t keep during the past year. Keep in mind that if you only focus on what you didn’t accomplish this past year,  you can end up feeling like you’re not good enough and you may even feel  like a failure.

Beginning a new year with a defeated mindset will only make it that much harder to reach new goals. Instead, focus on what worked well for you this past year and what you achieved. Then lay down more stepping stones.

A good place to begin is with a sense of gratitude. Ask yourself what has blessed your life: health, loving friends, a comfortable home, special family members, employment — you fill in the blank. Also, try to think about your blessings in context. Maybe your job doesn’t pay as much as you’d like, but you find your work fulfilling. Perhaps you’ve experienced some health struggles, but you feel good about the way you handled those challenges. You may not have tons of friends, but the ones you have are truly special. Your family may not live nearby, but you love each other and keep in touch regularly. Take some time to really savor these good things in your life.

canstockphoto29626029Focus as well on giving yourself credit for your own successes, large and small. Even if you didn’t meet all your goals this year,  it’s important to recognize and celebrate the things you did accomplish, and, give some thought to how you contributed to those accomplishments. Of the things you tried to accomplish, what went well?

Next, consider how you can build upon your blessings and your successes. Maybe you want to develop new ways to support your health, such as learning how to make healthy food choices that are also tasty, finding enjoyable ways to increase your activity level, and so forth.  Perhaps you can deepen your relationships by showing your appreciation to your friends and family.  Maybe you can make your work more satisfying by performing random acts of kindness at the office (who left that cookie tray in the break room?), or by finding creative ways to make the work more interesting. Whatever your goals now, you can consider how to develop new strategies, but you can also build upon elements of the strategies you’ve used before that worked well. No matter what you want to do, you can use the blessings and successes from this year to inspire and encourage yourself.

canstockphoto21501545Lastly, set reasonable, incremental goals. Think about your larger goals, and then break them down into smaller steps so you can experience a series of successes on the way to achieving the overall goal. For example, if you decide you want to develop a new exercise routine, but you haven’t exercised regularly in a long time, you can try to begin by walking 20 to 30 minutes 3 times a week, rather than trying to run for an hour daily. Then you can gradually  increase the amount you exercise, if that’s your larger goal. Remember to keep track of your progress, so you will be able to recognize what you are accomplishing and give yourself the credit you deserve.

The same applies to any resolution you set: use small, achievable goals towards your ultimate goals. As you reach your smaller goals, acknowledge and celebrate each accomplishment. You’ve earned it!


As you consider how you would like to build on your blessings and successes in the new year, keep in mind that…


                    SINCE COACHING IS EASILY DONE OVER THE PHONE, YOU CAN  RECEIVE A                                                                  COMPLIMENTARY COACHING CONSULTATION                                                        NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE             



For more ideas about developing a “What Went Well” perspective as the new year approaches, you can also check out


[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 6] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

“If we all did the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves”
– Thomas Edison

  • Does fear of failure sometimes prevent you from doing things you want to do?
  • Do you sometimes focus a lot of your energy on trying to prove yourself?
  • When you experience a setback or failure, are you likely to give up and conclude that you lack the ability to reach your goal?

In recent years, psychologists have recognized that there are two very different mindsets that people can hold with regard to their own abilities:  a fixed mindset or a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). Those who have a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are set for life and tend to focus on proving themselves. Those who have a growth mindset recognize that their abilities can be enhanced through effort, so they focus on developing their abilities instead of trying to prove themselves. If you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions above, you may be approaching things with a fixed mindset.

Studies show that if you believe your abilities are fixed, you are less likely to take risks and more likely to avoid challenges, which can end up limiting your potential. On the other hand, if you believe you have the capacity to grow and improve, it can strengthen your willingness to take risks, accept challenges, and persist in the face of failure or rejection, which in turn can enhance your potential.

Fixed and growth mindsets can impact virtually any ability, including intelligence, academic performance, career achievements, physical abilities, etc. Having a fixed or growth mindset in one area does not necessarily mean you will have that same mindset with regard to all of your abilities; you may see yourself as capable of learning and growing in one area, but not in another.


