Our goals drive what we do from moment to moment, starting with the moment we get out of bed. Everything we do has a goal or serves a purpose.
To make sure your smaller, short-term goals are driving your life in the direction that you want it to go, it is important to make your goals explicit. When you know what destination you want to arrive at in the end, you will know which pathways will help you get there. It will help you make good decisions along the way and avoid you waking up one morning and realising you don’t like your life anymore.
Having your goals clearly defined will also help you avoid making decisions based solely on what is comfortable. If we are not careful our brain will go on autopilot and steer us into the least challenging, most comfortable direction. Our brain has this built-in tendency to always pull us away from the unpredictable and the uncertain. It does this to help us and to try to keep us safe, even though it might not be the best course.
We are at risk of getting stuck in the same loop over and over again just because it is familiar, easy and comfortable. Yes you are moving, yes you are busy, but you are not really making the progress you want. You are comfortable but comfort isn’t the same as being fulfilled and happy. Often progress means stepping out, being bold and trying something new. All these things are uncomfortable but essential in personal growth.
From big to small
Have you ever really thought about what you want your life to be like? What matters to you and how you can create a life that reflects that? It can be an overwhelming question and for a long time I didn’t know how to answer it. I knew what I liked and didn’t like, I knew that some things felt right and other things didn’t, but formulating my life goals felt impossible until I thought about starting at the very end — literally, the end of life.
When I thought about what I wanted people to say at my funeral, it wasn’t that difficult anymore. Of course, I hope they will be saying a lot of nice things and be remembering the fun times we had, but most of all I hope they say I was a good mother and partner and that my life had purpose. That I had helped many people change their lives by inspiring them and equipping them with the tools to do it.
Once you envisage the bigger picture — the ultimate goals made explicit and clear — it’s time to narrow them down. In the end, to reach the big goals, you need to ask yourself, ‘Where do I want to be 10 years from now?’, ‘Five years from now?’, ‘What do I want my life to be like then?’, ‘What subgoals will become my stepping stones to work towards the end goals?’
To make this process more effective, you can make it not only more explicit but also more specific by focusing on different life areas. For example, when looking at my own goals, I think about what I want these life areas to be like in five years’ time:
»» mental and emotional health
»» family life
It always feels impossible until it is done
One way to boost your confidence when it comes to setting and working towards your goals is to not only pay attention to ‘the gap’ between where you are now and where you want to be, but to also pay attention to the ‘reverse gap’. This involves reminding yourself regularly of where you were five years, three years or even one year ago and reflecting on what your life looked like then, the positive changes you have made since, what difficulties you have overcome and how you have developed and grown.
Noticing the difference between where you were a few years ago and where you are now is testimony to what you can achieve. You have accomplished things before and there is no reason to believe you cannot accomplish even bigger things now. We often forget how capable we are and what we can achieve, and simply paying attention to the reverse gap can remind us of this.
Then focus on your goals for the future again and ask yourself:
‘If I want these things to become a reality five years from now, what do I have to do this month? This week? And what small step can I take today?’
Chantal Hofstee is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and mindfulness expert, who has worked in both the private and corporate sectors. She uses the techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness to provide her clients with easy-to-use skills that can be quickly and effectively implemented to change their lives. Through her company, Renew Your Mind, she provides mindfulness courses and business training to enable people to take control of stress, improve focus, solve problems, achieve their goals, boost their productivity and become more creative. Her first book was the very successful Mindfulness on the Run.