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Adding Structure to Your Growth and Healing

goals growth healing performance Aug 03, 2022

Getting away from feeling bad because of a situation that you find yourself in, or because you’re in a relationship with someone who mistreats you, is a really strong goal. It can be difficult to imagine the way out though. There are so many steps. You rely upon them. Or you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Or you’re afraid of being alone. Or you simply don’t know what to do first.

I am going to share a way of thinking about this with you that I know can help you get out of that place of pain and hurt. It’s really a system. I call it “The Five Buckets” and you can apply it to anything that you’re trying to accomplish, but we’re going to focus it directionally on this type of situation: you’re feeling bad about something or a relationship with someone, and you desire a different and better future.

What does the ending you want look like? Are you happier, safer, and more in control?

How does anyone get to a happy ending? It’s always a path, with specific steps, that will take you there. In the areas where we get stuck, we may never have been taught the path, or there’s a piece missing, and we don’t wind up reaching that big goal that we have. We feel something devastating–”I guess it’s not for me… I guess it’s just for someone else.”

But really, you just need the path.

So, wipe the slate clean.

OK, now define, as best as you can right now, what goal you would like to accomplish. Can you picture it in high definition? Where are you? Who are you with? How do you feel? What are you doing? What are you no longer doing?

Reflect on what you have already tried to do, successful or not, to realize this goal. Feel free to go ahead and take out a piece of paper and a pen to write down your reflections.

What do you need to forgive yourself for? It’s not because you’re lazy or not smart enough. Get rid of the shame, get rid of the guilt, stop calling it failure–we’re going to apply a growth mindset. “That’s where I’ve been. It’s a new day. I”m going to go on a new path. Let’s get started.”

One of the things that we’re going to do is to discard the term “happiness” for the time being. If that’s part of your goal, I’d like you to reframe it. Instead, let’s talk about thriving, flourishing, and well-being. These things are part of a process of continual development. We are never done growing, and these terms better reflect the states of being that we can develop and aspire to.

Learned Helplessness

You need to develop the ability to get unstuck. You have agency–the ability to act and move something forward. You can make choices. Whether you like and prefer the choices that are currently available or not, you still have choices that you can make. That is agency.

Sometimes we learn “Nothing I do seems to make a difference. I”m powerless. I can’t change this.” When that happens, it feels like “life happens to us.” We just accept life as it is, and then our dreams die and our hopes die with them.

We need to escape this feeling. We need to no longer get stuck in the trap of learned helplessness.

Describe any instance in your life, especially any instance related to this goal of yours, where learned helplessness might be holding you back.

The Three P’s

The Three P’s are Personal, Pervasive, and Permanent.

These are three unhelpful attitudes that can sometimes hold us back and evaporate our sense of drive and motivation.

Personalization is when we believe that there is something uniquely wrong with us that stops us from being good enough to attain what we want, or that keeps us from deserving what we want. These are the “I’m not smart enoughs” and the “I’m not good enoughs.”

Pervasiveness is when we allow ourselves to be consumed by the notion that everything is all bad because one or two things that we have tried, or that we are currently trying, are not working. This is the, “well I tried that and it didn’t work, so nothing will work” attitude.

Permanent is how we feel things will be forever because of the way they are right now. This happens when we settle on much less than we want after feeling as though we have tried a few ways that didn’t work to get where we want to go.

In what ways are the Three P’s getting in your way?

Think about some areas where you are personalizing and blaming yourself — in what areas are you telling yourself that you are bad? When do you find yourself thinking that it’s not the process that’s not working, but that somehow it is you. Get specific.

Think about a time or times where you took a small example, a slice or a piece of the story, and generalized it to explain why everything was failing or falling apart?

Now let’s reflect and jot down some examples of times where you felt helpless and hopeless that anything would ever change. What in your life are you viewing, in an unhelpful way, as permanent? Where do you feel stuck ‘in the now?’ Dig deep if you need to. Don’t hold back. At this stage, we’re just getting thoughts out.

