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Tuesday
Aug152006

Guilty Goals

Do you really want your goals to come true?

My second book How to Make Your Dreams Come True seemed to be a book that people either loved or hated. It never sold particularly well, although many people thought it was brilliant. In the end I came to the conclusion that one of the main problems was the title. It didn’t have the immediate “yes, I need that” factor of Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play.

In fact the more I thought about it the more I realised that people would be very ambivalent about the idea of making their dreams come true. Dreams are funny things. I think we are always haunted by the fairy stories we heard as children in which people are given three wishes which always end in disaster. “Be careful of what you wish for – you might get it”.

Some dreams are nightmares, and some dreams we suspect would be nightmares if they came true. It may be great to have dreams of being rich and famous and surrounded by lovers, but what’s your spouse or partner going to think about it if it starts to turn into reality – or your friends – or your parents? In fact do you really want the responsibility of being rich and attractive all the time? Look at the mess so many “celebrities” get themselves into.

So what can we do about our “guilty” dreams? If we try to turn them into goals, they are just going to become “guilty” goals. If we are guilty about them then we will be half hearted. Yet they probably contain some very important truths about the things that we value so it would be a shame to just sit on them for ever and feel that we had wasted our lives.

One exercise I’ve always found valuable in this sort of situation is to examine the negative feelings we have about a goal. It’s a good idea first of all to examine why we want the goal in the first place. So let’s have a look at a fairly common goal: “I want to start my own business”. First list all the reasons why you want to do this. Then list all the reasons why you don’t want to do it. The two lists might come out something like this:

I want to have my own business because:

I hate working for a boss

I want to be able to set my own working hours

I’ve got some great ideas for products

I want to make more money

It’ll give me a greater sense of achievement

Etc etc

 

I don’t want to have my own business because:

It’ll involve a lot of work

I won’t have the security of a regular salary

My family won’t like it

It’ll take a long time to get going

I might lose all my money

Etc etc.

The secret now is to turn all these statements into positives. The question to ask yourself is “That’s what I don’t want. What do I want?”

In the first list all the statements are already positive except for the first one “I hate working for a boss.” So you don’t want to work for a boss. What do you want? “I want to work for myself”. You now have a positive statement in place of the negative one.

 I hate working for a boss I want to work for myself

The second list is full of negatives. Try the same technique on them. Take the first item on the list “It’ll involve a lot of work”. So you don’t want it to involve a lot of work. What do you want? You may have to think a bit before coming up with the right answer for you. It might be “I want my work to be challenging and rewarding” or “I want to have a good balance between work and play” or whatever is important to you.

It’ll involve a lot of work I want to have a good balance between work and play

Be careful though if your answer is another negative, e.g. “I don’t want to do any work at all”. In that case you need to ask the question again: So I don’t want to do any work at all, what do I want? Your answer might be “I want to sail round the world” or “I want to lie in bed all day”. Either way, you have discovered something important about yourself!

Once you’ve completed the exercise, you will now have one list of positive things which you want about this goal. Looking at these you can begin to see how you could create a goal which you could be one hundred per cent committed to rather than guilty about.

Monday
Aug142006

Listen to Your Heart

“Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.” Meister Eckhart.

I’ve written before about the benefits of having a rule that you will only accept new commitments to which you can say a whole-hearted “yes”. In accordance with this rule, a simple way of finding out whether you really want to agree to something is to ask yourself the question: “Can I say a whole-hearted yes to this?” If you decide that you can’t, then that gives you a straightforward and honest way of declining: “I have a rule that I only take on commitments which I can support whole-heartedly, and I don’t feel I can in these circumstances”.

Today I’m going to spend a little time writing about the importance of the heart in our daily lives. I mean by this the heart in the psychological or spiritual sense, though one doesn’t want to rule out entirely the role of the heart as an anatomical organ. Consider how quickly and sensitively your heart rate and blood pressure respond to your feelings and emotions. We all know exactly what we mean by the expression “whole-hearted” but I think most of us would have difficulty explaining exactly what being “whole-hearted” actually consists of in anatomical or psychological terms. I’m certainly not qualified to talk about what is meant by “heart” in this context in terms of psychology or neuroscience. But the one thing I am sure about is that when we use the common expressions which feature the word “heart”, we mean something which is a combination of our minds, our bodies, our intellects, our feelings and emotions. In other words we are getting near to the core of who we really are or, as the saying goes, we are “getting to the heart of the matter”.

Some similar phrases which we use every day are: “His heart wasn’t in it”; “She put her whole heart into it”; “It was a half-hearted attempt”. The one thing that all these phrases have in common is that they imply that a “whole-hearted” commitment is desirable and a “half-hearted” one is undesirable. Doing things half-heartedly doesn’t produce good results or impress one’s fellow workers, and a half- hearted person is one who is bored, uncommitted and not enjoying their work.

Unfortunately for all sorts of reasons many of us find ourselves in situations where we don’t have our hearts in what we are doing. This is not good for the work or for the other people involved – and it’s not good for us. In this sort of situation the best question to ask yourself is “What is my heart saying?” I have known people who are afraid to ask that question because they are frightened of what the answer will be, but it is a general rule of life that it is always better to face up to things than try to bury them. The answer may be that you need to make a fresh commitment to the situation, or possibly that you need to extract yourself from the situation altogether.

This question “What is my heart saying?” is very versatile. Its usefulness isn’t just confined to finding out what you really feel about a situation. You can also use it for making decisions, for checking out impulses or sudden impressions, or simply for getting directions as to what to do next.

Monday
Aug142006

Little and Often!

