January is a time when many of us take stock and think about what we want to achieve in the coming year. Many people make New Year’s Resolutions at this time of year. Because let’s face it, most of us spend a couple of weeks eating a little too much and drinking more than we usually do. So it feels only right to re-set, re-focus, and think about making ourselves that little bit better. After all it is so easy to get stuck in a rut.
In 2021 I was introduced to the experience of goal setting, and the concept of “designing your own life.” I suppose the best way to describe this is getting specific, clear and focused about what it is you want to use your time doing, and where you want to get to in life. The great thing about setting goals is that it really focuses your mind. When you are clear about what you want to achieve, you can be more focused on this. Your brain starts to see and take opportunities that you didn’t realise were there. Isn’t it the case that, for example, that when you buy a blue car, you start to spot blue cars everywhere when you were previously unaware of them being there. Or as soon as you have a positive pregnancy test, you start to see pregnant women all around you, that you hadn’t noticed before. It is simply because your brain is focused on that thing, so it sees more of it.
Throughout the last year I was able to work with goal setting, both for myself and other people. In my work I had the privilege of helping a team of young people set goals for a traineeship they were undertaking. Personally I did an exercise that really helped me understand and get clear about what it is I am looking for in life, and what I want my day to day/ week to week/ year to year experiences to be. It is a simple exercise called “Your Perfect Life.”
The way to do it is to think about what your life would be like if it was perfect: if you had nothing stopping you, no barriers to getting all that you wanted, what would your life look like? If you think about this, you can make a list. It is really important to think about all aspects of your life, for example work, family, extracurricular activities, social relationships. Some examples of questions you can ask yourself are:
How many hours a day/ week do you want to work?
What do you do for work?
What is your health, fitness and wellbeing like?
How much money do you make?
What does your family life/ relationship/ partnership look like?
What do you do in your spare time?
What does your social life look like?
Once you have written these, you can write down next to them how you think you will feel when you have achieved these things. And when have done this, a third bit of information is a date by which you want to have achieved this.
A key to doing this properly is to be as clear and specific as you possibly can be, and to write in the present tense, as if it has already happened.
I’ll give you some examples:
“I work four days a week from 10am to 2pm. I feel empowered, satisfied and free to pick up my children from school, which makes me feel happy. July 2022.”
“I travel four times a year to Barbados, Greece, Switzerland and France. I spend a week in each place. I feel relaxed, renewed and ready to face new challenges. September 2023”
“I am fit enough to go on a three day hike up on the Scottish Mountains. I have climbed Ben Nevis. I feel elated, healthy, renewed and proud of my achievement. April 2022.”
“I spend an hour of one to one time with each of my children every week, doing an activity they enjoy. I listen to them and I enjoy their company. I feel connected to my kids, loved, and knowledgeable about who they are, and what their life is like right now. February 2022.”
In this way, you can write down all the things that your perfect life is made up of. It will be dramatically different for each of us. I highly recommend that if you do this, you don’t take a long time about it, but that you write down what comes to you spontaneously. That you let yourself dream. You might surprise yourself. You might realise your job is actually not what you want to be doing, or that you want to work less, or more. You might find a little desire to start a new sport, or take up a new hobby.
Once your list is ready, it is much easier to start to move towards these things that you want to achieve. And because you have written them down in the present tense, your brain starts to look for opportunities to make them so. This way, if an opportunity arises for you to do the very thing you intend to do, you will be more aware of it, and more likely to take it. Things might not happen perfectly. You might not get your perfect life at the time that you originally intended. Also your desires and intentions may change. But having it written down is a great starting point: an idea of where you are going, in order that you recognise when you get there.