In addition to Long-Term Goals, mastering panic will require a smaller goal, which I call your "Short-term Goal." This Short-term Goal will be your set of immediate tasks that moves you closer to your long-term goal.
Setting Up Short-Term Goals
To understand the difference between a Long-term Goal and a Short-term Goal, consider this example. Imagine that you are thirty years old and have worked as a typist for the past six years. After much soul-searching you feel a strong need to become more independent in your life's work. You decide to establish this as your Long-term Goal: greater job independence. Now what?
Your next step is to create a short-term plan that will help move you toward independence. You ask yourself, "What can I do today, this week, or this month about that goal?" The answer to this question is your Short-term Goal: "This month I will investigate what kinds of jobs might give me greater independence." This Short-term Goal now gives you a concrete and specific set of tasks to accomplish in the immediate future. Once you set your Short-term Goal, you always have some positive tasks to direct your actions.
Let's say that after a month of exploring options, you take another step closer to your goal: "I think there is room in this city for a word-processing service. With my experience I know what it takes to provide quality typing to customers. I think I am capable of managing a small staff of typists. But I don't know much about business." You set your next Short-term Goal: "I'll take a 'small business' course at night this fall at the technical college." Now you have a distinct focus. You must select the best course, register, buy the materials, attend class each week, complete your homework assignments, and so forth.
It is far easier to motivate yourself when your goal is almost within reach. Small decisions can now seem important, because they influence your immediate-future goals. If you have difficulty applying yourself to your studies because owning your own business seems so far in the future, then set your Short-term Goal closer to your reach: "By the end of this course I want to be able to say that I applied myself every week to complete the assignments of that week. Therefore, I will start by finishing my paper due this Friday."
This is the process to use in overcoming panic. For instance, some people might have the positive goal of "looking forward to the adventures of life without fearing panic." You will reach that goal by setting dozens of small goals, one after the other. As you accomplish one Short-term Goal you will set your sights on the next.
Don't be in a rush to reach your Long-term Goal. By focusing too much of your attention on the distant future, you can feel demoralized and frustrated, as though you will never arrive at your destination. Instead, create images of your positive future, but work actively on accomplishing immediate tasks.
If you list more than one Short-term Goal, rank order them two times: first, from the least difficult to the most difficult, and second, from your most important, highest priority to your lowest priority.
At any point in your day, you should be able to remind yourself of your Short-term Goal and create some task that moves you along. Do this not as a way to evaluate your progress, to point out your failures or to criticize your weaknesses, but as a way to keep yourself motivated. Be careful of the Negative Observers, who are always just around the corner. The biggest troublemakers here are the Critical Observer and the Hopeless Observer.
Again, paradox comes into play as you set your Short-term Goals and work toward them. The paradox is this: you should set a concrete, specific immediate goal, with every intent to fulfill that goal. At the same time, it does not matter whether you actually reach your goal in the way you expected.
For instance, let's say your Long-term Goal is to comfortably shop in stores again. You have been taking a number of steps to prepare, such as practicing the Calming Breath a dozen times each day, spending quiet, meditative time for twenty minutes each day, and learning to give yourself Supportive Observer comments during stressful times. Now you decide to set a new Short-term Goal: "to walk around inside South Square Mall today, looking in store windows with a friend, for thirty minutes." Once you commit yourself to that Short-term Goal, you take as many steps toward that goal as you can manage. It is unimportant whether you accomplish that goal today. Your task is to set a Short-term Goal and move toward it to the best of your ability. And no further. Tomorrow you will simply review your learning from today and set a new Short-term Goal if needed.
We all deserve to feel a sense of pride and success. Don't rob yourself of those good feelings by labeling yourself as a failure when you don't accomplish a task. Do not define your personal success in terms of reaching your Short-term Goal. In conquering panic, you are successful any time you are actively moving toward your goal, regardless of whether you reach it.