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!