From January 1 and into the first months of the New Year this news is everywhere: How to Reach Your Goals. Everywhere you turn there’s trumpeting news on how goals must be written; and how goals should never be written. There’s media coverage on how establishing goals is the only way to find success; and how establishing goals is a sure-fire way to doom your plans to failure at the get-go.
It’s no wonder that today’s news leaves you feeling that it’s pointless to even tackle creating goals in the first place.
No matter which camp you belong to, there is a sound, rational, and logical way to approach this problem. Articles that feature anti-goal setting headlines usually do so to grab your attention. The gist of the article, however, will typically state that goals truly are important, but they need to be established using their secret methodologies. The “secret,” in fact, is not a secret at all.
There’s undisputed proof that goals work. In order to test this statement, look no further than the weight loss industry. Have you ever heard of NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, or Weight Watchers meal programs? Of course you have. The reason these companies exist isn’t just because people set goals to lose weight. They exist because these companies (and their marketing departments) understand the importance of providing a product that serves specific, definable, and measured results. Programs that offer solutions – in the form of some sort of action plan – wouldn’t exist if goals didn’t work. Goals must be established in order for any planned and pragmatic forward motion to occur.
On the contrary, imagine seeing a commercial advertising a new weight loss program called, Sensible Eating. Rather than the specific “here’s what you’re gonna get” promo, this program doesn’t define what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, or even how much the program will cost. The Sensible Eating program features a philosophy that they call – It’s All Up to You. They feature no guidelines. They simply ask that you pay up front and they promise that you’ll succeed.
If you saw the Sensible Eating program offered on late night TV, how likely would you be to whip out your credit card and BUY NOW? How confident would you feel about purchasing this undefined program? Your likelihood of investing in this program would probably hover between when pigs fly and never. Why invest your hard-earned dollars when you’ve been given absolutely no details?
That’s exactly where goals succeed and fail – it’s all in the details.
Choosing the imaginary Sensible Eating program would be utterly silly. How could you ever know if you’re successful or not? How can you expect to take action with no action plan? In the same way, following a life of “hoping” to heal but creating no action plan to do so is to create a frustrating plan in futility.
When it comes to creating your own goals – and then the resulting action plans – I want you to consider three phases – investment, details, and action. One leads to the others. Where you invest your time (not to mention money) is where you place your focus. When you focus on something (like a plan) the details naturally follow. Once the details are in place, a plan of attack (action) is easy to implement.
As an example, let’s evaluate a simple goal such as getting better sleep at night.
In order to make that goal happen, first analyze its importance. Is it something that you truly desire? While that may seem like an obvious question, don’t overlook it. Many people establish goals that have nothing to do with their personal desires or interests.
Next, jot down a few specific things about your goal to help clarify your intentions. Ask yourself a series of questions. Are you looking to get more sleep or to experience a deeper sleep cycle? Do you fall asleep easily and then wake up or have a difficult time falling asleep in the first place? What’s preventing you from sleep now? Is your mind preoccupied? Are you unable to emotionally shut off at night? Are you in pain and unable to get comfortable? Is it your physical surroundings such as your pillow or mattress? What about your sleepwear?
These starter questions will help you to create a guideline for tackling that particular goal. Perhaps you need to establish a consistent sleep hygiene routine. Or you need to address your pain management practices such as nutrition, vital supplements, and fitness (stretching, yoga, tai chi, etc.). Maybe these questions make it clear to you that you need to address and manage the stress in your life. Implementing meditative practices before bed such as prayer, listening to soothing music, soaking in a nighttime warm Epsom salt bath, practicing deep breathing, etc. can prove beneficial. It’s also possible that organization may be part of your sleep issue. Maybe you need to plan your following day’s activities the night before? Or you need to structure your to-do’s in a way that’s realistic and doable (instead of unrealistic and defeating).
Can you see how this simple analysis can help you to crystalize your intentions? I want to clear up a gross misconception here when it comes to goal-setting: You don’t have to know how you’re going to achieve your goal in order to create an action plan.
The point is to flesh out your ideas regarding what you’re truly looking for. Then the details of beginning steps naturally come to mind. For example, when you think of stress management, five or more relaxation techniques may have popped into your mind. Notice that you’ll only take action on what appeals to you. Or, maybe nothing popped into your mind. If that’s the case, you need to ask yourself some more questions. Dig a bit deeper into the idea. What do you believe is causing your stress? What type of stress management techniques have you tried in the past? What stress management techniques have you recently read about or seen on TV? Let yourself dwell on the question for a while if needed.
Whatever is the object of your focus, will soon be the object of your awareness. What this means is that when you decide to focus on something, you’ll suddenly notice that you’re hearing, seeing, and running into all sorts of information on that subject. This is a very common – not to mention useful – phenomenon.
Now that we’ve established the steps needed in the Investment Phase of goal-setting and we’ve teased out the questions that help to fill in the Details Phase, it’s time to create the Action Phase.
Let’s say – for the sake of simplified demonstration – that these are the details of your better night’s rest goal:
You currently are in bed for an adequate amount of time, but you desire deeper sleep.
You rarely have a consistent bedtime.
You fall into bed, exhausted, and ruminate over what you didn’t accomplish that day.
You have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep due to family worries.
Your mother-in-law has recently moved in with you.
Your children are having difficulties in school.
You’re dealing with financial struggles and pressures.
You also wonder if your feather pillow may be doing your neck more harm than good.
Once you’ve established some of these details, tackle them one by one. Analyze possible steps to take to look for a resolution. Remember that you don’t have to worry about whether or not the steps you take will “fix” the problem. Your goal is to take action. Your goal is not to have all the answers.
Using the above scenario, you could pray, meditate, and do some light research on the problems that seem to pop into your mind as a priority. You may find that establishing a family routine in the evening can help to alleviate the stress of an unending to-do list. Delegating and assigning to family members, specific tasks such as packing lunches, preparing meals, doing laundry/housework, and organizing school papers can help the family work together as a cohesive unit. Writing down your daily to-do tasks – and checking them off as they’re done – can go a long way toward establishing a routine of thankfulness and gratitude. At bedtime, jot down your main accomplishments for the day and any tasks for the following day that you don’t want to forget.
After putting a few of these practices into place, you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating toward magazine features that express how to transition your family to deal with living in a multi-generational home. You’ll find yourself gravitating toward articles, news reports, and conversations that discuss stress management and techniques that have worked for others. You’ll notice that conversations with your spouse and others regarding money have become less stressful and more productive. You’ll even find yourself noticing ads and informational programs discussing neck pain and the best pillow types for your circumstances.
It just takes a matter of focus.
And, focus doesn’t happen without establishing the defined goal in the first place.
Stay tuned for future posts on this vital subject that will illustrate a few more details on what specific characteristics your successful goals should include.
So, here’s an investment question for you. If you were to invest your money in someone else’s goal-setting success, would you rather invest in Person A or Person B? Person A says, “I’m going to get better sleep in 2014.” Person B says, “I’m going to get better sleep in 2014 and I’ve written down the action steps I plan to take to reach my goal. And, here they are….”
Here’s to you being a Person B in the New Year and to feeling deeply invested in the success of your own health goals.
I wish you the absolute best in 2014!
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.