Goal Setting

by Arielle Essex

The ultimate goal

Whatever your goals or dreams in life, the chances are they are ultimately about making you happy. This is the ultimate goal: happiness. So what is happiness?

It is a state of mind, a feeling, an emotion that you experience in the present, often thought to be a result of things going on around you at the time. Look closer, though, and you’ll notice that every moment you actually make a choice about being happy or not. In fact, your happiness is based on what you choose to think.

Many people believe that their happiness depends on achieving the goals they want. They think or say ‘I’ll be happy when...’ And then they trot out a list of conditions and outcomes that need to be satisfied. They think that this will motivate them to take action towards their goals. They believe that one day their ship will come in and they will live happily ever after.

But if you do this, you are effectively denying your happiness in the present while you wait for this uncertain future. Comparing the present against this perfect future often leads to dissatisfaction and other negative feelings. Sadly, if you fall into this way of thinking, it will diminish your energy, passion and attractiveness, making your goals much harder to achieve.

To prove this, think back to a time when you were happy, even if for only a moment. Whenever that was, the chances are you hadn’t yet achieved any of your current goals (because you hadn’t even thought of them yet). So achieving your current goals was not a pre-requisite for happiness. While you think back to that happy time, notice also whether or not other good things came your way as a result of being in such a cheerful state.

Achieving goals is much easier when you approach them with the passion and energy of happiness. It’s as though your happiness attracts happiness. As well as generating good feelings all around you, you also get the happiness that comes with your goal.

Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole end and aim of human existence.

Aristotle

The ultimate goal behind every goal is happiness. Without question, the most productive attitude to hold if you are to achieve any goal, including the ultimate goal of happiness, is one embracing positive thinking and happiness. In order to achieve your goal, you need to be able to choose to be in a happy state.

So the interesting question becomes: how can you be happier, whenever you want to be?

Ways to choose a happier state

Achieving happiness is generally much easier than you think.

1. Acknowledge everything that you’ve already achieved

The fastest way to increase your self esteem and other pleasant feelings is to take note of how well you’re already doing. Notice, also, what good qualities and talents you have. Most us are too hard on ourselves and forget to give ourselves a pat on the back when we deserve it. Instead, we just keep moving the goal posts, driving ourselves to score higher and berating ourselves for not being totally perfect.

Take a few minutes right now to write down everything you have achieved over the last year – no matter how big or how small, and even if it’s only half done. Acknowledge every little positive step you’ve taken, whether or not it resulted in complete success. Don’t be tempted to think about the things you didn’t achieve – just put them aside for now. Do your best to focus on the positive and feel grateful for each achievement. Give yourself some well-earned praise.

2. Reframe and learn from any mistakes or disappointments

The trick here is to find relevant, valid and useful understandings to help you change your perception of events and leave you feeling good. It’s unhelpful to let past mistakes weigh you down. Letting go will release your energy to do better. Once you’ve learned the lesson, you can forgive the mistake and forget the bad feeling.

Write down a list of every mistake, disappointment and thing that ‘went wrong’ over the last year. Then ask yourself the following questions about each item:

  • What did I learn as a result?
  • What could have worked better?
  • What were the advantages of having that happen?
  • What did I get to avoid, put off, prevent or not have to face?
  • What would I do differently?
  • What advice would I give to someone else about this?
  • What guidance would my most inspiring mentor give me?

The quality of your answers will determine how successfully you can change your state. Avoid any temptation to cynicism. Strive for honest, helpful truths.

3. Treat yourself more kindly

Talk to yourself in a pleasant voice, and tell yourself what to do rather than what not to do. Encourage instead of berating yourself. Tune into your genuine desires – the urge to do what makes you happiest – and fit many of those into every day, whenever you can. Even a five-minute break that makes you feel good is worth it.

4. Do the tough stuff first

Not only will this get things done more efficiently, but it will free your time and make you feel good in the process. Instead of frittering your time on small, less essential tasks, such as answering emails and making chatty phone calls, tackle your biggest challenges. You’ll get a great sense of satisfaction from having crossed a major item off the list.

