Creating Your Vision & Setting Goals for the Future
It’s that time of the year; Autumn equinox has just passed and as the weather turns it’s a time to look back and evaluate how far we’ve come this year and set some final intentions for the final few months of 2018. As I look back over my achievements and developments in the last 9 months, it got me thinking about goals, and the merits, and downfalls of living a goal-oriented life.
A few weeks ago, I achieved a huge goal of mine for the year - my very first yoga retreat - a 5-day retreat in beautiful Morocco in which I welcomed 7 wonderful humans to share the practice of yoga and mindfulness with me in the context a modern, busy life. We moved, breathed, shared, talked, explored, played, swam and adventured together and it was wonderful.
I had been working up to this retreat for well over a year when it finally happened; I had the dream, then the vision, the encouragement from friends and family (and my own determined ego-driven subconscious!) as well as the utter fear and self-doubt before it all came together and actually happened. And now it’s done. And to be honest, for a few days I didn’t feel the elation, the satisfaction or the sense of achievement that I had hoped or expected I would feel. Instead I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and filled with the daunting question: “OK, so now what?”.
See, that’s the thing I’ve come to realise with goals. That it doesn’t matter how small, or how big, your goals are; once you’ve achieved them what do you have? Can you sit back and live the rest of your life freely and goal-less? Likely the answer is no. Once one goal is achieved…it’s on to the next, and the next, in a never-ending cycle of one-upmanship with yourself; the desire to do more, be more, achieve more which is perpetuated by modern society.
My whole life I have been goal driven; exams after exams, passing my driving test, getting into university, getting a degree and a job and moving out of home. Then came the goal to be self-employed, and now it’s to build my business, buy a house, be financially secure, and get a dog (of course…priorities). And while I value having goals in my life I have come to realise that it is all too easy to get caught up in striving towards our goals and forgetting to enjoy the bits that happen in between; or to appreciate how far you have come. If two years ago, you would have told me I would have changed career, left the UK, started a business (in a foreign country) AND achieved my biggest goal for my first year of business I would never have believed it could have happened so quick; but instead of looking back with satisfaction and pride on my first year in business and all I have achieved and work my ass off for, all I could think about in the first few days following my retreat was…now what?
My practice of mindfulness has helped me enormously in the last few days. I quickly came to recognise that this fear and exhaustion inside me was totally of my own making; I had become too GOAL-focussed, and had lost an appreciation for my VISION.
So, what is the difference between your vision, and your goals? I have come to believe that our vision is a more conceptual view of the type of life we want for ourselves. Similar to our ‘purpose’, our vision is who we want to be, or the type of life we want to lead, but without specifics. My vision for my life is to make the world a better place, to be a loving and giving person and to leave everyone I meet feeling happier than when I met them. I can expand that idea to incorporate the type of people I want to surround myself with, or what aspects of life are most important to me (whether it be money, health, family, travel etc) but the specifics of how I go about achieving this vision do not matter. Because of this, my vision can manifest itself in many, many hundreds of different ways. I can look at what I am doing in my life right now and know that it is in some way contributing to my ultimate vision.
Goals, on the other hand, can be very specific, and because of that, if they are too big or too far-fetched (for want of a better word), we can set ourselves up for failure. When we become too fixated on a very specific outcome or goal, without flexibility or compromise, we are making it harder for ourselves to achieve, and therefore contributing to our dissatisfaction. Going further, when we place the source of our happiness in a particular goal (i.e. I’ll be happy when I get promoted, or own my house) we are setting ourselves up for ‘unhappiness’ when we fail to reach that goal in the given time frame, or worse, ever.
So, should we all just give up on goals? Well, no. Setting and writing out goals can be an incredibly powerful tool for living a more purposeful life and we as humans need things to work towards in order to make us feel like we are doing something in this world. Goals give us direction, when used wisely. By all means set your goals, but remove any idea that you will be ‘happier’ or ‘more worthy’ once you have achieved them. Happiness is what you choose to be each day (another blog post coming on this idea soon), and you are already worthy.
Instead, think of your goals as stepping stones along the pathway towards your boarder vision for your life. Imagine the vision as a vast open field, with many tracks and paths winding towards it, within it and away from it. There may be a gate, or two, or some hedges or ditches to navigate on your way to the field. Each goal is a step along the pathway towards the field. The pathway might wind it’s away around, or at times, away from, the field, but eventually it will get there. The hedges and ditches are life’s obstacles – at times your goals might lead you straight into a ditch, other times they will lead you right past one. So long as you are flexible about how you get there, and always keep the field in sight, you’ll make it.
Now this is all very well, but what about if we find it hard to clearly identify our vision, and subsequent goals?
I recently did an Instagram Story asking you to let me know what challenges you face when it comes to identifying and setting goals for yourself and two key themes came out of the answers. 1. Clarity when setting goals (i.e. actually knowing what you want to achieve) and 2. How to identify the steps to take in order to achieve the goal once set.
So let’s discuss those:
Clarity when setting goals
My first advice when setting goals is to listen to yourself! Don’t set goals based on what you think you should be doing, or what people expect of you, or because you saw someone on social media doing it and you want to appear to have a life as great as theirs.
There are two ways to start thinking about goals. The first is to start from the vision. Everyone knows that awkward ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’ question; well here it can be really helpful. If you already have a meditation practice, meditate on this question. If you don’t, take 10 minutes over the next 3 days to sit quietly with your eyes closed and allow your mind to explore possible versions of yourself.
Make a list of all the things you love to do, and that you’re good at, and see what aligns. Make a vision board and once the vision starts to form, the goals will reveal themselves. Take your time!!! There are no rules saying you have to be working towards something all the time. If you don’t have anything clear in your mind right now, then rest, be, and enjoy!
The second way is to think more short-term. Start small; maybe you’d like to win a new client at work, or learn to paint. Write down all the things you’d like to do, both at work and in your personal life, and start ranking them. Which ones do you have the means to achieve in the next few months? Why not start with these? Do you have to set smaller goals which lead up to you achieving the larger ones (i.e. if your goal is to buy a house, you’ll need to set smaller financial savings goals to save a deposit). Pick 1 big goal for the year, and 2-3 smaller ones for each month or quarter of the year.
How to identify the steps to take in order to achieve the goal once set.
Now you have the goals, take each one individually and work backwards in order to identify how to get there. If your goal is a promotion at work, ask yourself what skills you need to add to your CV to get the promotion and go about finding ways to gain these skills; maybe it’s spending some time with another department, or taking on extra training, or maybe it’s just about landing a new client, or putting in the hours and ASKING for it.
For each of the goals (no matter how small or large) write down the steps you need to take to get there. You might need to break down the steps into smaller action plans – keep doing this until you have a list of to-do’s that you can start putting into action.
So, now what? Well, no-one is going to hand you your achievements on a plate, so just writing down the goals and your action plan is the first step. Now you actually have to do the work. But this is where we can lose sight of things. Place your vision board, your goals and your action plan somewhere you can see them every day. On your mirror in the morning, or by your desk, for example. The more you keep your vision in the back of the mind, the more your subconscious will be working to help you make the right moves towards it.
Work through your action plan but remember, if things get knocked off course – that the wider vision is what is important, and the lessons you learn on the way may help you to navigate the next big ditch or hedge. If things are veering off course, remember that this path might be leading to a short-cut, or a gate you didn’t even know existed.
The most important lesson I have learned from this year? No matter how big or how consuming your goals, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way. Don’t forget to pause and take a look back down the path you’re on and appreciate the distance. Because what’s the point of it all, if you don’t get to feel the satisfaction at the end?
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