Anything anybody does successfully has a strategy to it, a series
of specific, purposeful steps that can be identified and followed to
create good results. Happiness, a satisfying relationship-no goal of any
kind is achievable without embarking on a sequence of carefully
Too many people, however, confuses wishes with goals, and there is
an all-important distinction between the two.. Most people have a clear
idea of the goal, of what they want-to make a relationship work, to make
more money, to have a better body. But unless they have mapped out a
specific path to produce it, then what they want remains just a
Here's the catch. Without defining the sequence of steps, they will
experience repeated failure in getting what they want . They will get
progressively more unhappy that they can't get what they want. They will
wind up feeling overwhelmed. And they will feel like a failure. That will
provide ammunition for loathing themselves. And that will send them
spiraling down into depression, hopelessness, and despair.
A goal, on the other hand, recognizes the steps required to make
something happen. It also makes some nod to the fact that a considerable
length of time may be required to reach it. Goals always involve
planning, commitment and sacrifice.
Seeing the Big Picture is a necessary skill in life-in its place.
But you must also know when to focus on the details of experience.
Thinking in terms of details can help you contain negativity when you
experience it and keep it from contaminating your entire view of
Too many people say I just want to be happy. But that's a global
statement; it's vast and undefined. They have no idea what the steps are.
"Happiness doesn't just happen," says psychologist Michael D. Yapko,
Ph.D., of Solana Beach, California. An expert on how people get into
depression and on sequencing how to get out of it, Dr. Yapko is the
author of Breaking the Patterns of Depression and four other books. "You
need to have a strategy for getting what you want. You need to detail the
sequence of steps for achieving it," he stresses.
Failure at relationships, for example, is very common and a major
source of unhappiness in our culture. Those who can't seem to make a
relationship work look at everyone else having a seemingly good
relationship and wonder, "What's wrong with me?" When Dr. Yapko asks such
people what they think it takes to have a great relationship, he reports,
they often come up with something global like "chemistry."
"If I then ask the person to create a flow chart for chemistry, the
light bulb goes on. They immediately apprehend that there is a defect in
their thinking, and they are dealing with something they can't possibly
attain because it is so undefined."
His remedy is to start to talk about the specifics, thinking
locally, as it were. He breaks down the elements of relationship success.
For starters, there is the degree of fit between two people based on
their needs, their preferences, their values, their styles of coping. "We
look at all the facets of a relationship," he reports.
Recognizing the coping style of a prospective partner is extremely
important to relationship success. How do you do it? By distinguishing
the component parts of coping styles and gathering information about each
element. Does he or she have an internal or external attributional
style-that is, if something goes wrong is it always everybody else's
fault? If there's a problem at work, for example, is it always the boss'
fault? If it is, you can figure out just who is going to get blamed if a
problem crops up in the course of the relationship-and you can bet that
one always will.
Some other pieces of information to gather about a prospective
mate: Is the person driven by emotion or by logic? Is he or she
future-oriented or past-oriented? Does this person have good boundaries
or bad ones? This is not arcane information, Dr. Yapko insists; it tends
to leak out early in the dating process. But you have to be paying
attention to what is going on.
Here's something you can do to help you understand the specificity
of thinking that can turn your wishes into achievable goals. It's an
exercise that Dr. Yapko recommends. Identify five activities that you
know beyond any shadow of a doubt that you do well (like wrapping a
package or driving a car). Identify every single step, even the obvious
ones, involved in that activity. Then create a graphic flow chart that
would lead someone who does not know that activity through every step of
the process. Are you surprised by how many steps are involved in doing
whatever it is that you know how to do so well? How clearly are you able
to identify each of the steps necessary to perform the sequence
correctly? What would happen to your overall success if you missed a step
or two? And how would you feel then?