Updated: May 9, 2019

Yesterday, I was doing quite a bit of work with the team around responding to NDIS participant goals. We talked about the distinction between aspirational or directional goals that are included in the NDIS plans, and the conversations we need to engage in, to draw our the support targets we are going to have to come up with in response to their goals. It's all about finding baseline ability and then making a guess about how much can reasonably be achieved in the available time with the amount of funded support.

Last night I couldn't help but think about goals and how people use them in life. I firmly believe that you need to set a goal if you are going to achieve something, but are we goal oriented about everything we do in every part of our life? Is this something everyone does? In my experience some people are more goal oriented than others. Some people just know when 'things' don't feel right and then just change them. They don't make a huge deal out of formalizing it.

When we were in huge amounts of debt after we started up GSL I had a 'debt reduction plan' so I had some idea of direction, and the economising strategies we could make at home. I suppose the position we were in was life style threatening, but it felt so much more scary than those three simple words. We are simple people, and don't really need a lot in life, but paying bills and having enough food is important. We tracked money tightly, all the decisions about minimising expenditure were excruciatingly over-thought and future options in case we lost our home were plotted in talks of 'Plan B'. What we didn't do was visualise a target; a point of 'success'.

Something within me tells me there is a difference between 'quality of life' goals and goals to get out of a threatening situation. Yesterday, I wrote blogs about my goal to become healthier and Sebastian's goal to get his driver's license. These are quality of life goals; maybe the word is aspirational. Even between these two goals there is a difference. Sebastian's goal has a clear target and success measure, mine doesn't - I have to determine what would feel like success. Naturally, I can do this, and although the goal is important to me (it offers a quality of life), there is no real and presenting threat.

What we went through in terms of our finances did not feel the same as either of these two scenarios. There was an element of threat, and with this came that awful sense of limited control. We did not visualise when it would be over, or what it would look like when we 'succeeded'. Our response to the situation was much more instinctual, and quite frankly to talk about it in too much deal usually landed us in arguments fueled by fear.

Yesterday, I started a blog titled 'This too shall pass' (I didn't publish it). It was about a family I'd worked with a number of years ago and all the heart break they'd experienced as their child became critically ill and emerged from a coma with a disability. When we are in awful situations we are often guided to ask 'what will be the worst that can happen?'. I remember talking to the Dad and he said that he kept doing that; he kept asking 'what's the worst that can happen?' and then things kept going past what he thought would be the worse, until he was sitting at his son's beside looking at his little boy in a coma. He said he didn't want to ask 'what's the worst' at that point.

I came to know the family when they were emerging from their tragedy and getting going on their rehabilitation treck. I couldn't ask them their goals for their son in any real, cold, clinical sense. One they were too numb, and two, they didn't know how to breakdown a child's development into bit sized pieces and prioritise one over the other. They just wanted the best for their son. We worked instinctively; they told me when they were happy about something he'd done and they told me when they were worried. To me this offered the two edges to the path we were going on - I just tried to do, and provide advice, that meant they could guide their child's development to be somewhere in the middle.

The point of that blog was resilience. As I watched this family over time they started to recover and then started to focus on what they could control. After a number of months, I remember a day I was playing with their son in a glorious and most ridiculously, excessive mound of shaving cream. We were belly laughing at something and being silly while we played. All three of us were lathered in shaving cream, and as we wiped off the cream I noticed the mum had a new tatoo: 'this too shall pass'. It was a profound moment for me. I believed it to be true for this family. I had seen them when their world was at it's worse, and yet just a few short month later here we were laughing and playing. I saw a Mum completely enthralled by her son's achievements and him glowing in all her adoration. Happiness and joy was making it's way back.

Coming back to my point in this blog about goals, I think that goals are excellent and we need them. I think some are easier than others; some have clear targets and success indicators while others need the target and success indicator to be defined. If I go back to my blog yesterday about becoming healthier, I have a goal about loosing weight but if I am true to myself, that's not my end goal. My end goal is time. I didn't really focus on my weight through the challenge which was what I said was the goal. I found myself focusing on my bio age.

Now ... I would like to extend on this point. I don't know what's involved in reducing a bio age other than reducing visceral fat. My body seems to be a tad stubborn on the topic of reducing fat around the middle so I don't know how achievable it is to set a target of say, losing a year in a month, or in six months. I know it's all relative and depends on how hard I work, but similarly I need a little guidance on what's in the realms of possibility. If I relate this to the parents I mentioned above, they didn't know how to set clear, realistic and measurable goals for their son. They just didn't have enough information and experience at the time.

More important to me, though, is the relative 'threat'; my goal does not have a presenting threat. I know in reality bad health is life threatening, but something in this goal is more aspirational than threatening. Finance, and not having enough money to pay bills or feed your family is threatening. As soon as a goal is attached to something like you're child's development or future, trying to articulate a clear and specific goal is much more difficult, and I would argue, becomes the more personally threatening it is, the more instinctual we act.

We find ourselves in the world of NDIS. I completely agree with goal setting, and that we need to work to indicators of success and have conversations about value. How can we as a provider, know what a person wants if they don't articulate it. I just know that 'success' and 'value' are relative to the goal, and that goal setting is tricky. It can be personal, there can be associated unspoken threats, there may not be knowledge of what is realistic or the success measure may not be in line with the actual target. My weight verses time realisation, in relation to a goal of becoming more healthy, is a good example.

Over the last year, with the roll in of NDIS and NDIA plan goals we have seen all of these come in to play, and we are working toward understanding all the complexities. When talking about support targets, we are having conversations with young adults who are learning the cognitive skills associated with setting goals (never mind everything that goes with staying on track!), and families who are at varying levels of engagement with the process.

In our sector, just to have these conversations is a massive shift. Not so long ago, it seemed there was little point imagining anything different (here, again, my little quote comes in to play - 'anything that is, can be otherwise'). Now we are having these conversations and we are working to define goals that are personally relevant with successes that bring value to life.

I know there is a great deal of money being invested into the sector, and that with the money comes accountability. I have no problem with the fact that the expenditure of this money is linked to the changes in peoples lives, and that this should be linked to their goals. I just wonder how natural all this is. In my experience, it seems the more personal a goal the less we talk and the more instinctual we act. In all our efforts of trying to do something for all the right reasons, are we forcing something that is a little unnatural?

I'd be really curious to hear your thoughts. Add a comment. I'm really interested.

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