For those of us who worked through the 80s, talking about the importance of setting goals may provoke the urge to hurl self-help books or take a nap until tomorrow.
Springtime inspires enthusiasm for goal-setting and new resolutions. Rather than ride the spring-inspired highs, closely followed by self-recrimination and loathing, try changing your perspective to help create real, lasting, life changes.
Envisaging your ideal life
Goal setting was not conceived by corporations to work their employees harder. If you despise words such as ‘goals’, ‘resolutions’ and ‘plans’ then think rather in terms of ‘dreams’, ‘ideals’, and ‘future’.
Start by imagining your ideal life and write down what that looks like, colouring in as many creative details as possible.
For those who are unsure about what direction our lives should take, knowing what we don’t want can help us understand what we do want. You’ll also be more easily able to identify and avoid distractions. Make sure the goals you set are authentically yours, not expectations from family, friends or wider society that you’ve internalized.
There are no rules to how best to achieve your goals. Some of us respond best to defining precise, measurable goals, breaking these into segments, and these into daily ‘to-do’ lists. Others blossom with a big picture view, perhaps about working less, living in the countryside or being more social.
The most important part is to begin taking action (today, not tomorrow!).
A goal exists to serve you. Having a longer term vision of how you’d like your life to be motivates you to achieve it. Recognizing and celebrating your achievements builds self-confidence and perpetuates further achievements. The best time to take further action is when things are going well – don’t stop to luxuriate but strike while the iron is hot!
Goals are not made to beat or berate yourself when you don’t do what you planned to within the time frame you set. Detours happen and often have nothing whatsoever to do with you.
Remember that life always progresses, even when it appears to regress or stagnate. Every experience leaves a lesson which helps shape your character.
“In order to acquire something in this world, you have to relinquish your attachment to it,” says Deepak Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. Known as the ‘law of detachment’, this reveals a great paradox in life, that in order to achieve something you must give up your attachment to it. “This doesn’t mean you give up your intention to fulfill your desire – you simply give up your attachment to the outcome.”
Learning detachment helps us maintain a positive attitude and not let life’s trials and tribulations make us bitter or jaded. Celebrate all the small steps along the way towards your goals while appreciating that it is the journey that counts, not the destination. As John Lennon puts it: “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The importance of attitude
Your best achievements are most often non-material, such as a change in attitude, perspective or energy levels. “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us,” according to John N. Mitchell.
Articulating and actively working towards your goals changes your attitude to life – rather than get caught up in the minutiae, having clear goals helps you set and reset your attitude. Having goals prioritizes what is important to you; it is not a check-list of material objects to attain.
We all seem to have too little time to do too many things and it’s easy to lose focus. But ultimately, what we do in a day is what we prioritize.
Articulating what kind of life you’d like to live and putting effort into achieving this prioritizes what you find important and clears space in your life in which to do it.