Last week, we looked at conducting a life audit to identify those aspects of your life that you want to improve or change. The question now is: having named these areas for improvement, how do we move forward? It’s time for some clarity. It’s time to think about setting some positive goals for yourself.

Having a goal means having a definite destination in mind. After all, if you don’t have a clear idea of where you’re going, how will you know when you have arrived? Goals focus your attention on what you want. If you have clear goals, you waste less time and energy on the things that aren’t important to you. Having goals means that you will work harder to achieve them. Few of us want to expend great effort for no obvious results but if those results are clear in your mind you are more likely to put in the time and effort to achieve them. We also become more persistent when there is a goal in mind – it is easier to work through or around setbacks when we know that we are working towards something that we really, really want.

So, what makes a good goal? Well, first of all: think positive! How you phrase your goals makes a difference to your commitment. For example, how about the statements, “I must eat less fried food.” or “I must stop overspending.”? They don’t sound like much fun, do they? Presumably eating greasy food or spending lots of money makes us feel good in some way (even if it is bad for us) otherwise we wouldn’t do it. If your goal sounds like a punishment, you will find it difficult to see through to completion. On the other hand, “I will eat more healthily.” or “I will manage my money more efficiently.” show a more positive frame of mind, focusing on the improvements by visualising the future (“I will…”) and using positive words (“healthily” and “efficiently”.) The language of your goal is important to its success.

However, “I will eat more healthily.” or “I will manage my money more efficiently.” still sound a little woolly. We need more detail. A common and useful acronym when goal-setting is SMART. Your goals should be:

  • Specific – clarity is crucial.
  • Measurable – how else will you know if you’ve achieved it?
  • Attainable – otherwise you are setting yourself up to fail – why would you do that?
  • Relevant – is it connected to what you want out of life?
  • Timed – most of us need a deadline to focus on.

So perhaps “By the end of the year, I will be eating salad every day for lunch.” or “By January, I will have paid off my Visa card in full.” might be more useful goals?

Two final tips:
1) Write down your goals – by doing so you are effectively creating a contract with yourself. You can still change, if necessary but only after some self-‘negotiation’.
2) Break it down – long-term goals, such as “By 2015, I will be living in France.” may need a number of short- and medium-term goals to act as steps towards that big dream.

So, think positive and set yourself a SMART goal before you receive next week’s newsletter.

Personal Change (Part Three): What’s holding you back?

Having conducted a life audit to identify areas for change and set some goals so to give a clear destination for which to aim, it is now time to think (positively, of course!) about turning those goals into action. The harsh reality is that in any attempt to change and improve your life you will probably encounter some barriers. Perhaps we can take heart from this quote from the American moralist, Frank A. Clark: “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Certainly, any worthwhile endeavour is fraught with difficulties and there are a number of different factors which may slow you down in your quest to eat better, be better with your money, get that promotion or whatever it is that you are aiming for.

Half of the battle is your own commitment. Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If the answer is, “No” then it is worth revisiting your goals – you may have set the wrong ones. However, let’s be positive and assume that the answer is, “Yes!” and look at what might be getting in your way.

Tidy up! Scattered surroundings are seldom a sign of determination. Clear away the clutter in your office and home. If you have possessions which symbolise the ‘old you’ – maybe photographs, certain items of clothing or even a bad school report – then remove them. You do not need reminders of the past which you are leaving behind. You need indicators of the future you are moving towards: a picture of a beach; a new t-shirt; a letter of thanks. Whatever it is, put it where you can see it.

Remember to think positive! Bad memories, low self-esteem, fears, regrets – these will not help you achieve your goals. You cannot change the past; but you can learn from it and leave it behind. Focus forward and remember that your goals are SMART and that the ‘A’ in SMART stands for ‘Attainable’. You can do it!

Lack of Resources
It may be a particular skill, a certain area of knowledge, or simply a sum of money. It is likely that you will not start the journey with everything you need for success. Part of succeeding is gathering your tools along the way. Join a class; read a book; practice; take a part-time job. Work out what you need and get it.

They can be your greatest help and also your biggest hindrance. Perhaps out of jealousy or competitiveness or even just a fear that your success will highlight their failure, some people will try to stop you achieving your goals. If you can’t move away from them completely (perhaps they are family, or work colleagues) then try to minimise their influence. Most people will be on your side; don’t allow the ones who aren’t to stop you succeeding.

So, think positive and push over, under or even through those obstacles on the way to achieving your goals.