Where are you going? (Part 2)

Returning to the topic of goals and to an idea I often recommend: how about creating a “mood board” for your goals?

Interior designers create a collage of samples of materials and colours; they sketch details and plans to help them clarify and communicate their ideas.

A clear picture in your mind of how your life will look with the goal achieved is a powerful motivator and you can enhance it with a tangible version of your vision – your “mood board” for your future life.

Why? Well, apart from making your vision more real and graspable, it’s also fun – and, I repeat, working towards your goal has to be pleasurable wherever possible so that you don’t lose momentum.

Gather pictures that illustrate what you’re aiming to achieve. Let’s have an example….

Maybe your goal is to run your own restaurant: your board could include pictures of successful restaurants, the chefs who inspire you, the type of food that you want to create.

You could also include other people’s rave reviews to remind you of what success looks like and how other people will see you.

Your values are also key to the whole process so add a statement of the values that will underpin your venture. Service? Quality? Value for money? Sustainability? It’s up to you.

(Your goals and your values have to be aligned or you’ll be fighting yourself every step of the way: for instance, making a lot of money very quickly and being environmentally friendly may be hard to reconcile.)

Many companies these days have mission and vision statements to steer by and they’re just as appropriate for individuals.

Tip: If it’s all in your head – or even in words and pictures on your board – nothing’s going anywhere until you take action so remember to work out what step you need to take first and do it!

Where are you going? (Part 1)

If you don’t set your own goals, other people will set them for you.

When you have no clear idea of where you want to get to, it’s too easy for others to make decisions for you. Don’t let other people hijack your life and direct it according to their preconceptions.

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know you’ve arrived? How will you know where to focus your time, efforts and resources?

With only finite amounts of time, energy, money and so on, it would be a shame to waste any of it. If you’ve chosen the right goals and planned carefully how to reach them, there’s far less risk of going down blind alleys or covering old ground again.

And, if you keep your eye constantly fixed on the end point, how can you be sure you don’t miss important moments en route?

There’s got to be pleasure in the journey – after all we’re talking about your life here and, if everything on the way to your goal is just a hard and joyless slog, it’ll be a miracle if you make it.

There have to be shorter-term goals to mark your progress and to give you the opportunity to reward yourself as you achieve them.

By the way, don’t forget the other people in your life. How will your goals affect them? What are the benefits for them? How many of your goals can you share?

Tip: Sadly, we ourselves are often the easiest people to cheat on so, if it’s only your goal, don’t keep it to yourself. Find someone you trust to be supportive, tell them what you’re aiming for and ask them to check how you’re getting on every so often.

When fear gets in the way.

Sometimes it’s only the fear of looking like a coward that pushes me into doing challenging things. And then, once I’ve done them, I look back and wonder why I was so worried.

We have to learn what to be frightened of for survival purposes and this leaves us open to absorbing other people’s irrational dread of all kinds of things. When we warn children “Be careful of .....!” or “Mind you don’t fall/hurt yourself/break your neck etc!”, however well-intentioned, we hedge them round with trepidation that can cut them off from experiencing excitement and achievement. We limit their capacity to grow.

Thinking too much about what can go wrong is an effective way of paralysing yourself.

Certainly it makes sense to have contingency plans in place. But that means not simply thinking about what can go wrong but also what you’re going to do if it does.

What are some of the things you really want to try? What’s the worst case scenario if you do? What can you do about it if it actually happens?

Arguably, one of the most unpleasant consequences is in some way to lose control of what’s going on and be dependent on someone or something else’s decisions. So the purpose of having a Plan B is to give yourself the reassurance of knowing in advance how you’re going to regain control and recover the situation. Knowing how means understanding that you can and that means that your fears shrink to manageable proportions.

Tip: Once you’re happy with your plans to deal with whatever goes wrong, make a point of taking the other extreme and visualise how your life will be when it all goes right. Give yourself a clear and detailed picture of success to work towards.

Have you chosen happiness?

Dr Robert Holden (www.happiness.co.uk) says that we shouldn’t chase happiness, we should choose it.

In other words, happiness isn’t something external, it’s something you have to find inside yourself.

Looking deep inside yourself, what makes you happy? Does your job make you happy? (Do you even expect it to?)

I would hope there are at least some aspects of your work that bring you happiness: have you stopped to think about what they are and how you can get more of them – either in your current role or a new one?

