Setting goals and solving problems using the GROW model.

Jason Brien.

     Goal setting is an excellent way of removing anxiety and uncertainty. Goal setting helps us to manage stress, and remain calm, resilient and happy, especially when we are under pressure. It provides focus, clarity, direction, purpose and meaning. Having appropriate and realistic goals improves our internal locus of control and sense of agency and ultimately improves our life satisfaction and mental health.  

     Goals can be long-term, short-term or day-to-day. A long-term goal might be a big career or life goal like desiring to go to university or starting a business for example. Short-term goals involve plans for the coming weeks or months – losing weight before a wedding in six months, improving fitness. A day-to-day goal might involve actions designed to improve our immediate well-being, self-esteem or self-efficacy – engaging in self-care activities, visiting friends, going to the gym, etc.  

     The GROW model of goal setting is a way in which to set goals and solve problems simultaneously. The GROW model is based on the principle that asking questions rather than providing instructions can help foster change. Whilst a life coach or other therapist is often the person who asks the questions, anyone can become their own life coach or therapist and thus utilize the GROW model. GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Obstacles/Options and Way forward. Let’s look at each of these stages more closely.  


This stage is pretty obvious. It’s the outcome that you desire. Its your impetus for change. Questions to ask yourself during this stage to clarify your goals might be “Where do I want to be in 10 years’ time”? “What do I want to achieve or accomplish in life”? “What do I desire in the future which I don’t have now”? “What would give me and my life greater satisfaction”? “If I was to focus on improving one area of my life, which area would it be”? 


Having goals are great but only if they are based in reality. If you are paralysed from the neck down, having a goal of running a marathon in 12 months is not realistic. Realistic goals will result in realistic outcomes and realistic achievements. Some possible questions to ask yourself during this stage might be “I am the mother/father of 6 young children with no support. Is it realistic or financially feasible for me to go to university within the next 5 years”? “Would my life actually benefit from achieving this goal”? 


All goals come with obstacles and all obstacles come with solutions (options). Usually when you are assessing the reality of the goal you begin to notice the obstacles. Identifying potential obstacles will help you to achieve more successes and avoid failures. Once you have identified the obstacles, you need to brainstorm all of the possible ways you could potentially overcome these obstacles. Let’s use the mother/father with 6 young children wanting to go to university as an example of the types of questions that would need to be asked during this stage – “Can I get a scholarship”? “Will government benefits help support me”? “Are there online options for studying”? 


This stage puts your brainstorming in the previous stage to action. Concrete action. You ask yourself “What do I need to do to make this happen”? “When will I take action”? After asking yourself these questions, you make the necessary phone calls to universities to ask about scholarships and online study options. You visit government agencies to assess your eligibility for support. You talk to family and friends to see if they can potentially babysit for you.

     The GROW model is most effective when it is used in conjunction with the Transtheoretical Model of behaviour change (TTM or stages of change model). The Transtheoretical Model proposes that behavior change occurs in five sequential stages: precontemplation (not planning to change within the next 6 months), contemplation (ambivalent or thinking about change), preparation (taking steps towards changing), action (attempting the change), and maintenance (having been able to sustain behavior change for more than 6 months and working to prevent relapse).  

     In the first stage and second stages for example, people are not quite ready for change and so they will find it hard to identify goals or muster up the motivation to engage in the GROW model. The TTM can help people to recognise that behaviour relapse is inevitable and thus consider and plan for potential for relapse. This often involves creating a relapse prevention plan or relapse accountability plan. A plan might involve alternate goals if the main goal is not achieved. Let’s say that you set a goal of going to the gym 3 days a week. Rather than beating yourself up for missing a day, you might set an alternate goal of spending an hour challenging negative thoughts or filling out your self-esteem journal.