Staying on track

 Setting and achieving goals  Comments Off on Staying on track
Jan 082013

How are you doing with your new year’s resolutions? I hope everything is working out well for you and 2013 is shaping up just the way you want it to. In case all is not going according to plan, though, here are a few thoughts to help you get back on track.

Achieving your goals is a process, not an event. The word ‘goal’ is widely used to mean something we want to accomplish but actually, because we associate it with a quick boot of the ball into the back of the net, it’s not the most helpful way to describe our aims. I prefer to think in terms of a journey and a destination. This way, I understand there are going to be days when I struggle and can’t get very far but I will make up for it on other days. Before, I used to think one slip spelt disaster, that I’d let myself down and might as well abandon the entire project. Now I know that, as long as I’m travelling in the right direction, the odd day – or even week – when I can’t make any progress doesn’t matter. What’s important is to keep your eyes on the destination and to feed your enthusiasm for getting there. Instead of upbraiding yourself for sitting down, remind yourself regularly how great it’ll be when you arrive. I find the carrot much more powerful than the stick.

Are the targets you’ve set yourself realistic? If you’re not making the progress you hoped, perhaps you’re asking too much of yourself. Trying to be superman or superwoman will only wear you out; you’ve got to pace yourself for this journey. Sort out your priorities, break tasks down into manageable chunks, do whatever you can to smooth your own path: this isn’t about giving yourself a hard time, it’s about facilitating your success.

Is this really the way you want to go? If you find yourself consistently resisting progress, the chances are you’re trying to push yourself towards somewhere you don’t really want to be. Never mind what other people think. Forget ‘should’ and ‘must’. What is your heart’s desire?

Another possibility is that you’re sabotaging your own progress because you don’t believe you deserve to achieve your heart’s desire or that somehow it’s not your destiny. I spent many years wrestling with this and, if you suspect it may be the case for you, I urge you to invest time and energy in rooting out this poison ivy that’s blocking your path to happiness. The life you dream of is not just for other people. Honestly.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr

The road to a better life

 Setting and achieving goals  Comments Off on The road to a better life
Jan 012013

It’s New Year’s Day, a time for reflection and a time for planning. If we want to improve our lives, the first thing we have to do is decide what we really want. It’s all very fine knowing what we don’t want, but life will not actually improve until we identify what we do want. Until we know where we want to be, we can’t start moving towards it.

So the first task of 2013 is to visualise our destination, the life we really want. Think about every area of your life – love, family, home, work, friends, social, cultural, spiritual, creative, intellectual, financial… What do you really want your life to be like?

Now, it’s very important to distinguish here what you genuinely long for from what you feel you should want or what other people may want you to want. If you set yourself goals that are for other people’s benefit rather than your own, the chances are you won’t achieve them, since your heart won’t be in it; you’ll end up berating yourself for failure and nothing will improve. I’m not saying be selfish but I am saying be true to yourself. I firmly believe that this is the only way to success and happiness but it’s taken me a long time to come round to this philosophy, so let me share with you my two main reasons. The first is that I can’t give of my best to the world if I’m not fulfilled. The second is that I spent 40 years second-guessing other people, trying to be what they wanted me to be, and my life fell between two stools. I was depressed and frustrated because nothing was as I wanted it to be – and I never got the affirmation I craved from my mother. The sacrifice of my dreams went unnoticed by the person for whom I’d made it: don’t let this happen to you.

The more clearly we can visualise the life we want, the more easily we can make it come true. I find a very useful exercise is to describe my ideal situation on paper. Writing it down brings it to life and makes it feel real and it also helps clarify the details. Write in the present tense, as if you’ve already made it happen, as if you’re living it now. This is just for you to see, so write freely; let it flow and take you where it will – you might be surprised what your subconscious mind throws up. Keep this pen-picture of your ideal life as a reminder of your destination, to look at whenever you need inspiration.

Once you can clearly visualise the life you want, it’s time to start converting dreams into plans. Again, write it all down and keep it to refer to.

If your dream life seems so far out of reach it’s just depressing, let me assure you it’s not unattainable. It’s simply a matter of approaching it in the right way. I say ‘simply’ because, although it took me decades to grasp this idea, it is actually a straightforward and logical concept. The right approach consists of mental discipline to prevent yourself from sabotaging your own progress and of breaking your journey into manageable segments.

We’ll talk about the mental aspect in subsequent posts. For now, let’s concentrate on the practical side of focusing your goals. Here’s the system that works for me:

Make a list of your overall objectives in each area of your life. Be positive, be specific and have a clear notion of how you will know when you’ve achieved it. For example, ‘Drink less alcohol’ may be an excellent objective but tightening up the language will give you a better chance of achieving it. ‘Less’ is both nebulous and negative. I suggest a better goal would be something like ‘Have two healthy, alcohol-free days every week’. It’s vital to think not about what you’re giving up but about what you’re gaining.

For each of your objectives, make a list of smaller steps that will take you to where you want to be. For example, if you want to make more friends, think about how you can bring yourself into contact with more people, how you’re going to approach them, whether online social media might help to consolidate relationships, etc.

If these steps still seem big, break them down again – and again – until you’ve got some steps you can actually take today. If you’ve decided to get out more, what are you specifically going to do? Is there an event, a class, a group you can join right now?

Decide on an order of priority for your objectives. If you try to do too much at once, your efforts are likely to end in tears. Rome wasn’t built in a day; slow and steady wins the race – you know the score.

Give each objective and each step towards it a timescale and a deadline. This is a fine balance between being realistic and challenging yourself but without deadlines the best-laid plans drift into the long grass. Put yours in your diary, on your calendar, and keep them on track. 

So there we are, the first of 52 ways to improve your life: identify your ideal destination and work out how you’re going to get there. Then we can set off! It’s going to be an exciting journey. Happy New Year!

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr