January is the time of year when many write down a list of resolutions that encompass all the habits they wish to change or goals they hope will bring them what they desire.
As the year progresses, success is measured by whether habits have stuck and goals have been achieved. People who ‘fail’ at even one goal or resolution may feel guilt, shame, invalidated and disappointed with themselves. Those who do succeed may feel a sense of achievement but may wonder why life doesn’t suddenly feel amazing.
The problem with goal-setting
Traditional resolutions and goals miss the point. Most are based on external drivers leading to dissatisfaction, resentment, frustration and emptiness because they’re not bringing you want you really want. Instead they may be driven by what people expect of you; a sense of obligation because you’ve come so far or invested so much in a particular direction or simply because it’s what others seem to be doing.
The greatest clue a goal is externally driven?
You feel you should do it.
True fulfilment and happiness comes from first understanding your deepest desires and how you truly want to feel inside every day. By identifying the values and feelings that matter most to you, you’ll set goals that are meaningful and you’ll be even more motivated to achieve them. It doesn’t mean you’re any less ambitious. In fact, you’re more likely to be successful. Plus, you’ll not only feel great at the end, you’ll feel great on the way.
Identify your true values
The first step is to get clear on your values because these are your primary motivators and drive your feelings. Reach for a notebook and write down the answers to these questions:
- What is truly important to me?
- Why is that? What does it bring me?
- Is there anything that’s more important than that? (Keep repeating this question until you have no more answers or you find yourself going around in circles).
- What can’t I live without?
By the time you’ve finished this exercise, you’ll have listed a number of words and phrases that reflect your true values. Highlight up to seven that matter most to you.
Choose how you want to feel
The second step is to decide how you want to feel this year. Ask yourself:
- What makes me feel good?
- What makes me feel energised?
- When life is most joyful, how am I feeling?
Write down all the emotions you love to feel and pick up to seven.
You may also find it useful to reverse all of these questions to identify your ‘shadow feelings’ – these are the emotions you want to experience less or avoid completely.
Work outwards to your goals
Goals driven by values and desired feelings sound like:
- “Because I love myself, I’m going to nurture my body with healthy foods,” rather than “I hate my body so I’m going to force myself to lose two stone in two weeks.”
- “I believe in myself so I’m going to put myself forward for that promotion I’ve always wanted,” rather than “Because my family is nagging me, I’d better try and get promoted this year”.
Honouring your values and feelings is not selfish. The happier and healthier you are, the stronger you will be for others. The more people depend on you, the more important it is.
So, take each of your values and feelings in turn and ask yourself:
- What could I do to feel this way today? You’re looking for ways to feel good now rather than always waiting until you’ve ticked off a goal. This will ensure you experience regular reward and encouragement to stay motivated. For example, if you want to feel confident, could you start with positive daily affirmations? If you want to feel more creative, could spend time on a favourite hobby regularly?
- Are these truly the feelings I want? Watch out for feelings that pretend to be positive but are actually destructive. Are you being tempted to cave into sugary sweets to feel good now at the cost of feeling lethargic later, for example? Ask yourself lovingly: how will I feel about this decision in 6 days, 6 months and 6 years?
- How could I feel even greater in the future? This will guide you to the longer-term goals you need to set. For example, if you want more enjoyment from your work, you may decide to retrain so you can enter a different profession. If you want more adventure, you may choose to set up a flexible business so you can travel more.
Setting goals based on inner drivers is a subtle shift but focuses your energies today rather than making you feel like you’re having to make constant sacrifices and punishments without ever being sure if you’ll reap the rewards in the future. Honouring your values and feelings every day is the best way to create your dream life.