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Realistic Goals for Sustainable Well-Being

The social work universe. Where compassion, empathy and the challenge of supporting others meets the need for self-care. As we’ve talked about in the first two parts of this series, the juxtaposition cannot be overstated. In the thick of aiding communities and individuals, social workers can easily find themselves neglecting theirselves. Their diet, their activity, their solitude, their family time, their free time, their lack of screen time. The list goes on...

Creating self-care habits rooted in realistic and manageable goals is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Without these habits, sustaining the empathy and resilience needed to flourish in the profession of social work will be an incredibly steep uphill climb. Setting attainable and sustainable goals are a foundational aspect of a self-care routine that will eventually lead to positive habit creation that benefits everyone in our circles.

What is a best goal?:

Social workers juggle a ton of clients and responsibilities, the pressure to see progress can be overwhelming. Setting goals is vital. That said, the old way of setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound ) goals can sometimes set us up for failure. James Clear writes “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”  Instead of focusing on Outcome Goals, we should concentrate more on Process Goals. In the world of social work the outcome of our clients is out of our hands A LOT of the time. Clients don’t always do what they are supposed to do. Bottlenecks created by bureaucracy and funding can also hinder outcomes.

We should put systems into place and then trust the process. We can control the process/system, we can’t always control the outcome. Once we are mindful of this we can honestly assess ourselves and not unfairly judge our performance based outcomes alone. All of this goes for our personal self care life just as much as it does in our professional life.

Reflection and Self-Assessment:

Reflect on your daily routines, stress triggers, and coping mechanisms. What activities recharge you? What drains your energy? Understanding your needs and limitations is a cornerstone of setting realistic self care goals. What are you honestly capable of doing? Can you REALLY make the gym seven times a week for an hour and half? Do you really want to? Not likely. How about three times weekly for 45 minutes? Probably more attainable. Can you REALLY go full Keto diet? Do you really want to? Not likely. How about making your own salad for lunch every week day? Probably more attainable.

Start Small, Build Consistency:

Initiate your self-care journey with small, manageable goals. Shoot for something sustainable. For instance, commit to incorporating a five-minute mindfulness practice or taking short breaks during work hours to stretch and breathe deeply through your nose. Try box breathing. These small actions, consistently practiced, pave the way for more significant changes. Consistency is key. Small changes may seem to not make any difference...until they do. The compound effect is not just an investment term.

Gradual Progression:

As the initial goals become part of your routine, gradually introduce new objectives that build upon the existing ones. For example, if daily meditation has become a habit, extend the duration or try different techniques to deepen the practice. If you’ve successfully made going to the gym three times a week a habit, add a meditation class that meets once a week. When that is a habit add a walk after dinner. Keep stacking wins.

Goal Examples for Social Workers:

1. Prioritize Physical Health:

Goal: Engage in 30 minutes of physical activity, three times a week.

  • Start with brisk walks or yoga sessions, gradually progressing to more rigorous workouts.

  • Incorporate physical movement during breaks or by walking while making phone calls.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator every chance you get

  • Park in the back of the parking lot and walk.

2. Emotional Well-being:

Goal: Dedicate 10 minutes daily to journaling.

  • Begin by jotting down a few sentences or using prompts to express emotions.

  • Experiment with gratitude journaling or creative writing to explore feelings in-depth.

  • Evaluate and re-evaluate your processes/systems

3. Creating Boundaries:

Goal: Set aside time daily for quiet, uninterrupted time.

  • Establish boundaries by disconnecting daily from work emails and calls.

  • Use this time for relaxation, reading, or engaging in a hobby.

  • Boundaries don’t go for just work and clients, they go for friends and family when needed as well.

4. Building Support Networks:

Goal: Connect with a colleague or friend for a supportive conversation weekly.

  • Initiate by reaching out via text or scheduling brief calls.

  • Expand connections by joining professional networks or attending support groups.

5. Practicing Mindfulness:

Goal: Practice five minutes of mindfulness or deep breathing exercises daily.

  • Start with guided apps or online resources to ease into the practice.

  • Gradually increase the duration and explore various mindfulness techniques.

Nurturing Habits Through Consistency:

The key to transforming goals into habits lies in consistency. Celebrate small victories and acknowledge progress. If setbacks occur, view them as learning experiences rather than failures. Adjust goals as needed ensuring they remain challenging yet within reach of becoming habitual.

Integrating Self-Care Into Work Culture:

Apart from individual efforts, fostering a culture of self-care within the workplace is crucial. Encourage team discussions on self-care strategies, organize workshops, and advocate for policies that support work-life balance. Share what you read and learn with your colleagues and ask what they’ve learned as well. What are they reading? What professional/personal podcasts have they been listening to?

Self-care isn’t an indulgence; it’s a necessity, especially in the field of social work. Setting realistic, manageable process goals that build upon themselves gradually will create sustainable self-care habits. It’s not about perfection but progress. Each small step towards self-care contributes significantly to personal well-being and professional effectiveness.

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