Stopping the patterns, stopping the Three P’s is about getting above it. Observing your tendency to get stuck in those patterns. Hit pause, get above it, observe it, and allow yourself to see them from this vantage point. If it’s helpful, keep a journal about these specific topics in order to continue to observe them. 

A Quick Breather

OK, now that you’ve taken a minute spending some time thinking about some things that haven’t gone so well in the past. Let’s hit the reset button.

Are you ready to get to work on this goal? I hope so… so, let’s continue.

Just take a moment to write something nice about yourself. Anything at all.

How are you currently feeling about your prospects about achieving this?

The Laws of Physics

Just like there are laws of physics, there are laws for how things get done. You want to move something from here to there. Take walking as a very simple example. You want to go from where you are sitting (on the couch? At your desk?) to a different part of the room. 

That is your vision. In this very simple example, your vision is to get from where you are right now to that other corner of the room.

Your brain cannot move itself there. It must do what we call ‘engaging the talent.’ In this case, it must recruit your nervous system, your muscles, your eyes and other senses, in order to coordinate your safe motion from one side of the room to the other.

How are you going to get there? In this example, this is pretty straightforward. You probably aren’t going to step over the couch or walk on the dog to do it. You’re going to find the surest route to get you there. This is your strategy and plan (walking).

Now, as you are on your way towards your goal, your brain is going to be continuously checking to make sure that you don’t wander off course and wind up in the kitchen, or a different part of the house. It will be keeping you accountable to the plan. Accountability is a very important piece of the puzzle here.

Finally, what happens if you do wander off? What if you take a step in the wrong direction? Well, you can course correct by observing what is happening, seeing that you have deviated from the course, and get back on track.


What is your vision? Let’s revisit your goal, taking into account everything that we have discussed thus far.

When we talk about vision, I like to use the phrase “desired future state.”

  • You have a desire. You want it to happen. You are motivated to make it happen.
  • It will happen in the future. It doesn’t exist yet.
  • State. Here we mean that it’s real. It’s not a fantasy. This is really going to exist.

One way to get further along here is to think about some of the driving forces in your life. Who are the specific people? What are the specific funcitons and activities? Who are the authority figures? Who are you currently accountable to? What are the feelings and emotions that drive your actions, thoughts, behaviors, and responsibilities?

All of the questions above will help you to uncover what’s driving you now, and to discover what you really want instead.

So, start with what you really desire. Do you desire to be treated better in this relationship? Do you desire to stop feeling the way that you feel right now? What does that different state in the future look like for you? Why do you want it?

When do you want it by? Dates change. That’s OK. However, you need a timeline to get started.

Engaging the Talent

Before a professional sports team knows what players they are going to put on the field next season, they know the positions that must be filled. You don’t have to start with the specific people. Start with the role.

What roles will need to be filled in order for you to bring your vision to life?

The roles that you need to fill may differe according to what your individual situation or goal is, but one role that we all need to fill no matter what is a person, or people, that fuel us. Who are you going to get fuel from? When it gets hard, you’re going to feel drained. Who is going to give you more energy? This is not just encouragement. This is a person, or people, who make you feel filled up with life.

Consider the other roles that you expect to need to fill on your team.


A few questions to ask yourself:

Have you noticed any negative thoughts, negative self-talk, or feelings of self-doubt come up in relation to your goal so far? What are they?

Do you need to expand the circles you’re in in order to see what’s really possible in terms of your vision? Do you need to go and see what other people have accomplished, or how they are doing it, in order to have a better idea for what your ‘desired future state’ really is? What do you need to do?

Are there any people around you who have a tendency to try to squash your dreams? Or who may hurt your efforts more than help? Research shows that we tend to become more like the people we have around... is there anyone that needs to go?