5. Set and pursue worthwhile goals

When your goals are aligned with your values and purpose, they create the conditions for you to be happy as you pursue them. Working towards a worthwhile goal can make you feel more alive, energised and happy, whether or not you achieve it. If you do achieve it, so much the better! Of course, why would you ever want to pursue a goal that wasn’t worthwhile?

6. Smile more

Raise your head and eyes and look up instead of down. Straighten your back, stand, walk and move as if you were happy. Breathe deeply and relax. Repeatedly say to yourself ‘Mind alert, body calm’. Act as if you were happy. For no reason at all, smile like you mean it. You will find that your smile is infectious, and when people smile back, you will have all the reason you need to smile for real.

Worthwhile goals

Worthwhile goals are ones that you can get passionate about. They have that magic X factor that puts the X into eXcitement. They have juice; they have voltage and that magic something that turns you on, that really gets you going. These are the goals that put a great big smile on your face every time you think about them.

If you ask people what goals they have that really get them going, you will get many different answers. Each person has their own individual view as to what goals are worth going for – goals that really motivate them and give them some sense of purpose and direction. There’s no set of perfect goals that will work for everyone. The way to discover what’s worthwhile for you is to dig deeper.

The internal compass we use to point to our worthwhile goals is made up of our values. Values are those things which are important to us and are often unconscious and taken for granted. Yet our values dictate how we perceive situations, what we believe and how we behave. They are our internal standards and measures as to what is good or bad, right or wrong. This values compass guides every decision and action we take in our lives.

Think how different a life would be if lived from values such as independence, daring, fun, action and challenge compared with a life lived from values of love, comfort, security, intimacy and peace. There are so many possible combinations of values, it is little wonder there are so many worthwhile goals.

Once you are clear about what is important to you – your values – then you can choose powerful and worthwhile goals that fit you as a person. When your goals are aligned with your values, they are easier to achieve, fun to pursue and will provide genuine fulfilment in your life.

What are your values?

Do you think you know your values? Many values are unconscious until someone treads on them. Most people seldom think about their values. They only notice them by their effects, or by what moves them emotionally. What makes you angry? What would you be willing to die for? What do you love? Behind the answers to those questions lie your values.

For a good analogy, take a magnet and some iron filings. Place the filings on a piece of paper and then hold the magnet underneath. You cannot see the magnet, but you can certainly see the effect it has on all the filings. As you move the magnet, the filings line up in different ways. Similarly, you can’t see your values, but as they change and move, you can see the effect they have on all the behaviours and decisions you take in your life. From the pattern of the filings, you can deduce where the magnet is. From the pattern of the behaviours in your life, you can deduce what your values are.

Clarifying your values saves time and helps you make better decisions. When you have taken the trouble to become aware of what important values are being met in a specific situation, there’s no confusion. You just respond appropriately. Not only will you make fewer mistakes, but you will also be happier with the decisions you make, regardless of the consequences. Plus, when you act in alignment with what is most important to you, this will energise and re-vitalise everything you do.

Exercise

Use the Values exercise to discover your values.

Don’t know what you want? See Goal brainstorming.

Zone experiences

You may have heard the expression ‘in the Zone’ used to describe a state of balance and effortless flow while undertaking an activity. Being in the zone is probably the optimum, ultimate state of balance – even beyond happiness. These moments can happen during any activity and always accompany extraordinary success.

Think back through your life and write down a list of times you can remember being in the zone while doing something. These were things you just loved to do so much that time seemed to stand still. In the zone, there’s a sense of effortlessness, heightened awareness, increased wisdom and actions that seem to do themselves. The feeling may have lasted only a few minutes, but if you are lucky, you might have experienced days of being in the zone. Chances are these zone experiences happened when you were in complete alignment with who you are, your values and your purpose.

Once you have this list of zone experiences, look for the common factors that underpin them or helped them to occur. Then think about what goals might create more of them!