Achieving Your Dreams
by Dr. Peggy Marshall
A man knows not what harbor he seeks, If any wind is the right wind.
Every year most of us start the year with dreams that we want to make happen. I am calling it a dream for the purpose of this article because the dream is a stretch beyond your goals. Goals are the tactical part of the process and we will address them later in this article. The first question for you is-are these goals that you want for yourself or are you living someone else’s dream? Have you become numb to what you really want in order to be sensible or gain approval from someone else? 2012 can be your break-out year!! This is the year to get really clear on what you want and stop settling for less than that.
Let’s start with your vision. Did you know that high achievers have bigger visions? They have the perspective that anything can happen-so they let themselves dream big. You can too! Some of my clients create vision boards-that is they cut out pictures from magazines that represent their dreams. They keep these boards visible so that they can see them every day and maintain focus on what’s important. If you don’t have time for that you can write out your dreams on post-it notes or create them on your computer. Whatever you do, you want to be able to look at your dreams daily.
What’s really important is that the dream is yours! A few questions to help you get really clear about whether this is your dream or someone else’s:
Why are you pursing this dream? To what degree are you
choosing this dream freely? When you are completely honest with yourself, do you want this dream or is it something that your family or others want for you? Sometimes people see qualities in us that would make us “good” at something so they encourage us to move in that direction. It may not be your direction.
Why should you pursue this dream? Is it worth it? Believe it or not, dreams take our energy and our focus. We have to make sacrifices for our dreams to become real. Are you ready for the sacrifices?
What competes for your attention? Is the timing for living into your dream good? I tell clients that the timing for pursuing a dream is never good-if we wait for the timing to be just right we might put off the pursuit of dreams forever. A better question is what is competing for your time? We all have commitments that we have to honor. Your decision point is whether you can carve out the time to work on your dream in a way that you see progress. If not, you might want to think about ways that you can take small steps in preparation for fully engaging in the pursuit of your dream.
Now we turn your dreams into reality? Once you are clear on your vision, you need a path. That’s where goals come in. Goal setting is a powerful tool that allows us to determine and stay on our paths, stretch beyond our limits and reach into our limitless potential. Goals focus our attention and action, mobilize our energy and effort, incentivize our search for solid strategies and increase our persistence. In addition when we meet our goals our self-esteem increases and we begin to walk into all that we can be.
A few questions to that help clarify your goals:
Does the goal provide for outcomes and activities? I want to lose weight by exercising three times a week. I want to prepare for a career change by interviewing at least two people per month about career paths I want to pursue.
Is the goal sustainable? This is tricky-many people start the New Year with a goal of exercising daily, cutting calories too deeply, etc. Then the distractions and competing agendas enter and they have lost momentum with the goal. Make sure whatever the goal-it is something you can achieve.
Speaking of achievable-Is can you write the goal in SMART language? Is it Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Achievable, and Time-bound? Specific goals are clear, direct and focus on what you what to happen. I eat breakfast every day…I read something uplifting everyday….I am keeping a gratitude journal daily. If you can measure it you can manage it. A good practice is to track your progress at least weekly. It’s great feedback and keeps you motivated. Attainable goals lead you to attitudes, abilities, and activities that take you closer to your goals. Your attitude changes and look forward to different foods for breakfast…you feel more energy and are more focused after eating breakfast. We talked about realistic above so that leaves time-bound. Having a time-frame for accomplishing your goal gives you a sense of urgency to accomplish it. If you just want to get more exercise, lose weight, look for a new job you are not holding yourself accountable to starting, measuring and completing your goal. The SMART process is an easy guide to ensuring your are successful.
Once you have your SMART goals, you need to determine which action steps will help you achieve them. Action steps can be dicey. We may think we are moving in the right direction, only to find out we are off course. Here are some questions to ask yourself about action steps:
My personal favorite-what do you need to start, stop, and continue to be successful? If we are trying to eat differently to lose weight or be healthier, we need to have healthy foods available. So we might need to start shopping lists, read advertisements for the best deals, or shop more frequently. We also might need to stop driving through fast food restaurants, picking up donuts on our way to work, or having that mid-afternoon candy bar. If we don’t think about what we need to stop doing, we get caught in our automatic behaviors (habits) and find ourselves doing things that negatively impact our goals. In addition, we need to think about all the things we already do that help us stay on course. We may already carry high energy bars with us, typically eat salads at lunch, or buy fruit in bulk. Reinforcing what we already do that helps us maintain our focus on our goal it just one more way to increase success.
How are you going to manage the obstacles? Thinking about the potential obstacles is important because you have a plan should they happen. If you don’t have a plan, you return to habits or make an excuse for “just this once” and you find you are off your path.
Finally, what are the rewards for the new behaviors? We typically think of financial/material rewards for accomplishing goals which are effective. You also might want to think even bigger about ways that you can use time and relationships to reward new behaviors. For instance, if you maintain your exercise program for a month, your partner/parent/friend gives you two hours on a Saturday to do “whatever”. This works particularly well if your partner/parent/friend is also working on a goal so that you can reciprocate.
You now have a blueprint for achieving your dreams in 2012. May you dream big, achieve more than you believed possible, and have the greatest year ever!