The New Year is upon us, and although it's been pretty tough for all of us, there's always a sense of hope and optimism when we set ourselves some goals for the year ahead.
As a health coach, I often find that patients set goals that are too big and unrealistic, which leaves them feeling deflated. Common goals are "I want to lose weight", or "I want to manage my diabetes better". The thing is, if you don't have the correct guidance to help you with your goals, chances are, you will lose motivation and end up back at the start of a vicious and depressing cycle.
Here, I want to provide you with a formula for setting goals that you can actually achieve. This formula can be used for any goals - whether they relate to career, health, relationships or fun and play.
This is quite a long blog, but I make no apologies. I want to take you through a 'virtual' coaching session so that you have the tools you need to be a better you. So, make yourself a cup of tea, and grab a pen and piece of paper.
The first thing to consider is your circle of concern and your circle of influence. The circle of concern represents things that you have no control over: crime levels, wars, foreign policy and economics. The circle of influence represents things that you can change: your own behaviour, your immediate environment and the daily choices you make.
If your circle of concern is big, and your circle of influence is small, then this is a recipe for stress and anxiety. Most of us may feel that this year has expanded our circle of concern - we may feel overwhelmed by things that are out of our control. Pandemics, civil protests, US elections...the list goes on.
You will feel less stressed and anxious when the circles are the other way around - where the circle of influence is larger than the circle of concern. The concept here is that it is much better to invest your energy in the areas where you have more control.
Yes, it can feel overwhelming when we think about global issues, politics, racism and pandemics. These are real issues that need consideration. But on the individual level, it is healthier for us to explore the things over which we have control and responsibility.
This is the premise of coaching. Identifying what we can control, and working towards improving ourselves by setting small, realistic goals that move us towards our best vision of ourselves.
Once you've reflected on your own circle of influence, it's time to start setting some goals.
Identify an area of your life that you want to improve. You might want to use a classic coaching tool, The Wheel of Life, to help you visualise the different areas that you would like to work on.
Once you have decided on an area, think about the following:
If everything in this area was exactly as you wanted it to be, what would it look like? What would it feel like? What would people be saying to you?
Be positive and optimistic here. This first part is about being in your imagination and letting all those good endorphins tempt your brain into taking action.
Then, break the goal down into its component parts. For example, your goal may be to lose weight. The component parts might be (and these are just examples!):
Exercise every day
Eat more nutrient dense food
Start intermittent fasting
Now you have these (and there might be lots), decide which of these it's most important to make progress in first. Then think about where you are now on a scale of 1 to 10 in relation to this choice. Then write down what will take you closer to 10.
You now have a clear goal and intention. The next thing to write down is when you want to achieve this by.
Other questions to consider here are:
What is important to you about this goal?
How will you know when you've achieved this goal?
What will motivate you to achieve this goal?
How will you measure your success?
After doing this exercise, you should have a goal that is clear, realistic and set within a time frame. Using the example above, the goal might look like:
"By the end of today, I will have a clear plan for how I can incorporate intermittent fasting, for five days of the week".
Now you are ready to think about the reality of your goal. Here, you are raising your own awareness of what you can do and gaining insight into your own strengths that can help you.
Key questions to answer are:
Where are you now with your goal?
What have you done so far towards achieving your goal?
What is within your control when it comes to this goal?
Think about a time when you have something similar - what did you learn?
What resources do you have that could help you?
What strengths do you have that could help you?
What are you driven by?
Once you have reminded yourself of your strengths and insights, it's time to consider your options. Here, it's important to be creative and imaginative. Let yourself be free with your suggestions, no matter how intangible or crazy they may seem. List as many options as you can think of.
Key questions to answer are:
What could you do that will move you one step closer to achieving your goal?
What else could you do?
What if you could wave a magic wand, what could you do?
If your friend came to you with this problem/issue, what advice would you give them?
What motivates you?
If you had all the time/money/energy in the world, what could you do?
Now you have explored your options, it's time to take action. Here, it's important to be as specific as you can.
Key questions to answer are:
Which option (from the list you wrote down in the previous exercise) will take you one step closer to your goal?
Which option feels right for you?
When will you do that?
How will you do that?
What support do you need?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed/inspired/motivated are you about carrying out these actions?
What could stop you from taking these actions? What would need to happen for this not to be a problem?
The next thing to do is rank your options. Write down the reasons for your choices. Record the exact date and time you will carry out the action(s). Write down any barriers you may face and how you will overcome them. Check the relevance to your overall goal.
You should now have a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-specific. Otherwise known as a 'SMART' goal. If your goal makes you feel optimistic and excited, then you have written down a very good goal indeed. If the goal makes you feel anxious and uninspired, then go back and break it down further until you have a smaller, more achievable goal.
The final things to reflect on after doing this exercise are:
How do you feel you have progressed towards your overall goal?
What have you learned from doing this?
What has surprised you about doing this exercise?
You can use this structure for setting goals to improve any aspect of your life. Of course, there's no substitute for consulting a qualified coach to help you dive into your goals and aspirations. A good coach will challenge you as they get to know you and push you to become the best you can be. But I'm hoping that this template can give you a framework to start your journey to self-development, whether that be in your health, relationships or career.
We can all strive to be better people; the journey starts within, and it doesn't have to be overwhelming. In fact, when our goals feel exciting and uplifting, we motivate and inspire those around us. That's how we create real change.
Happy New Year to you all.