What is a goal, really?

New Years resolutions are subject to as many jokes as there are people dedicating themselves to achieving novel things in the year to come. Why do we get it wrong?

A personal goal is a desired outcome of an activity, what you wish to create in your life in the best of all realities – how you wish to be, think and feel once it is achieved. In other words, it is the result you wish to experience from having achieved the activities you engage in, not the activity itself. And a lot of people think that achieving an outcome is mainly about setting milestones and supporting the actions needed to reach them. What is often overlooked, and what is often the most powerful process in enabling your goals, is identifying and addressing what holds you back from achieving them.

Some of the most common blocks to the realization of our full potential are conflicting values, limiting beliefs, and fear. Our values change over time as we experience life, for example when we leave home to support ourselves, when we have families, and when we begin to care for our elderly. Ask yourself regularly, “What is important to me at this point in my life? How can I let that guide my next life choice or career move?” If you continue on a path guided by values you no longer hold, you will likely feel unfulfilled.

Our beliefs about ourselves also determine success. Most of our beliefs are completely unconscious and thus we just assume them to be true. Check in with yourself whether your belief system supports what you want to achieve. Ask yourself, “Do I believe that I can have this outcome, that I deserve it, that it will be in the highest intention of others around me that I have it?”Sometimes we hold unconscious beliefs that are completely irrational but powerful saboteurs. By investigating and addressing unconscious beliefs, we clear the way to our own achievements.

Fear is another obstacle. We might think that the obvious response to one’s own success is to embrace it and keep it going. But a lot of people are held back by fear of the consequences, responsibilities or perceived expectations of their possible success. Making sure not to let ourselves off the hook, we should ask ourselves “If I am successful in achieving this outcome that I want, what additional responsibilities will I then have? What will be expected of me? What will I expect of myself? What will I have to give up? Who might be opposed to my achieving this goal? So where the coach can be most helpful is in throwing light on what may prevent you from achieving what you want and addressing it.

I try to proactively recognize what needs to happen for me to get to the next level, and remind myself that all obstacles are subject to our interpretations. A lot of personal obstacles can be overcome, and I have countless stories of clients overcoming limiting beliefs or performance anxiety, dramatically improving their relationships with their managers or subordinates, or drastically increasing their compensation. But they put in great effort and courage into their personal development to clear their own way to success.

My favourite goals exercise:

I am driven by a long-term ‘life vision’ and a short-term ‘living vision.’ The long-term vision I wrote almost 10 years ago and it still serves as a set of guideposts for every aspect of my life. Every new year’s eve, I take a couple of hours by myself to review my long-term vision for my life, and ask myself how I am progressing towards it. I may discover that I have progressed in certain areas of my life and not others, or that my values have changed and as a result my priorities have shifted. I can then revise any of the guideposts I have set for the various aspects of my life, or add newly acquired aspirations or values as motivating forces towards the full vision. I then look back and reflect on what I am most grateful for of the events of the year that has passed, what I have learned and how that has shaped me, and how I wish to apply that wisdom to move forward in the year to come.

Finally, I set goals for the year ahead and set deadlines for myself where possible to keep on track. This is a beautiful internal dialogue and motivation boost that I look forward to every Holiday Season. That said, it is not something that should happen only once a year or at that particular time, it is just how I have structured it. Many of my clients do this for the first time with me, and I encourage them to do it on a regular basis, perhaps once per quarter or every six months in the beginning, to remind themselves of how far they have come and how they have expanded their capacity to create their own lives.

On one sheet of paper, write down your ideal personal life vision, imagining your life at least 10 years from now. Describe how your life would look like and feel like, your career path, the people with whom you live and work, your activities, where you live and travel, and anything you wish to add in creating a life that is in perfect harmony with your greatest sense of self. Be sure to include your career, family, romance, health, personal development, and finances.

On another sheet of paper, write down what comes to mind around the following questions:

  • What am I grateful for of the year that has been? Include events and people that have come into your life, positive and negative.
  • How have they shaped me? What positive qualities or skills have I developed? What wisdom have I gained? As a result, how am I different?
  • How do I wish to apply those qualities and skills in the next year towards fulfilling my life vision?
  • What else do I need to learn and what people do I need to meet?
  • How can I actively seek out those experiences?

Every time you do this exercise, remember to look back at your previous notes and recognize your progress. You will be stunned at how much you can achieve in a short time by having priorities and focusing your efforts and aspirations.