Have you ever had the following scenario happen to you? You are given large task with a deadline several weeks off. Maybe it’s to write a report or an essay. Because you don’t have to do it immediately and of course you have loads of work already, you put it off “for now”. And before you know it, you wake up one morning to the fact that the deadline is almost upon you and you have to get the task done as an emergency.

Many people have a tendency to lurch from emergency to emergency. But how many of their “emergencies” are genuinely urgent and how many owe their urgency to the fact that they have been left till the last minute as in this scenario? If we could deal with things on time so that the only emergencies we have are genuine ones, wouldn’t we find it a lot easier to control our work?

When you are given a task which doesn’t need to be done immediately, don’t put it off. You will do far better to start work on it as soon as possible and to do some work on it daily. Resolve to make full use of all the time you have before the deadline instead of putting it off till the last minute. This way you will be giving yourself time to work on the subject in a way which allows your brain to develop it at its own best pace. You will find that the project is much more easily completed this way.

This is the way our minds like working. It’s also when you think of it the way that our bodies like to work too. If you want to get fit, you know that the best way is regular exercise at least three times a week. Occasional huge bursts of exercise achieve very little, and can even be dangerous.

Exercise:

What I’m suggesting in this exercise is that you do exactly the opposite of what most people instinctively do. We tend to work on the project with the shortest deadline, the one that appears to be the most urgent. Here I’m asking you to do the exact opposite.

Make a list of all the current projects you have with their deadlines. Take the one with the most distant deadline and start doing some work on it every day. You may be surprised at how quickly it gets done. How will you feel when you finish it ages before the deadline with no rush and no crisis?

Now start on the project with the next longest deadline. What would happen if you did this with every project? Would you be much less stressed than you are now?

Monday
Aug142006

An Easy Challenge Revisited

In my newsletter of 7 November I wrote about an easy challenge. At the same time I asked for feedback on how people got on with it. Some people, including myself, have found the exercise to be so valuable that I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit it. Perhaps those of you who didn’t give it a go first time will be inspired to give it a try. (If you want to refresh your memory about the original article, it can be read at http://www.markforster.net/index.php? view=64)

A lot of people were kind enough to give me feedback. I was surprised though that quite a few of them seemed to have rather missed the point of the exercise – perhaps I didn’t explain it as clearly as I might have. One person told me that she had tried the exercise for two days running, had failed both days to score any points and felt that she had learned all she needed to learn. Another reckoned he had succeeded because he had done everything he had put on his list for several days running. The items he had put on his list were such things as getting up in the morning, eating breakfast and travelling to work. A third person did the exercise for three days, scoring four or five points each day, but made no effort to increase his score.

All of the above missed the main point of the exercise, which is that it is intended to be progressive. And as with any exercise in which you are competing against yourself, you need a mixture of success and failure in order to get the most out of it. Think of this exercise as being the mental equivalent of doing push-ups every day. You are competing against yourself to do more each day. Some days you will succeed and some days you will fail – but over a period of time you will get stronger and stronger.

The exercise is designed to practise you in two skills until they are instinctive. The first is the skill of being able to draw up a completely realistic list of tasks for the next day. The second is to be able work through this list every day until completion. As your skill increases the list should get progressively longer every day until it includes every single thing that you have to do. Once you have reached that stage, you are in complete control of your work.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t do other things during the day which aren’t on your list. It’s just that you don’t score any points for them if you do. There is absolutely no point in cheating because all that happens if you do is that you are cheating yourself out of the benefit of the exercise. Things which qualify as cheating include adding or deleting items on the list during the day.

Is it possible to achieve this? Certainly it is in my experience. My own scores have been 15, 34, 26, 28, 27. More important than the scores themselves, each day’s list included everything that I had to do. That’s right – everything that I had to do in order to remain completely on top of my work.

How can you construct a realistic list which will cover everything you have to do? My new book “Do It Tomorrow” – due out approximately mid-2006 - will tell you, and so will the two seminars which I am running in January.

Thursday
Aug102006

Vague Goals

A question I am often asked is how to set a goal when one is not really quite sure what one wants. As an example, someone may know that they want to get out of the work they are in at present, but have very little idea what they can do instead. A goal of “Get out of present job” isn’t really going to be very effective. “Find new career” may be a good starting point but is far too vague to help one to take effective action in the present (which is what all goals are about).

The problem most people have in this situation is that they have too much choice. There are thousands of different new careers out there and they can’t pin what they want down any more closely.

The important thing to realise here is that there is no one right job for them. There are probably loads of possible answers, which would satisfy them. The key here is to identify the things which must be in the final result if it is to be satisfactory. You don’t need to know everything about the final result, but what you do need to know is what is going to make it a satisfactory result rather than an unsatisfactory one.

So start asking yourself some questions about the new job. A good place to start is by writing down all the things you don’t want it to be, e.g.

I don’t want it to be in the city; I don’t want a long commute; I don’t want to have my boss on my back all the time; I don’t want to earn so little I can’t pay the bills, etc.

Then turn them round into positives: “I want to work in the country; I want to live close to the work; I want to be in control of my own work; I want to earn at least £x a year”

This can give you quite a detailed description of what is important to you about the job. You can then test out what is essential by asking yourself questions like “If everything else was right about the job, but the pay was the same as I’m getting now, would I be happy?”

You may have to go back and forth a few times, but this will give you the essentials of what you are looking for.

It’s really important to ask yourself these types of questions whatever you goal is. For instance if your goal is to write a book, is it important to you whether the book is a best-selling book or don’t you mind if only your friends and family ever read it? Obviously your answer to this question is going to make a lot of difference to the type of book you write and the action you are going to take in the present to start achieving your aim.

Remember that the whole point of goals is how they affect your actions in the present!

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