The New Year is a natural time to re-evaluate where your life is heading and whether you’re getting what you want to get from your brief span of time on this earth. Many people feel adrift in life – they work all the hours of the day but don’t really seem to achieve what they want. They’re paddling hard but the canoe just isn’t moving anywhere fast, if at all.
So how can you step back and evaluate whether you’re getting what you want from life and, if not, what can you do about it?
One of the main reasons that people don’t achieve what they want from life is that they haven’t invested any time in thinking about what they actually desire and how they can attain it. As with so many things, planning is essential for a positive outcome.
Initially you need to set some goals. Goal setting helps you to choose where you want to go in life and where to concentrate your efforts. This helps you get motivated and focused on what really matters to you.
But setting a goal isn’t enough. Setting goals without having a plan in place to achieve them is just making a wish list of your dreams, which anyone can do. In order to achieve what you want to achieve, you’ve got to have some resolve (that’s why we make “resolutions” at New Year) and a fair bit of discipline thrown into the mix. Alongside your goals, there needs to be some serious planning to work out how to achieve what you dream of and a commitment to investing the time to do it.
Sounds too much like hard work? Fine, but then don’t complain if you find yourself in exactly the same place this time next year. You can’t run a marathon without putting in some serious training, so why should life be any different?
First things first. Get on with your planning as soon as you can. The more time that elapses, the less likely you are to do it. Harness your motivation - get out a pen and paper, get on your computer, buy a new notebook and start thinking, dreaming and planning. Writing it down is essential – it helps you clarify your thoughts and gives you a benchmark to refer to. If you’re visual, stick in pictures, doodle, draw your dreams – everyone expresses themselves differently.
Let’s look at goal setting. You need to set sharply defined and clear goals that are measurable. There are loads of theories and books on how to set and achieve goals, but one way to start is to think about the very, very big picture. What do you really value and what do you most want to achieve by the time you shuffle off this mortal coil? Think about areas such as career, home, family, education, creativity, philanthropy, finances, personal growth, physical activity, recreation and relaxation. For some people achieving spiritual happiness far outweighs anything you can measure with a certificate or by pounds, shillings and pence. So be honest with yourself about what really matters to you. Don’t try to be someone you’re not – no one is judging you and there’s no one, apart from you, who knows what you truly want from life.
This part of the exercise, in its simplest form, is about getting yourself to a place from which, when you die (which you will, incidentally) you can look back and feel proud, at peace and fulfilled. We don’t all want to scale Everest or run a Fortune 100 company. Our diversity is our beauty. But generally most people do want to feel they’ve lived a life that mattered, in whatever way matters to them.
Spend some time on this and then choose the three or four goals that will really transform your life and that will make the most difference to you. Having a few really significant goals is far more achievable than having a raft of unattainable dreams you’ll feel overwhelmed by.
Then it’s down to the planning. Nothing is achieved in a day, but the way you live each day, the way you spend each hour, can set you on your path to fulfilling your ambitions. Small, achievable steps taking you in the direction you want to go is the way to make things happen.
Think about what you need to do to get where you want to go and plan what you could do over the next six months to get further down that path. Do you need to read more in a certain area? Do you need a qualification? Do you need to get fitter? Do you need to move location? Do you need to learn budgeting or get a financial adviser? Do you need to find a teacher in your chosen field? Do you need to join a dating agency or a club where you’ll meet like-minded people? Then make a daily to-do list where you cover off just a few small steps and, little by little, you’ll start making progress and seeing real change.
By working out where you want to be heading and identifying the skill gaps preventing you attaining the things you desire, you can begin to work on filling the gaps to get where you want to be.
We’ve discussed before the helpful SMART mnemonic which can be a useful check when setting goals and making plans. It’s always good to check your goals meet these criteria – Specific/Significant, Measurable/Meaningful, Attainable/Action-Oriented, Relevant/Rewarding and Time-Bound/Track-able.
Keep in mind that this is a life’s work and not something you can rush so be patient and take it slowly. Also your views can change, so be sure to review your goals regularly and check they are still relevant to what you really want from life. Be flexible and most importantly, be kind and true to yourself. A great friend of mine, a career-girl who had sworn she never wanted children and had married her husband on that premise, was absolutely terrified of telling him she had changed her mind and suddenly desperately felt a desire to start a family. When she finally broached it after months of internal turmoil, it turned out he’d had exactly the same change of heart as he’d entered his thirties. They’re now happy parents of two children and still enjoying successful careers. So don’t assume you’ll always feel the same way as you do when you make your plan out because things, circumstances, values and people change and life has a way of throwing curve balls at you.
Recognise your successes and congratulate yourself as you achieve even the smallest steps on your plan. Any resolution is completed in small increments and each one is an achievement in itself. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve something – just learn the lessons, work out why and tackle it differently. You may have bitten off more than you can chew and need to take things more slowly or you may need to re-evaluate whether your goal is realistic within your timeframe.
And remember that the path to achieving goals is as important as achieving the goal itself – so relax and try and enjoy it. That’s what life is about and that’s where you’ll gain the most experience, challenge and pleasure. As J.M. Barrie so rightly said: “You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.” Make sure to take in some rose-smelling along the way whilst you tend to your garden and watch it grow.
Deborah Done is managing director of Nab Communications - http://www.nabcommunications.co.uk
The Big Idea Goal Setting and Planning for the New Year
January 13 2012