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How to adapt goals so they work for you

July 13, 2022

Who thinks about goals in July? Holidays yes, but goals? Goals are typically things you think about at the start (January, full of good intentions) and at the end (hmm, appraisal next week, now what were my objectives?) and very little in between, which is just one reason so many go unmet. However, I’ve been giving an unusual amount of thought to goals recently, and I’ll tell you why. 

Aiming for 50 on the Minster Way 

So you might know by now I like walking. Turning 50 this year, my good friend Rachel and I have challenged ourselves to walk 2500 miles between us in 2022 (that’s 50×50). To boost our efforts we’re doing a sponsored walk along The Minster Way in our August birthday week. Continuing the theme, it’s a 50 mile path linking the magnificent minsters of Beverley and York. The photo is our destination as we’ll see it in our final few steps! 

To complete it involves walking ten miles a day for five days. To some people that might not be that far. For me, it’s quite a step up from my daily average. I expect the physical challenge will come in mustering the stamina to go the longer distance and pushing through any discomfort (a dodgy left achilles). I’m hoping to change my perception that I’m not that physically robust. 

Challenging perceptions, changing perspectives 

But there’s also a mental challenge in telling people I’m doing this and being publicly accountable because setting goals is a relatively new thing for me. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that, as goals are core to the coaching work I do with clients. I knew the benefit of having a goal in theory, I’ve trained employees in how to make objectives SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound), but secretly, I used to find them a bit tedious and daunting. 

You see, I’m an organised person. It’s one of my greatest strengths and it comes in handy in lots of situations but taken too far it becomes pesky perfectionism. The result? I’d labour to make sure my objectives were SO smart and shiny, you could see your face in them. My energy and motivation dried up trying to define them the ‘right’ way and a fear of failure, the insidious whisper of perfectionism that goes “if I can’t do this perfectly, I’d best not do it at all” held me back from setting more. 

It’s not just down to motivation 

When you reflect on the impact of fears, thoughts and beliefs like these, you begin to see that achieving goals isn’t just down to motivation. It’s more complex than that. We all have different patterns of behaviours that help or hinder us. It’s useful to step back and think about them so you can use goals to achieve personal change when you want it, in a way that works for you. 

Goals that work for you 

For example, if you tend to be restless and jump between projects, short, ‘sprinter’ goals might work better than endurance ones requiring sustained effort. Quick wins build ‘completer capability’, your belief that you’re someone who achieves things they set their mind to. 

Goals can start anytime, not just January. In fact, New Year resolutions are harder because they carry such expectation, not least the expectation that you’ll have given up by February! That said, if you’re someone who likes to work methodically and you get a kick out of tracking your progress, an annual goal setting cycle might suit you. 

We’re more likely to keep going with things that are intrinsically interesting to us. This is especially relevant for people pleasers (I suspect you’ll know if you are one!) who need to beware of agreeing to goals for other people’s ends rather than their own. So ask yourself before you commit: does this excite me now and will it still matter to me when the sun’s out and I get an invitation to do something else?

There are those who are naturally goal-orientated and it’s tempting to envy their drive. But I’ve learned that for some people, their self-esteem is so dependant on constant achievement that they’re onto the next goal to prove their worth without stopping to enjoy the one they’ve just completed. If this is you, rope in those who have supported you so it becomes a celebration of a collective achievement and less intensely personal. 

Experiment, see what works 

These are just some of the things I’ve noticed and reflected on as I’ve been making friends with goals over the last few years. Swapping the perfectionism for a spirit of experimentation has helped me see how I can use goals not just to achieve things but to remove limiting beliefs about myself. 

If you’ve got a particular goal you’re struggling with or you’d like to try some experimentation too to see what’s possible, contact me. I’d love to see how we could work together on this. 

A final thought from one of my favourite Bible verses, Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” and that includes goals! There is a time for setting and pursuing goals but there is also a time for rest, for wandering, for surprise discoveries, letting life happen and taking opportunities as they come. 

Whichever time you are in right now, I wish you well in it.

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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