A lot of my goals used to be motivated by things I wanted to have in my life, or the type of person I thought I should be, with no consideration for the holistic nature of life. Life doesn’t show up – ever, in my world – as a series of tick boxes; instead, everything is interconnected, and what I do in one area of life impacts on all the other areas. Yet my goals were nonetheless structured as a list of all the things I thought I should do or thought I wanted to attain. Once I’d got the list, I then tried to figure out a way of cramming them into my life through sheer willpower.
I think a lot of us approach goal-setting in this way, thinking first about what we think we ought to do and then just working logically back from that, making a goal that depends on willpower to implement. For example:
“I want to get better at writing. People who are good writers say that you need to write everyday to get better, so I’ll just make myself wake up half an hour earlier and write every day.”
“I want to get strong. To get strong, I need to lift weights, so I’ll just make myself lift for twenty minutes every day.”
There’s nothing wrong with working backwards, and we’re going to be doing some of that in Step 3. There’s also nothing wrong with logic, discipline or willpower – they are essential, and can certainly bring changes into being. The problem is that this kind of goal-setting doesn’t really take much consideration for how holistic our lives are, and if we can overcome some of our obstacles more easily by shifting our lifestyles as whole, then we can apply discipline to where it’s really needed.
One of the goal-setting breakthroughs for me in this process was in doing an exercise from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The exercise is taken from the “Tasks” in “Week 8” of the course and asks the readers to plan a dream day in their lives as they wish their lives were constituted.
When I did this, I remembered how when in the past I’ve changed my lifestyle wholesale, whether by going on holiday or by moving to a new place, lots of things that I find real bugbears in one place, suddenly fall into place in the other. For example, at home in the city or on holiday in hotels I often find it hard to go to bed on time, which negatively affects my work, my health and my relationships, but when we were living in Era or when we go camping, I’ll turn into bed early without even thinking about it.
I started off doing the exercise just dreaming big about how I would like my life to be constituted, what would be different from how it is now, and what a dreamy day within that life would be like. I then reflected on the different areas of life that I want to change (thinking back to Step 1 and how I want to ‘feel’ or ‘be’ in those areas) and what they would be like if they were just a natural and enjoyable part of my everyday lifestyle. For example, what would my lifestyle have to be like for me to be regularly getting enough sleep, without having to fight myself over it. What would my lifestyle have to be like in order for me to be getting loads of exercise without having to psych myself everyday into doing certain kinds of exercise that I don’t remotely enjoy. How would work and family time fit together in a dreamy day? How would socialising and having lots of outdoor adventure time fit together?
I found it helpful to really push into the areas that seem to compete with each other, asking where the ideal balance might lie. Now, I’m well aware that finding the ideal balance isn’t always possible, and that things need to shift from season to season. We all have limitations, some more than others, and those need to be taken into account, but now is not the time for that. This is not a realistic exercise, but it’s still an important one, because it helps you think about how life works as a whole, and what a whole and happy life would be like for you.
So let’s get into it!
A note first: I wanted to let you know that this whole #GoalsYouAchieve series will run for about 10 blog posts (5 weeks) in total. The first half of the steps are all about setting vision and writing goals for the coming year. They provide a chance to reflect on where you’re at and where you’re going. The second half are goal-setting steps that help us focus and implement. These are the steps you repeat over and over again over the course of the year, as you cross off goals and move on to new ones. I know that ten steps sounds like a lot but I think that once you know them, you just power through them like a superhero.
Don’t forget that if you want to get free worksheets to go with the blog posts, then become an email friend by subscribing to Wylde & Free.
Exercise 1: Dream Day
(page 1 of the worksheet)
The first exercise for Step 2 is the one I described above: write, draw, collage or find another way to creatively represent your dream day in your life as you wish it were constituted. I would recommend you write about a perfect ordinary day – a day in which, in your ideal life, you do whatever you would normally do (and everything goes right, of course!).
This is a no-limits dream space – no need to be reasonable, or rational, or responsible. Just plan out a day in your life as you wish it could be in your wildest dreams. The only limitations you need to consider are the ones inherent to being human. For example, you can’t be hanging out with your family and working at the same time. You also can’t survive without sleep, and if you know you need 9 hours sleep a night don’t plan an eighteen hour day because you know that you won’t be very happy on 6 hours sleep! Other than that, go crazy!