And in your personal life, what elements bring you happiness? How can you introduce more of these elements into your work?

Maybe you know someone whose job makes them happy and you can work out what it is they have or do and use that as inspiration.

And, while you’re upping the happiness quota at work, you could see if there’s more to be had in your leisure time.

One of the quickest and best ways (because it spreads the mood around) to feel a little happier is to make someone else a little happier: do something nice for someone else. It doesn’t have to be huge – give someone your seat on the bus; smile (but not in an inappropriate way!); pay someone a (genuine) compliment. You could just listen to someone’s problems – no need to say much, especially not a recital of your own difficulties.

You can “fool” yourself into feeling happier, too: just changing your posture can be a big help. Don’t sit/stand with your shoulders in a dismal slump – set them back and lift your chin so it’s parallel with the ground. Make it your default position!

What are you really worth?

I can’t be alone in detesting those adverts that tell you you’re worth the pricey shampoo/hair colour/whatever – they make me want to shriek and hurl something at the screen.

It strikes me there’s a subtle message behind them that this is all we’re worth: paying a bit more for an everyday product to make ourselves feel a bit more valued – we should stop there and be content with a small return.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as depressed by a bad hair day as the next woman but I can deal with it without paying over the odds and I know that there are many, many more important ways to evaluate my worth!

Were you brought up as I was by a mother who always put herself last? Were you indoctrinated by the situations and the people around you into believing that you are not the kind of person who takes (relatively) bold action or has the capabilities to achieve, for example, business success?

It probably wasn’t a deliberate attempt to squash you – more likely they were just unthinkingly passing on the attitudes they’d been brought up in themselves.

So what are you really worth? How do you judge it?

I have a friend who teaches an art class to a group of retirees and she’s been thinking about putting up her fee: she’s still pitching it pretty low, though, because “they’re pensioners”. Well, really, that’s their concern! It’s up to them how they spend their money and what proportion they spend on the class.

What she (and they) should really consider is what value the class is to them: there’s the sociable element, the keeping their minds active, the pleasure they get from producing their own work and the access to the wealth of talent and knowledge she brings. That’s a lot of value!

So try that point of view on yourself: what value do you bring to the people around you? In simple terms, how much would it cost them to replace you – if they could?!

And if it’s not something you can put a monetary value on, how difficult would it be for them to find the same thing elsewhere?

You can add value to somebody’s day by something as simple as smiling at them – just think how much everything else about you can contribute. That’s what you’re really worth!

Does work have to be a dirty word?

Have you booked your summer holiday by now? Perhaps you’re still at the planning stage.

Are you a 2 weeks of sun, sea and sand kind of gal or do you like to get away to city cafes and galleries and maybe do a bit of shopping? Do you prefer something adventurous – hang-gliding, rock-climbing, that kind of thing?

Whatever you choose, it’s great to be able to look forward to a complete break, an escape from the stresses and strains of your working world. You unwind and forget all about it and come back relaxed and refreshed – terrific!

How long does it take when you get back to the office or wherever before you’re back in the grind? Maybe even before you reach the office the morning commute is enough to bring it all back in all its horror.

If you’re bored, stressed, underpaid, undervalued and/or lacking a challenge, your holiday is just a brief respite from it all. You’ve planned and saved and all that money is gone: what do you have to show for it? The pressure lifted for a while, you experienced a different environment and did what you wanted, when you wanted.

And that’s all gone, too.

What if, instead of planning another shortish break from the drudgery, you did some serious thinking and planning towards making the break permanent?

What if you could find work that would be a pleasure to get back to after a holiday? What if, for 50 weeks of the year, you did something that stimulated, challenged and fulfilled you? What if it also rewarded you as you deserve?

Are you mentally inviting me to join you in the real world now? If work was that much fun, they’d call it fun, not work, wouldn’t they?

Well, who says we shouldn’t be uplifted by the way we spend the biggest part of our adult lives? Is it in someone’s interest to keep us nose to the grindstone, hamster on the wheel? I suspect it may be!

Keep people’s expectations low and you can benefit yourself maybe.

But wouldn’t it be so much better for us and the world to have as many as possible in work that makes the most of their talents and enriches their lives. Where could we all be today if everyone was working happily and productively in a job they were really good at?

Surely the economy would be fighting fit, the cost of maintaining the nation’s mental and physical health would be lower, there’d be much less aggression on the roads..... and on and on...

