Alice came to a fork in the road. “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
When you don’t have goals, you’re like Alice, wandering around in a strange land.
Sometimes, however, we don’t want to set goals because we’ve been disappointed by past shortfalls. Sometimes we want something different but we don’t know what. We have long lists of what we don’t want because it’s easier to identify our pain than our pleasure.
It’s important that goals be clear, and relevant to where you are on your journey right now. Perhaps at one time you had a goal to have a certain type of job – a senior executive position, top salesperson, or owning your business. Then life happened. You had kids, your spouse lost their job, you lost your job or got divorced, or you finally admitted that your chosen career doesn’t light your fire anymore, if it ever did.
Goals should support you on your journey like a compass providing direction. They shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself or be what someone else wants for you, even your own self five years ago. Check in with your goals on a regular basis. I do this at New Years, but anytime will do.
Here are my three favorite tips for getting clear about your goals.
- Instead of thinking about what you want to do, have or accomplish, think about how you want to feel and work your way back from there. If you want to feel happy and energized in your job, it’s possible you can create that feeling in your current situation perhaps by changing your perspective or taking on new responsibilities. Or it might become really clear that you’ll never have that feeling in your current job so it’s time to look for something new.
Put on your ‘coach’ hat and ask questions to peel back the layers.
For example: How can I reorganize my day so I have time to work out? That’s a pragmatic time management question, and I can come up with lots of options that will look great on paper. If I dig a little deeper, I would ask: How can I reorganize my day to have the time to work out so that I enjoy it. OK, that’s a different question and calls for a different answer. The time management answer probably had me getting up an hour earlier (which I hate), but when I require joy as part of the solution, I come up with options like finding a walking buddy or taking a class. Then I can tackle the time management piece.
- Plant a seed and let your brain go to work. Our minds are amazing computers, but to solve big problems they need time to process. In my corporate job my staff learned to bring problems or questions to me towards the end of the day. My brain was full, so I couldn’t give them an answer on the spot, but once I got into the car driving home the answers would bubble up. So plant the seed then a break.
- Language is key. Have you ever tried to recall a dream and have it just fade away as you try to describe it? In my coaching practice I use assessments with all of my clients. They are an objective third voice that provides needed perspective, and they put language around vague concepts. The more you can put words and pictures around what you want, the more concrete and real your goals will become. I love dream boarding. I use a bulletin board and then rifle through magazines to find pictures and words that inspire me and convey what I want or how I want to feel. Try it! Using a bulletin board lets you easily make changes and improvements as you become more clear.
Try these tips work for both your personal and professional goals and share your comments below.