Write, draw or make a collage to represent this day. Be as specific as you can. Picture the details of that day, and the background of your lifestyle that it assumes. Write about how you feel waking up in the morning, what you do, and who is around you. Do you sit down for breakfast? Alone? With friends? With family? Who do you live with? What does your home look like? Do you work? If so, how do you get to work, who do you work with, where do you work? What and who do you feel responsible for on this day? Are you outdoors or indoors? Which country do you live in?
Think about the different areas of your life that we covered in Step 1 – how do they fit together in your dream day? If there are things that seem to clash, reach for the potential multi-win resolutions. You might, for example, imagine yourself as being really healthy, but there is no place for running in your perfect day because you hate to run! OK, well what kind of use of your body would you love to be part of your perfect day? Do you love walking? Stretching? Lifting? Swing dancing? Cycling to work? If you can’t think of anything just make a note to yourself, like “find a way of using my body that makes me feel alive!”
Optional Exercise 2: Ideal Week
(page 2 of the worksheet)
Once you’ve got an image of your dreamy day, if you’ve got time, expand it with some notes on what the rest of the week would look like. A day is a fragment of an insight into life as it would ideally be constituted, but a week gives us a sense of the real rhythm of a life. Would different days be different? What about weekends? Sometimes thinking about a week as a whole can give a better sense of rhythm and balance.
Exercise 3: Forgive & Let Go
(page 3 of the worksheet)
Now, having looked to the future, take a moment to look to the past. Michael Hyatt, an expert goal-setting teacher says (for example here) how important it is to forgive ourselves for the past before we move on to the future. This is so wise; it’s really important to lay down the guilt, disappointment, discouragement and resentment we may be feeling about unmet goals in the past or about the state certain areas of our lives are currently in.
You might want to look at the areas of life that you ‘scored’ low on in Step 1 if you did your quick and dirty evaluation of how you’re feeling about each area of life. Are you carrying disappointment or guilt about any of those areas?
Here are some ideas about ways to go about letting go of the past and forgiving yourself:
- you could use prayer – tell God about what happened, consciously handing the past over and releasing yourself from it as you prepare to take steps into your future. I’ve written a sample prayer below.
- you could write specific things you want to let go of onto stones and throw them into the river or the sea
- you could write specific things onto pieces of paper and then leave them in something that is symbolic to you of God’s hands (“God’s got it”)
- you could do an imagination exercise, like imagine clenching onto the past with your hands, then physically open your hands, feeling the weight of what you’re carrying. Watch in your imagination as a friend walks up to you and gently takes each thing out of your hands, and lays it down by the side of the road you’re on. Feel the weight lift, and then decide what you want to do with your empty hands. Perhaps you want to take your friend’s arm and walk forward together.
- you could journal about all the disappointments and discouragements you’ve had over the past year, and then at the end, write a declaration stating your intention to draw a line under it all and forgive yourself for the ways you have disappointed yourself. I haven’t written a sample declaration but you could adapt the prayer, if you wanted.
A sample prayer
Hi God, I want to talk to you about this last [month/year]. I started out with a lot of good intentions and there are lots of things that I now feel disappointed about. [Tell God what they are.] I want to move forward and start again, and I know that to do that I need to forgive myself for letting me down, and leave behind the burden of everything that went wrong. I am sorry about the part I played in the things that went wrong. I’m also [frustrated/angry/upset/annoyed/disappointed/???] about the things that went wrong that were nothing to do with me. I want today to be a fresh start. I choose today to let go of the resentment I feel towards those who let me down. I also choose to forgive myself for the ways I let myself down. I acknowledge the past for what it was and draw a line under it. Heal me where I need healing, strengthen me where I need strength. You’ve been known to redeem even the worst of situations, so I ask that you’d turn all the disappointments and pain into something greater than I could even imagine. Thanks for going with me into the future. Thanks for treating me with kindness and love.
Optional Exercise 4: A Pure Joy List
(page 3 of the worksheet)
This isn’t really an exercise so much as an ongoing practice. In Step 1 we talked about different areas of life, and one of them was ‘Pure Joy’ – the things you do that are just for fun and that make you feel alive. A lot of people don’t know what those things would be in their lives and sometimes they are not what you think they will be. So, it’s a really good idea to start a list somewhere, and any time you have that feeling of ‘I could stay in this moment forever’ write down what it was you were doing, so you remember!
That’s the end of Step 2! I know it was quite a big one, but I hope you enjoyed it. I found the ‘Dream Day’ exercise really significant when I came later to setting goals, so I hope you’ll find it valuable too.
Featured image by Unsplash user Joshua Earle