It is December 31st, 2014.
What are you beating yourself up for not having achieved last year? Are you going to set yourself up for failure again by setting the same ol’ goals again tomorrow?
For the past month the bloggers and podcasters and seminar leaders have been churning out millions of words of advice on goal setting, motivation and getting ready for 2015. The courageous among us announce loudly that ‘we don’t waste our time with such nonsense‘, because they know they’re going to break their promises to themselves anyway. They believe that, by not making any promises at all, they’re safe from disappointing anyone, in particular, themselves.
I believe we don’t understand the depth of it well enough, and so when we don’t fulfil our new year’s resolutions we become self-critical – unfairly so, because we believe the tools work, and that it is just in our own hands that somehow their batteries fail. After all, millions of words have been written about it by just about everyone. And so it’s easier not to have goals at all.
My own experience is that the vivid dream of the long-term goal is exceptionally powerful. I once drew a picture of a car that I’d always wanted, as part of visualising during a goal-setting course; I bought it, almost for cash, six months later. It was an antique. Convertible. Coupé.
Here’s the other thing. When I first arrived in Nova Scotia, my dream was to live in the country, on a lake. That was in 1974. I now live in the country, on a lake. In Nova Scotia. It was a long and winding road indeed. The detours were fascinating and necessary. It was a tough trip, but I made it (some of it in that hot coupé). About 30 years late, but here I am.
Here’s what happens when you set goals: you believe that you can control the future. You must’ve heard the expression “Man plans; God laughs.” (“Man” includes “woman”, in this saying, I believe.) You can only say this if you believe that God isn’t a vengeful God. You can even say it if you’re an atheist.
Go right ahead: dream that dream. Turn it into a goal. Tell someone about it and write it down or draw it. Write a poem about it. Sculpt it in sand on the beach. Whatever works for you. Brainstorm a list of the most compelling reasons why this dream is important to you. Try your hand at mind-mapping. Write the dream, as if it has already become true, in a FEW WORDS, in the middle of a blank page.
One of the things that people sometimes miss is this: you have to FEEL as if the goal has already been achieved. It means mentally transporting yourself to that end state and paying attention to your emotions when you’re there. Ironically we remember intentions and emotions more truly than we remember our actions. Write your feelings down too. Follow the instructions for mind-mapping if you want to.
And then, set a sequence of short-term goals – a.k.a. milestones, towards achieving that big score of your dreams. Actions, in other words. Plan them. Know them and be prepared to abandon them.
It is extremely helpful to have resilience in your repertoire of aptitudes. There’s always more than one way to achieve a goal. If you become fixated on the journey, as planned according to your milestones, you may never get to your goal. You may end up stuck at an unanticipated obstacle – imagine bridge is washed out and your destination is still far away and the river is in flood. There are options. If you can’t imagine them you are likely to descend into ‘the world is unfair’. This stuff can take up a great deal of time and energy. It will not get you to your goal and it’ll leave you depressed and full of unfounded resentment and self-righteousness. We don’t want that.
I don’t like the expression ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ (a) because I can’t handle thinking about naked cat bodies and (b) most of the people I know would be equally grossed out by it. However, as an aphorism it is true. (I just discovered that there’s a Facebook page dedicated to getting rid of such sayings). OK, there’s more than one way to pluck your eyebrows. There’s more than one road to Pretoria. Or Toronto. (I’d rather go to Vancouver). And so, the useful thing about having a plan is that you must be able to change it. So the bridge is washed out. Take a detour – go downriver to where the old ferry still operates. Go home and monitor the road reports and try again. Swim. Build a raft.
You make small resilience adjustments numerous times a day. Well, most people do. So you know how to do it. The big thing is not to give up. The important thing in all this is DON’T CHANGE YOUR GOAL (unless you totally change your mind about your life’s purpose). BUT, change your plan to achieve it, as needed.
Here’s what happens when you don’t set goals: life goes on.
© Delphine du Toit 2014