A new year is upon us and often a time to start to think about the things we want to achieve. It’s no coincidence that this is one of the busiest times of the year for us therapists as people reflect on what works and what isn’t working. It’s also in the Protestant post-festive-season-binge of January that we make those promises that we’ve made to ourselves time and again: “Yes I will join the gym and actually go this time”…
Goal setting is one of the most important aspects of my work. When I’m working with a client, we need to work out what they are there for and what they want to achieve. Yes, there can be a place for open-ended therapy, however, in most cases, helping clients work out what they want to achieve and what differences these outcomes will make to them is a proportional factor (around 20%) of what makes therapy/coaching successful or not.
So, here are some tips and thoughts to help guide you into being one of the 8% who stick to their goals!
Tip 1: Know what you want; where do you want to go?
As you read this what I don’t want you to do is to think of a pink elephant. Got it? Don’t think of a pink elephant, no, no, no I said don’t think of a pink elephant! You, yes you, I see you thinking about a pink elephant even though you’re trying so hard not to.
How did that work out for you?
So our brains cannot deal with deletion. In order to ‘not’ think about something we need to think of it, then delete it.
The same thing applies to our goals and outcomes. So if someone wants to lose weight for example, I’ll ask them what do they want instead? Often the answer will be something like get healthy, or live longer. Great! Now that’s a goal that you want to be in the forefront of your mind.
Try it on for size, what feels more positive to you, losing weight or becoming healthier by losing weight?
There’s a power in finding out what it is you really want, and naming it as such.
If your goal feels too big or unwieldy, try distilling it down to a sentence that contains 8 words or less.
Taking our weight loss as an example try giving it the structure: ‘What I most want to achieve in 2018 is being healthy by losing weight’
Tip 2: Know why you want it; give it some juice!
Whatever you decide that it is you want to achieve, ask yourself; “What would having this do for me?”
Asking this starts to connect our goals to our values. Our values are the things that are most important to us. You may have to ask yourself this question a few times, to get there and we all know what a value starts to feel like.
Going back to the losing weight example, asking what would being healthier do for me, might elicit a response such as, ‘seeing my children grow up’,
So from a goal of losing weight, you now have something that it about watching your children grow up.
You can imagine for yourself what has the greater chance of sticking.
Now try on the following: ‘What I most want to achieve in 2018 is being healthy to see my kids grow up”
See what the felt differences are as your goal evolves. I am always looking with my clients to elicit all parts of their brain – both the cognitive rational parts, and the body based somatic parts.
I’ll explain why in…
Tip 3: See it, feel it, taste it; move it into our unconscious.
Now you know what you want, and why you want it, try it on in your imagination.
Take some time to really project yourself into your future and imagine, as if, you have already achieved this goal.
Imagine for yourself, that your values have already been met by achieving your goals, what would you be seeing? What would you be hearing?
Turning our ‘thoughts’ into rich 3-dimensional multisensory images starts to engage the non-conscious areas of our psyche.
Our unconscious doesn’t process time or delineate between our imagination and our version of reality, hence why when we are asleep dreams feel so real. When we imagine things, we are activating in our neurology the same areas of the brain that work when we are actually doing something.
A famous study on basketball players showed that there was no difference from a neurological perspective from when a player was taking a shot, to when a player was visualising taking a shot.
So, if you know what you want and why you want it, see-hear-taste-touch-smell it from the perspective of having already got it.
As an exercise I would invite you to explore the following:
- Take some time to find a quiet space. Sit down, relax and make yourself comfortable.
- Start by taking a few breaths in, allowing in more oxygen then you would normally take in, and let it go all the way out, repeat this a few times, until your breathing becomes slow, deep and regular.
- Check your body, allow your breathing to relax any areas you are holding tension. Relaxing your body is a great way to open up the gateways from our verbal to our unconscious minds.
- Now let the image of having your goal being achieved with your value becoming met, become rich and vivid.
- And as you take some time to breathe this image in, repeat your goal in its 8-word phrasing, as you breathe in, notice where you feel this goal most in your body. So, is it in your heart? Your belly? Your throat?
By connecting the goal statement with an image and where it is most felt in your body, you are starting to connect your conscious verbal mind with your unconscious, somatic felt mind.
If there’s no feeling in your body, it might be a sign that your goal is too cognitively orientated and does not fully resonate with your unconscious feeling self. Try playing around with the linguistic phrasing of the goal, until you find a way of phrasing it and an image that is truly representative of both the conscious and unconscious parts of you.
Congratulations! Now in your whole mind (conscious and unconscious) you have taken your first step towards getting what it is you really want.
Tip 4: How not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Often the process of getting what we want will start or include giving something up, and it’s more than what you may think it is.
When I work with smokers, I will often ask what are the benefits of smoking? Most will say things like ‘I get a break at work’ or ‘I get time to myself to think and pause’ or ‘I get to breathe.’
Make sure that in the process of going for your goal you don’t lose out on the benefits of what the thing you didn’t want to do gave you.
So if eating copious amounts of chocolate gave you a reward, make sure that you are finding ways to reward yourself, if smoking gave you a work break, make sure that you are also taking time away from your desk, and go for a stroll.
Of course, not all goals will have this structure but the question to ask yourself is: “By achieving this goal, and meeting this value, is there anything I would be losing?”
If the answer is no, then great.
If the answer is yes, then make sure that you feed this back into your goal setting strategy.
Tip 5: Break it down into small achievable steps.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”
Whatever you goal or outcome might be, take it apart and break it down into small achievable chunks.
These become your stepping stones, and ways to mark your own progress.
Changing careers might seem like a daunting mountain.
But looking at training options, updating your c.v., picking up the phone and calling someone for advice, these are all doable, practical and achievable.
Every time you reach one of these stepping stones, you know that you are starting to make a difference, starting to get there, turning the goal into a reality.
Tip 6: Change doesn’t happen overnight it takes practice.
Whatever you want, make sure that you are doing something each and everyday to help you get there.
In order to effect neurological change, we need to enforce new neural pathways with regular usage.
There’s a saying in Neuropsychology: Neurons that fire together wire together.
To oversimplify: Our brain cells communicate with one another via synaptic transmission – one brain cell releases a chemical (neurotransmitter) that the next brain cell absorbs. This communication process is known as “neuronal firing.” When brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens. Messages that travel the same pathway in the brain over & over begin to transmit faster & faster.
The more you repeat something the more it is reinforced. Whether it is changing a habit, seeking out a new opportunity, or creating something new in your life, you need to be doing something towards it each and every day, allowing for the fact that some days you won’t. That’s fine, we all need a day off, we all need to rest – so when allowing yourself time to rest, go back to those small achievable chunks, and do something that build towards creating whatever it is you want to make happen in your life.
Happy 2018! May this year be full of your dreams and hopes turning into reality.