I’d love to see a change of attitude – I’d love to live in a world where we all expect to enjoy what we do for a living and work is not a dirty word!

When it’s not all about you….

Part of the ecology of your goals is the people around you and this is something you need to think about very carefully when you’re planning.
Who are the important people in the situation and how will what you do affect them?

If you’re single and have no dependants, giving up your job to start your own business will only have consequences for you whereas, if you have a family to provide for, you’ll have to take their needs into account.

There’ll be the financial consequences to consider, of course, but will it also impact on your ability to, say, help your kids with their homework, ferry them to activities or simply spend time with them?

What about how you currently allocate your time? How will that have to change?

What support do you need to put in place to help things go as smoothly as possible?

And this is not only a practical point but a psychological one as well. If your family is used to having you fulfil certain functions in their lives, how will they react when this changes? If you were the one who cleaned up after them, how will they deal with doing it for themselves? Will you and they be able to accept lower standards - at least until they’ve mastered the skills needed? The upside of course will be their increased independence – is that something you’ll see as a positive?

Will your partner understand and support you? Will your success damage their estimation of themselves or will it increase their pride in your achievements?

Whatever reactions you get from everyone, you need to know how to deal with them and how you’ll get everyone onside.

This must be the time for getting everyone together, discussing all the pros and cons and negotiating as fair a distribution of tasks and rewards as possible. Not something you should do when you’re all tired and/or hungry!

Try to set aside a couple of hours when you can all be undisturbed and have an agenda that you can work through calmly.

Beyond the immediate family, who else will be affected by the changes you’re going to make? If you’re going to launch yourself on a new and better life, will this win the support of your friends or might they be envious of your success? And, if the worst happens, how will you deal with the loss of that friend?

It’s important to remember that the people closest to you have their own picture of who and how you are and how they relate to that. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they know your capabilities and may have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. Keep in mind that when they seem to have reservations about your ability to do something, it’s often a reflection of their doubts about themselves and their own capabilities.

This may seem a touch pessimistic and I hope you won’t get that kind of reaction but, if it does come and you’re prepared to deal with it, it’ll lessen the pain and, if that person is important to you, you’ll be better equipped to help them come to terms with the new you.

To finish on a more positive note, seeing you take on challenges and succeed (whether it’s as you originally defined success or whether you’ve made necessary adjustments) will have a very liberating effect on those around you.

You’ll be a great role model, especially for your kids; you’ll demonstrate in the most compelling way that things can and do get better when you tackle what’s wrong in the right way.

And it’s more or less a given that when you’re happy, it rubs off onto other people. Spread a little joy and watch how everyone benefits!

How to be resource-full.

Another limiting belief that may hold you back is the idea that you don’t have what you need to succeed so something you should always do as part of your planning for your goal is to review your resources.

These might be things that you have like a computer or a car; it might be books you own or tools.

Then there’s the people you know or you’ve known in the past: family, friends, colleagues – any contacts you’ve made, even a long time ago.

What about all the things you’ve learned, whether in formal education or from reading, TV, experience?

Get all of these down on paper and add to it as and when you remember others.

Another resource you need to consider is time: how much do you have to devote to your goal and, if necessary, how can you create more?

A role model can be a very valuable resource. Among the people you know are there examples of those who have already achieved the same or a similar goal? Can you use their example to help you? (It needn’t be a real person – how about a character in a film or book – how did they accomplish what you’re trying to achieve? How could that help you?)

And what about you and the qualities and abilities you have? Note them all down as well. And I mean all: can you play tennis/ the piano? They may not seem directly relevant to your current goal but think about what they say about your manual dexterity or physical agility which could be significant.

Do you have a lot of patience? Are you a quick learner? What kind of learner are you and how does that impact on your goal?

It’s good to sit down and get as much of this on paper at one time as you can but it can also help to leave the list around for a while so that you add other things as they occur to you. Stick it on the fridge, for example, and maybe other people will point out things you’ve forgotten.

The point of this is to remind yourself of the many resources you can call on; to help you remember something that might be useful further down the line and to increase your confidence in your ability to achieve your aims.

It should also help you to see the resources you need but don’t have yet and this is your next list. Think about what you need and where you can find it. Don’t forget to check back to your first list to see if there’s anybody or anything on it that can help here.

What’s stopping you?

