Like most of us, in the last couple of months you’ve probably been through the appraisal process. You know, that time when you sit down with your line manager and negotiate what rating you have achieved and then agree some goals for the coming year. For some of you, I expect this is a very natural process but for some, this can be more of a challenge. I know this, because I am one of those for whom setting goals is a real challenge.
It never used to be that way. I can remember sitting in a training room on my first Financial Adviser course and being asked to set my personal goals for the next 5 years. I duly sat there and imagined myself in five years’ time and visualised what was around me; what I wanted to achieve. This was quite easy for the 24-year-old me; I wanted to live in a detached house, drive a convertible car and have at least two foreign holidays a year. I then worked through how much I needed to earn each year to achieve this and broke down my five-year plan into smaller goals.
Did goals always have to be about the destination or could they be about the journey?
Fast forward nearly 20 years and to a discussion with a fellow consultant who was embarking on a different pathway. We were discussing how our two business could work together when he asked ‘what are your goals; what do you want to achieve for your business from our partnership? For once, I couldn’t provide him with an answer, but it was a lightbulb moment for me. I hadn’t thought about my personal goals since I had achieved all of those I had set as a keen 24 years old. I had had some great development conversations and agreed objectives for many projects and contacts since then, but I hadn’t actually thought about my personal goals. Worse still, when I sat myself down and tried to visualise where I saw myself in 5 or 10 years’ time, each time a vision came into view, the veil of reality quickly followed. I realised that since achieving those early goals, life had just ‘happened’ to me. The pathways I had trodden weren’t proactive steps towards achieving a goal but more reacting to events that had happened.
Now I know I’m sure I’m not the only one facing this problem, so I started to do some research on setting goals, but time after time it led back to the familiar instruction – start by thinking about what you want to achieve. That was my sticking point…I didn’t know what I wanted to achieve. Did goals always have to be about the destination or could they be about the journey? A goal is defined as an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envisions,plans and commits to achieve within a finite time. Similar to a purpose or aim, the anticipated result guides the reaction. So, what about instead of starting by identifying what I wanted to achieve, I thought about what I needed in my life in order feel happy and fulfilled? Could these ideas still be defined as goals?
The good part of having to tread reactive pathways is that you do get to learn which ones you like enough to choose to walk again. I considered the following questions:
- What activities bring a smile to my face?
- What activities do I like to spend the most time on?
- What activities am I typically doing when I enter the zone?
- What are the ones I really have to force myself to stay focused?
- What environment works best for me?
Answering these questions was so much easier; thinking about the journey instead of the destination was so much easier. This way I could begin to assemble the different elements of my journey but instead of having a defined end point, I had a series of components that I would achieve, still within a finite time, but I wasn’t defining my final destination. I could still create my vision board as I already had the pictures and words to represent the experiences, items and feelings I wanted to attract into my life. The pictures already spoke to me on an emotional level as they were what I needed in my life in order to feel fulfilled and happy. The whole picture was my goal instead of one or two specific destinations.
So next time you feel like the guy I observed in the office I have recently been working in, who said that if we couldn’t find him at any point that day, we were to go look in the pond because defining three personal goals for the year ahead was driving him to distraction, maybe consider the journey instead of the destination. After all, a goal can be as simple as ‘taking a 20-minute walk at lunchtime three times a week consistently for 90% of the working year’. It is after all still specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely, and it can be evaluated and reviewed. Therefore, in my book, it is still a goal. And just think, if we all managed to achieve this goal, how much we would improve our wellbeing – a subject I’ll save for another time.