Goals. We’re supposed to have them. Theoretically, we can’t accomplish anything without them. I beg to differ.
I used to be a goal-seeking nut. Every day I would read my goals, visualize them, break them down into steps, set specific dates and follow all the usual goal “rules.”
And the process drove me crazy. I met very few of those goals and got more depressed because of it. There had to be another way.
I realized that goals are a little like diets (which don’t work). You set a target (goal), put a date on it and make some temporary changes in your life to get you to your goal. Once you meet the goal, you go back to your old ways which bring you back to where you were before you met the goal.
Or you meet the goal and see that it wasn’t as big a deal as you thought and you look for the next “thing” to feed your always-hungry psyche.
It’s a vicious cycle either way.
Instead of always striving for more, more, more! how about striving for just a little better each day?
One of the agreements in Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is to always do your best. That doesn’t mean that every day must be better than the last. It means doing your best in the moment.
If you’re not feeling well, your best now may not be the same as yesterday when you had more energy. And that’s okay.
The Mindful Approach to Goals
Instead of setting goals, how about setting intentions for how you want to experience different aspects of your life?
That way, there’s no striving and beating yourself up for not hitting your arbitrary target. You set your intention of doing your best each day and follow through. Each day, that results in things getting a little bit better.
What I’m suggesting is applying a dose of mindfulness to the process. Instead of always yearning for something in the future (the goal), what if the goal was to simply be happy in the moment, with the way things are?
If your goal is to lose weight, you could:
- Feel bad about how much you weigh now. (Does hating your body really help anything?) Eat things you don’t like or starve yourself and knock yourself out at the gym in order to weigh a different weight. or
- Love and accept your body the way it is right now. Instead of focusing on all that you can’t have, be grateful for the tasty, healthy foods that you can enjoy. Feel the increased self-confidence you gain by moving your body in ways that you enjoy and help you to get stronger.
If you chose option 2, you probably wouldn’t want to stop doing the things you had been doing once you reach your target weight. You would want to continue because they make you feel good.
Creating a New You
The beauty of option 2 is that you become a different person in the process. This is another key to any change process.
You can’t be the same person, have the same thoughts and beliefs and take the same actions and expect different results.
You have to change in the process.
Instead of your old self believing that “healthy foods” can’t taste good and griping about the changes in your diet, you need to make a shift. Ask yourself, “How would a slim, healthy person think about this? What are their beliefs about their health? Given those beliefs, what would they eat? How would they see and experience movement? How would they feel about their body? What are their daily habits?”
Then be that person and think, believe and act how they would. Ultimately, you’ll end up with their results.
When you see people who are successful in an area where you want to be successful, find books they’ve written, articles written about them or interviews with them to better understand how they think, believe and act. Then do your best to do the same.
If you find yourself coming up with excuses as to why you can’t be more like them, you’ll know why you haven’t achieved what they have. Your excuses are the stories you’ve told yourself to keep you “safe,” to keep you from venturing out of your comfort zone, to keep you stuck in the life you’re unhappy with.
Those stories may also be hiding your fears about what your friends and family might think of you if you were successful. You might think that they will no longer accept you, so you stay where you are.
If that’s the case, know that there are supportive groups of people and good friends you haven’t me yet who are already doing what you want to do and will welcome you, hold your hand and help you along the way.
The Compound Effect
The greatest things are accomplished in baby steps – the daily habits you practice because of who you are and what your values are.
I’m listening to The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy that explains all the ways that this concept is true.
While big changes might produce big, immediate results, those kinds of results are usually temporary.
It’s the minute, barely perceptible changes that compound over time that produce the significant results that last and continue to improve.
The only way to stick with these little changes is to turn them into daily habits.
Is it too much to save 10% of your pay now? Start with 1% for a month. Bump that up to 2% the next month. Increase your savings by 1% each month and you’ll painlessly get to 10% without a significant change in your lifestyle.
Are you completely out of shape but dream of running a marathon? Start by walking a quarter mile once a week. Increase that to one mile over the course of a month. Then walk three days a week, then daily. After that, start each walk with a light jog until you’re tired and walk the rest of the way. Jog a little further each time until you can jog the whole way. Each week, add another quarter mile to your distance. In six months to a year, you’ll be running five or ten miles a day.
These are just a couple of the many examples in the book and I highly recommend that you read the book if you’re having difficulties making the changes you want in your life.
The New Way to Create Change in Your Life
If you’ve struggled with goals like I have, take the mindful, happier approach to change.
- Find your “why.” Why is it important for you to make a change now? Without a strong “why,” it will be too easy to slip back into your old routines.
- Get clear on what you’re changing. Visualize what your life is like after you’ve made the change in as much detail as possible. What do you do each hour of the day? How do you feel when you do those things? Who do you surround yourself with? How do you move? What do you eat? How well do you sleep?
- Find others who are already doing what you want to do. Do an online search and read about these people. Listen to interviews with them. Read books and articles they’ve written. Meet them in person (this is easier to do than you think). Find out how they think, what makes them tick, what’s important to them.
- Adopt one small new habit. Adopt one of the daily habits of a person you admire. If you have difficulties adopting new habits, Barrie Davenport has a wonderful class that I’ve taken called Sticky Habits.
- Don’t expect overnight success. Real change takes time, persistence, perseverance. It’s a process, a journey without a destination. It’s the illusion that we’ll someday arrive and our world will be different that makes goals so disheartening. Learn to enjoy the ride.
- Reflect on how far you’ve come. Every six months or so, reflect back on how far you’ve come. The changes that you’ll experience will be so small that you’ll hardly notice them. But their compound effects are huge. Take the time to reflect on how you’ve powerfully changed your life in the direction of your dreams.
Rather than trying to chop of your life with “one and done” goals, see your life and all of your experiences as a journey. Where are you headed and how do you want to feel along the way?