How many TV dramas have you seen where a character dismisses the idea of another marriage or relationship because of an earlier bad experience?

Of course, they have to – otherwise where’s the drama and conflict that will keep the viewers watching? But, honestly, is that a logical attitude?

If you buy a particular make of car and have a lot of problems with it, do you say “Right, that’s it. I’m never buying another car!” or do you simply choose differently next time?

Of course, we can argue about whether or not that’s an appropriate comparison but I’d like to make a different point.

We learn our beliefs from our own and others’ experiences, whether we’re conscious that we do or not, and if you watch enough of these types of situation, you might absorb that point of view. You might say to yourself “That last relationship went badly so all future ones will as well.”

You’ve formed a limiting belief that you’re incapable of having a successful relationship and you’ll act as though it were true. How you act influences how other people behave towards you so you’ve set up the situation to go horribly wrong and it does. So your belief is confirmed and off we go again.

Try to take your thinking apart a little and look at some of the beliefs you hold and where they’ve come from.

How about “No pain, no gain.”? Do you feel that’s true? How many examples can you find either way?

Did your mother make you eat your main course before you could have your pudding? Do you apply that “discipline” to other parts of your life? Is there a genuinely valuable reason why you should?

Another interesting exercise is to think about the amount of money you would ideally like to earn when all your goals are achieved. When you have a figure in mind, compare it with what the other significant people in your life earn: is it more or less? Either way, how does that make you feel? If it’s more, do you feel that threatens the other person in some way? Do you believe it will make them feel smaller? If it’s less, do you feel relieved that you won’t upset anybody?

A belief, however firmly entrenched, can change. Think back to your childhood and what you believed then. Maybe that teachers knew everything? Do you still believe that? Or that there are sinister beings under the bed? Father Christmas is real?

Try writing a current limiting belief down and then look at it: does it still seem reasonable to you to believe it? In the bright light of day, can you really justify it?

Now try acting as though a positive belief is true. Act as though you deserve to earn the amount you have in mind and keep on acting that way until it becomes a genuine belief.

How to stay motivated. Part 2

Last time I warned you that you might baulk at my next recommendation: I say this because I’ve noticed that quite a few of my clients have a hard time accepting the idea that there should be a reward for each and every goal that you achieve.

They say “Oh, the sense of achievement is a reward in itself” and I get the impression that they’ve been brought up to think reward means the same as indulgence. There’s that old Puritan-style teaching that hard work is enough, that somehow you’ll weaken your character if you look for a reward for your efforts.

Human motivation – pretty much all animal motivation – boils down to either moving away from pain or towards pleasure. And, while they’re equally essential, I think the second is more attractive.

Employers, for example, have to offer a financial reward for work done – it’s not acceptable to make you work to avoid a beating.

Manufacturers of beauty products use the principle to convince you that you deserve their shampoo or hair dye or face cream as a reward for being you – “You’re worth it!” (Don’t think of avoiding the pain of paying more for it!)

Will you get a better result from the carrot or the stick?

I think we’re too apt to use the stick on ourselves and we should be looking more to find the right carrots to draw us on.

So, what makes a good carrot?

You’re really the best person to answer that one since you know best what will give you pleasure.

What I will say is that at the same time you decide on your goals you should also choose a number of ways of rewarding yourself for each one that you achieve. And – this is also very important – at the time you achieve them.

If it’s a relatively minor goal, then the reward should reflect that and it should be in line with your overall aims. If your goal is to be a non-smoker, it’s hardly going to help if your reward for not smoking for a week is a cup of tea and a couple of cigarettes.

But you could put aside the money you save by not buying cigarettes and buy yourself a treat of some kind.

If that’s going to mean saving for some time, though, choose another small reward that you can give yourself at the end of that week. Don’t put it off or you’ll lose the incentive effect.

A reward doesn’t need to mean spending money: it could be half an hour with your feet up, reading your favourite book. You could make yourself a chart which lists all your goals and award yourself a star for a minor achievement, 2 for a bigger one and so on.

Remember to pick things that you will really enjoy, that fit the achievement and that can follow as hard on the heels of it as possible.

Oh and here’s another reaction I get to the idea of rewards: they say things like “Oh well, my husband usually brings me a bunch of flowers on a Friday – that can be my reward.” Er, no, sorry, it can’t.

You should be the one to reward yourself – it’s key that you recognise and appreciate what you’ve achieved yourself.

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