First, I would like to wish my readers a happy new year! I apologise to those readers who noticed I hadn’t published anything earlier in the year – which I failed to do due to a combination of illness, a lot of travel over the last few weeks, and a general lack of dedication to content and idea generation over the festive period – I took a break from meditating (my routine was all over the place) and surprise, surprise, fresh ideas took a break too. Interesting.
What I have also noticed is that as the new year has progressed and work has begun to flow like normal again, my ideas for this blog have started to return, sometimes spontaneously. I believe this may be to do with the level of activity in the brain increasing as my focus on work has recommenced. There is always that saying that keeping busy is great for the health of the brain – perhaps this is just one little indicator of it; oh, and I’ve been meditating again too 🙂
Now, as the new year is upon us, resolutions are the theme of the moment. The new year brings an opportunity to start afresh, make new habits or even develop a new mindset. The most common and talked about resolution is going to the gym. Gym memberships traditionally sky-rocket in January, with such time of year generally being the busiest time for the fitness industry. However, studies have shown that over two-thirds of people fail to keep their gym membership going after 1 month. Probably even shorter for those who have set other new year’s resolutions.
Why? Because the process of successfully setting and achieving one’s goals is more than just a mindset, attitude or aim – there’s actually a proven method that builds upon principles of psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (i.e. NLP) in order to achieve them. Without applying a structured and methodical approach to goal-setting, chances are, you won’t achieve anything.
It should also be stressed that this is different to a state. A state is an emotion, or feeling and is achievable at any point in time. I want to be “more happy” or “confident” are states. Goals, however, involve the desire for something specific in the future, for which effort is divested – time and steps are required in order to achieve this goal. So for those happy-go-lucky, “feel the love” new year’s resolution makers, this post isn’t for you.
The particular goal setting model that I refer to has an interesting acronym, not least because this particular method has an almost scientific approach to it; and you’ve got to be clever about achieving what matters to you the most. No? I mean, if that goal actually means something to you, then you may as well give it your best shot, in the smartest way possible.
SMART. That’s right. Smart goal setting. You hear me? Who wouldn’t be smart about setting a goal if it is that important to you.
Originally developed by Peter F. Drucker in 1954 in his pioneering book, The Practice of Management, the method of SMART goal-setting systematically sets out a proven method for achieving one’s goals. So what does this acronym stand for?
Let’s take a brief look at what each of these key words means.
In order to have the best possible chance of achieving the goal, it needs to be as specific as possible, since, if a goal is phrased as too broad or general, the unconscious mind won’t have anything to cling on or focus on achieving. If it is defined as exactly as it should be, there is no doubt as to what the outcome of the goal should be. So, the common new year’s resolutions of ‘exercise more’, ‘lose weight’, ‘eat more healthily’ etc.. are destined to fail, since they are so general and nothing which the mind can really quantify as an outcome-based resolution. Be more specific and direct – and the more uncomfortable it is for you, the greater the chance of achieving it. If it’s too easy, well, it’s not really worth setting it, is it?
Goals that have a means by which there is evidence of their achievement are far likelier to draw the subconscious mind towards achieving them. “Going to the gym more” could then be, e.g. “I will go to the gym 3 times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for half an hour.”
Also, what does it feel like in your mind to achieve that goal – visualising, bringing the goal alive in your mind, and feeling what it means to you to achieve that goal. By doing so, you may actually be doing yourself a favour – if you reach the end of this exercise and then realise “what was the point of that goal?”, it will save you time (and possibly money) before you venture out and exert effort in order to achieve it. In yesterday’s new year’s immersion retreat with Sheila Bennett at the West London Buddhist Centre, we did exactly that – feeling what it would be like to achieve one’s goals and then working back towards the actual setting of that goal. I personally found this a useful exercise, as some feelings came up which I did not expect during such a process.
In order to “achieve” our goals, we need to be imagining them as if we were acting them out NOW. So: “one day I will be a millionaire” should be phrased as “I am a millionaire”. Whilst such a crude example probably isn’t high on most people’s resolution lists, the example serves to show that if a goal is set in the future, then in effect it will never be achieved.
There is actually a part of the brain that actively assists us in achieving our goals – that is the Reticular, Activating System (or RAS). The RAS is that part of the brain that filters all relevant information towards you – it channels information to you that supports your belief or goal. Ever noticed how something that has recently come into your attention, no matter how rare, is now seen everywhere around you, on a regular basis? This has happened to me many times. It turns out there is some science behind it, thanks to the RAS. The trick is that it has always been there, you just haven’t noticed it. In some more energetic fields of thought, it is called the ‘Law of Attraction’.
Goals should also be set so that they are actually achievable/attainable. It is no use setting something that is physically impossible. If you believe it is achievable, then you will have a good chance of achieving it. If you don’t, then you won’t even get started.
Another important point is to assess where you are in your life and what you need to achieve the goals. Some call this the ‘wheel of life’. By rating (on a scale of 1 to 10) where you are in your life right now, you can set your goal as “where you want to get to” and see what is required in order to achieve this outcome.
A goal has to be realistic – it needs to be challenging, but something within your control. That is, what degree of certainty is required in order to achieve that goal – if it’s 100%, then the goal has a good chance of being achieved. If it relies on someone else as part of that equation, then that’s not a realistic goal, since the dependency is with someone else; the responsibility in other words has to be entirely with YOU.
Similarly, the process of goal-setting needs to take into account the impact upon you, others around you and the planet in general. If the goal is ecologically unsustainable, it’s not worth pursuing, and your subconscious mind may already sabotage you from doing that anyway. As for Mr Trump and his stated goals, we’ll see what happens there….
Goal-setting needs to be as specific as possible, not just in terms of its granularity, but also in terms of the time it takes to achieve that goal. If a time frame is not set, our subconscious mind has no date by which such goal must be achieved, so that we may never end up achieving our goal, or if we do, by that time it may be too late, or less important to us vis-a-vis where we are in our lives at that point in time. Be specific in terms of the period in which you want to achieve that goal, and keep that in mind.
Further, goals should always be set in the positive. The unconscious mind does not process negatives, so if you phrase a goal in such a way, you may end up achieving exactly what you wished to avoid! Be positive with your goals and avoid falling into any negative goal traps.
So, if this post has come too little, too late in your case, you can always start again. After all, new year’s resolutions are merely symbolic – It’s time to start afresh and renew our sense of vitality, but let’s also forgive ourselves if things don’t work out, and start again, perhaps with a more rigorous approach to our goal-setting and what’s important to our lives.
Just as the slogan for Nike goes: ‘JUST DO IT’, go ahead and act, but be SMART about your goals, too.