If you find yourself thinking that one or more of your abilities is fixed, try to remember that this belief is almost certainly incorrect. With sufficient effort, perseverance and planning, it is possible to grow and improve in a wide spectrum of areas. When you encounter a setback or failure, the strategies discussed in the article on Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism will help you to diminish your distress. But, if you focus only on helping yourself to feel better, and you give up on your goal because of the setback, you may end up unnecessarily limiting your potential. While it makes sense to let go of goals that don’t fit with what you really want in your life – or that are unreachable due to circumstances that are truly beyond your control – abandoning a goal because you don’t think you have the ability to succeed is almost certainly selling yourself short.

So, when you experience rejection or failure, first recognize that you most likely do have the ability to reach your goal (or some version of your goal), but that you might need to employ different strategies to get there. In the event that you really don’t have the ability at present, if the goal is really important to you, it may still be possible to develop that ability over time. The following ideas and strategies can help you to cultivate a growth mindset in virtually any area:

CATCH YOURSELF GROWING:  When you encounter a setback or failure, ask yourself “what did I do right/well in this situation,” “What have I learned from this setback?” and “What works, and what needs to be adjusted or eliminated?” These questions will help you manage the emotional impact of your setback, and help you to identify some new strategies you can use to reach your goal. And, don’t forget to give yourself credit for all your efforts – those that were successful, as well those that weren’t.

REWIRE YOUR BRAIN:  Imagine what it would be like to overcome the feeling that you lack the ability to achieve your goal, and visualize yourself knowing that you can. Come up with some things you can tell  yourself, to help yourself recognize and remember that with the right amount of effort, and some good strategies, you can do it. Write those things down, and review them every day until they become part of your mindset.

CAROL DWECK’S (2006) PROCESS FOR CULTIVATING A GROWTH MINDSET: (1) recognize that how you performed, or what you experienced in a given situation, doesn’t define you or your potential; (2) challenge any beliefs that your abilities are fixed; (3) remember that your purpose isn’t simply to reduce your distress, but to move forward toward your bigger goal; and (4) make a concrete plan for achieving your goal. Your plan may involve adjusting your approach or breaking the goal down into smaller pieces. The critical issue is to have a plan that is very specific and clear: what will you do, when will you do it, and where will you do it? Visualize the steps you will take, and then hold yourself accountable for implementing each step of your plan. If your efforts toward your goal are blocked or frustrated in some way, make another plan; this could even involve learning new skills or seeking help from others. Heidi Halvorson (2010) recommends that you also include the following component to your plan: identify obstacles you might encounter and clarify how you will address those obstacles. (See “The Trouble With New Year’s Resolutions” for more information on pursuing and accomplishing goals.)

As you work toward achieving your goal, you may find it helpful to take some inspiration from a great inventor:

“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”  ~ Thomas Edison


Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and living well in the face of life challenges such as chronic illness or creating a new life after divorce/loss or breast cancer treatment. She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. Since coaching can readily take place on the phone, you can coach with Audrey no matter where you are located. To learn more about Audrey’s coaching services, and to arrange a complimentary coaching consultation, go to Audrey can be reached by email at or by phone at (585) 292-0095.

Colman, J. (2012-10-16). Optimal functioning: A positive psychology handbook. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Dweck, C.  (2006-02-28). Mindset: The new psychology of success. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Fredrickson, B. (2009-01-27). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Halvorson, H. G. (2010-12-23). Succeed: How we can reach our goals. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from

Seligman, M. E. (2011-08-10). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life (Vintage). [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from


“Developing A Growth Mindset” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

If you haven’t yet read the five previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness and Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness and Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                             Happiness and Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness and Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

S.M.A.R.T. GOALS  by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. – Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

S.M.A.R.T. GoalsGoals provide us with direction and motivation, and help us to structure our time and our choices. Studies have found that pursuing meaningful goals contributes significantly to happiness. This post will address some ways you can structure your goals to increase the likelihood of success. The acronym that is frequently used to describe this process is “S.M.A.R.T.” Here’s what it stands for: Continue reading

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.  –  Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

“Many of life’s failures are people who had not realized how close they were to success when they gave up.”  – Thomas A. Edison   

New Year's Resolutions, GoalsNew Year’s resolutions…most of us make them, but few of us keep them. In a 2007 study of 3000 people who made New Year’s resolutions, Richard Wiseman found that although the majority  of subjects expected to keep their New Year’s resolutions when the study began, one year later only 12% had  succeeded in following through and sustaining the changes. A twelve percent success rate is a rather stunning statistic. What accounts for these results and how can you be among those who succeed? Continue reading