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Beacon Senior News

How to succeed at a social goal

Dec 22, 2021 04:01PM ● By Karen Telleen-Lawton
Woman smiling with volunteer written on her shirt

New Year’s goals or habits are tough enough to keep when it comes to ourselves. Sure I’d like to lose a few pounds for the sake of my knees or the fit of my clothes, but I also like chocolate. When it comes to social goals, however, the motivation to change is even more difficult when the community benefits much more than I personally do.

That was my dilemma last summer when I considered a “Plastic Free July.” Committing to environmental goals is particularly difficult because the benefits accrue disproportionately not to ourselves but to our children and grandchildren. So, how can we best succeed when making such a goal?

You’re more likely to achieve your social goal if it’s meaningful to you. A social goal or habit works to alleviate a condition of need for others, including people, living things or the Earth. What drives your heart and compassion? Consider the factors that affect your life, your family and your community.


For some, they find they’re passionate about volunteering regularly in the community. Whether it’s playing the piano, serving food, reading aloud or organizing files, you’ll multiply your satisfaction by sharing your knowledge or talent with others. Seniors, in particular, have a lifetime of experience to share.

Considering volunteering by:

• Helping at or visiting retirement centers or nursing homes

• Tutoring in schools or after-school programs

• Teaching English as a second language

• Coaching or mentoring

• Serving in food banks or homeless shelters

• Helping in hospitals or clinics

Another option is to stay in touch with friends who are lonely or suffering. This is one I worked on especially at the height of the pandemic.

Social goals can also be independent events, like donating blood or plasma. Check your community website to find regular or one-time service projects to join. Consider donating funds to support causes you believe in. Become an informed citizen by reading up on and learning about issues you care about. Or participate in democracy by voting, becoming a poll worker, and advocating with phone calls, texts and letters.

Goal-setting strategies

When it comes to making your social goals stick, you might appreciate a strategic approach. Whole books are written on the topic of developing good habits, but here are a few that work for me, provided by psychologist Christine Whelan:

• Start small. Choose one thing, like how I chose the Plastic Free July challenge.

• Make it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Rewards and Trackable). For my plastic-free month, the organizers suggested forgoing bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups, or all single-use plastic packaging. Going completely plastic-free was reserved as a challenge for the experienced.

• Ask why. Make sure it’s really what YOU want, not just what you feel you should do. Eschewing plastic helped me empty my messy plastic bag drawer and spare my trash. Mostly the challenge made me feel better about doing a small favor for the environment.

• Go public or make a commitment strategy. You can talk with friends, post it online or write a blog. Outing your commitment to your community helps keep you on track and reinforces its value to you.

• Celebrate those steps to boost self-efficacy, and don’t despair if you mess up.

• Don’t try to do it alone. Ask a friend to commit to the goal with you.

• Stick with it, the longer the better. July was just the beginning for me. I feel pretty good about my progress with alternatives to plastic, and I’m a lot more aware!

Finally, be mindful that achieving a social goal will likely change you for the better. You may make new friends, increase your self-confidence, improve your health and learn new skills. Your new sense of purpose can also reduce stress and anxiety.

During the challenge, I began reflecting on the meaning of the word “plastic.” While commonly thought of as a synthetic material made from polymers like polyethylene, PVC and nylon, plastic is any item or idea that can be easily shaped or molded. In most of their uses, synthetic plastics are temporary bandages to problems that need sustainable solutions.

Similarly, working on a social goal can help you think more plastically about sustainable solutions. By volunteering in your area of passion, you can try to imagine a world where homeless shelters are not needed, where the aged are not lonely, or where every child has access to a good education. Social goals allow us to apply our years of wisdom to the benefit of society.