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Setting Goals? Look Both Ways

By Gerri Power

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard

In ancient Roman mythology, January is named after Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions and by association the god of gates, doorways, endings and time. He is usually depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions; one looks back into the past while the other looks forward to the future.

We should develop a Janus perspective when setting goals. When you incorporate recognition of achievements into your goal setting this not only inspires and builds confidence but helps in setting realistic and attainable goals that become gateways to growth.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

It can feel that work and life are pulling you in a thousand different directions and the commitments you made to yourself are collapsing under the weight of numerous demands. Deep in your heart you know that if you don’t pause to take stock the year will rush by and there’s a real danger you’ll lose sight of those things that are most important to you. The question that poet Mary Oliver poses can serve as a beacon, a navigational aid as you set and prioritise meaningful goals that nourish and enrich all areas of your life. Create goals that inspire, challenge and energise, that give you a sense of purpose, not just a ‘to do list’ that will haunt you with what hasn’t been crossed off as the year progresses.

Four Paths

So how do you increase your chances of succeeding in achieving your meaningful goals? While there are many approaches that work well for different people, the literature suggests that the following four paths have proven the most beneficial:

1. Identify what you want

Sounds simple but when was the last time you took the time to ask yourself what you really want to achieve in your career, your family life, your relationships and in your creative life. What inspires you? What are you passionate about? What has to be a part of the way you live your life for you to be who you are?

2. Be specific

Within your organisation, do you want to improve communications, reduce conflict, boost morale, encourage team-building or win a promotion? Personally, do you want to find a better work-life balance, reduce some of the stressors in your life, take your children on a winter holiday, renovate your home (without losing your sanity), run a marathon, improve your eating habits or spend more ‘you’ time replenishing your spirit?

3. Write down your goals

Think of journaling as a daily 10 minute self-coaching session that keeps you accountable to your goals and helps you to identify fears, doubts, or perceived obstacles to accomplishing what you want. The act of getting these issues on paper clears the mental clutter and leads to insights which can clarify your next step.

4. Take action

Make a vow to work towards your goals every day, to do at least one thing every day towards your future life. At the end of the year that’s 365 ways you are closer. Isn’t that an energising thought!

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” – Bilbo Baggins

Not every step towards achieving your goals is going to be easy… goals worth pursuing never are. Things don’t always go swimmingly and it may seem as though it’s all uphill. The antidote to discouragement is to tap into your strengths. Take a deep breath and reflect on all the positive things you have achieved and been blessed with, including the resilience with which you may have coped with any disappointments or setbacks. Nurture a quiet glow of positivity as you view your future. If you are serious about making your dreams happen, you need to find a way to persist in the face of challenges and the inevitable bumps along the road.

In her book Positivity, Dr. Barbara Frederickson discusses how cultivating positivity can make you more creative, resilient, and connected to others. Her research concluded that a ratio of at least three-to-one (three positive emotions for every negative emotion) serves as a tipping point, which will help determine whether you languish in life or flourish. A key to building resilience lies in noticing and appreciating those positive experiences whenever they occur. People who develop positivity habits are more likely to reach for, and achieve, their goals and maintain resilience when the going gets tough.

Increasing Positivity

Thoughts have power. Pay attention to the constant stream of thoughts running through your mind when you encounter a setback or disappointment. This self-talk reflects your beliefs and attitudes about the world, other people, and yourself. Changing the negative things you say to yourself when you experience a setback is a central skill of resilience. It’s not what happens to you, but what you say to yourself and how you interpret the event that determines your ability to absorb disruptive experiences and stay on purpose with your goals when the going gets tough.

Seven Practices to Increase Your Positivity Ratio

  1. Savour the moment – slow down, breath slower and more deeply, be present, relish your heartfelt enjoyment, stretch it out, drink it in.
  2. Find things you can be grateful for now – instead of focusing on perfection appreciate the little things, the things that you may take for granted.
  3. Appreciate the kindness of others – and recognise your own. This builds an upward spiral of positivity as acts of kindness, and the serotonin boosts that accompany them, have a cumulative effect.
  4. Inspire yourself – in such a busy world it can be easy to lose track of yourself. Take some time each day to remember what it is that inspires you: places, people, music, and literature. You get the picture.
  5. Connect with nature – just 20 minutes outside when the sun is shining will boost your positivity (and your immune system). Go for that swim with a friend after work, potter in the garden or take a family picnic to the park.
  6. Live intentionally – manage your time tonight so you can be fully present in your day tomorrow. Turn off the TV and internet. Sit down with a pen and paper and write out what you want tomorrow, the rest of this week, to be about. Then shape tomorrow to accomplish that.
  7. Take a step back to observe and think about how your actions support your goals.

When setting your goals the words or phrases you use to form your intention for the year can be revealing. They can foretell your desires or hesitations. What is your word or phrase for the year?

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