Strategy and A Plan

If you don’t know how you’re going to win, then you probably are not going to win. You need a strategy. A plan will then help you put your strategy into action. Your plan will tell you the activities that you need to do in order to make the strategy work.

What is the strategy that you are going to use to accomplish your goal?

List the steps of the plan that you can list now. Keep in mind, your plan is the specific steps and activities that your strategy requires you to undertake.

What are the time-based elements of your plan? List some dates or times that these activities are going to take place. Put everything in your calendar.

Is there anything that you know of that you’re going to have to say ‘no’ to in order for your plan to work? Your no is one of your most important boundaries. What you say ‘no’ to is often as important, and sometimes more important than what you say ‘yes’ to.

Measurement and Accountability

Remember the walking example? How do you know that you’re sticking to the right track? Your brain will check to make sure that you’re walking the correct path to get to the other side of the room. It is holding you accountable to the steps that must be taken in order to get there. It is measuring the distance as you go.

We can’t only measure our progress against our goal. We also need to set appointments to measure the specific activities our goal. You may now need to go back and revise your plan. These check-ins are an activity of their own, and they will help you stay on track. What activities and steps can you measure? At the simplest level, the question you are asking yourself here is: am I doing the activities? Yes or no.

When it comes to your activities, you must precisely define what ‘done’ means. For instance, having a vision to lose 20 pounds and build up muscle mass by summertime is specific enough to work on (though it certainly could be even more specific), but if one of your activities is to go to the gym. Well, what does that mean? Simply showing up to the gym and staring at the equipment is not going to cut it. What does ‘done’ mean for you?

How are you going to measure your steps and activities? You need a system. A good way of doing this is to have some accountability relationships. In considering this, you may need to revise the team that you defined before. Who is going to hold you accountable, and what are they holding you accountable to?

Get specific about who you are going to meet with or talk to about the progress you are making toward your goal. Be sure to put these meetings on your calendar. And if there is any part of your plan that does require input from others (and it should), then make sure that your expectations are mutually agreed upon. Agree upon the date. Agree upon the activities. Agree about what ‘done’ means.

A good way to very simply see whether you’re on track is to just ask yourself: am I doing what I said I was going to do? If the answer is ‘no,’ ask yourself a second question... why didn’t I do this? If there is a pattern, how can you break the pattern? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then take a measurement of your progress toward your goal. Are you seeing the results you want? If so, great job. If not, what needs to change in your strategy?

Fix and Adapt

When you get off course, all you need to do is add a little time before suddenly, you’re completely lost. Breaking the routine, getting off the path, stopping the activities and not getting back to them in due course, all of these things will prevent your vision from coming to life.

Life will get in the way, which is why all of the steps above, from the specifically defined vision to the team that you will have in place, to the measuring and accountability processes you’re adhering to, are all crucial to actually reaching your goal.

You don’t want to continue to be stuck in this unworkable situation. You don’t want to continue feeling this way. But if you don’t actually do the process, the future is probably going to look an awful lot like the past.

As you work through the steps, and you start to notice that some things are not adding to your progress, and may actually even be working against your progress, there are some questions that you can ask yourself to fix what’s wrong, adapt to changing conditions, and get back on track.

What activities or behaviors are there that, if you continue to do them, will prevent you from attaining your goal?

What corrective steps do you need to take in order to get back on course?

Answer those questions, revisit the relevant steps in your plan, and make some changes to get back on course.

Well, that’s it. You’ve already done a great job just by getting here! But, as you know, the work is not over.

Be sure to watch the bonus videos and do not hesitate to re-watch the videos from the course if that will help you stay on track.

This system works. I know it does because I use it to accomplish really big goals, and the people I’ve shared it with have found great success with it as well.

I am wishing you the best on your journey. I believe in you. I am happy that you’re doing this, and I want you to feel proud of yourself for doing the work.

Get Dr. Cloud's free guide on how to deal with the toxic people in your life. 

Dr. Cloud can help you live the life you were meant to live!