As the end of the year is approaching, I am often thinking back about this old classmate I spoke to, about five years ago. At that moment she told me, with twinkling eyes: “I’m going to do things completely different this year! I have decided to finally launch my own business, a webshop for children’s clothing”. At the time I had just taken a leap of faith and became a full-time entrepreneur with Doors Open, and I had just opened the doors of the Female Hub. So I completely understood her enthusiasm.
A year later, we met again – at Bubbels & Babbels – and when I asked her how her webshop was doing, she told me that she hadn’t gotten around to it. “But this year I’m really planning to get it up and running!”
My old classmate is a textbook example. Because even though Instagram is full of successful, laughing goal-getters, the reality is that goals more often than not end up in the trash.
Why does this happen? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
In order to achieve your goals, there are 4 crucial elements.
#1 Find your why
When setting goals, we often stay on the surface too much. We only look at the outcome, at the action and not at the underlying motivation.
“I want to go to the gym more often this year” is a popular example. The gym is not a goal in itself. The goal is to feel fitter and healthier and we think that we can achieve this by going to the gym.
A turnover of € 10,000 per month is not an objective in itself. The goal is to create financial security and we think we can achieve this by a turnover of € 10,000 per month.
We often make the mistake of seeing the steps we need to take as the ultimate goal rather than looking at the underlying motivation. Why do you want to go to the gym more often? Why do you want that turnover of € 10,000 per month? Why do you want to start your own business?
Centering – a somatic exercise I often practice with my coachees – helps to really focus on your purpose and why you want something. What are you longing for and how does it make you feel? Is it truly what you want, or is it something you think you want, maybe even – unconsciously – influenced by others?
#2 Embody your why
Once you’ve found your why, the next challenge is to really embody the change you want to make. Motivation is crucial, but even the most motivated people – often – fail. A very useful exercise is to write down your why. What is the change you really commit yourself to? Repeat this commitment – by saying it to yourself in front of a mirror, by writing it down, by saying it to your partner, whatever works for you – everyday. That’s when you start making the transformation from finding your commitment to being the commitment.
Now, you know what they say: if something sounds to good to be true, it usually is. That’s true here too. Writing down your commitment ain’t gonna do the whole trick. It’s just a start. In order to really embody your why, you need to practice it 300 times before it becomes muscle memory (I cannot repeat this enough: the brain is a muscle) and 3.000 times for it to become your automatic response.
If you are ready to embody your why, the Tiny Habits method is a very recommended resource.
#3 What stops me?
In the fifteen years that I have been working as a Learning & Development expert and coach, I regularly meet people who exactly know what their why is. They know exactly what they want. They also know in detail how to get there, what steps are needed. And yet they do not succeed in actually taking action.
The most common reason: fear. We are afraid that we do not see the desired result, we’re afraid we can’t actually do it. We see worst-case scenarios in which everything goes completely wrong. And these fears lead to a certain type of behaviour that prevents us from achieving our goals.
There’s an explanation for this. We are biological beings and because of that we are looking for safety, belonging and being seen. Change, the unknown, is something that biologically sparks fear. Our brain automatically wants to go to something that is familiar. When experiencing fear your body goes into contraction: we avoid the change, we go back to your old habits, we continue to plan and plan and plan, but never really take action. All of these behaviours are signs that we are looking for safety.
Recognizing your fears, and naming them – name it to tame it – is a very useful exercise to overcome those fears.
Tim Ferriss argues in his TedTalk that you should define your fears instead of your goals.
At Doors Open, we often use a somatic exercise when someone experiences fear:
It starts with centering (if you want to know more about this essential somatic exercise, feel free to reach out)
Place your hand on the part of your body where you feel the fear. Is it in your back, your head, your shoulders?
Describe what you feel: is it warm, cold, moving, does it have a certain shape or color?
Experience how – slowly – your fear will become less
Now say your commitment out loud again
#4 Find an accountability partner
Especially in December and January we tend to look ahead. What do I want to achieve this year? But it’s just as important to look back and reflect. If we do not reach our goal, reflecting helps us in finding out why it did not work. But even if you do achieve your goal, it is important to reflect. I always try to celebrate goals, no matter how small they are (following the Tiny Habit method).
I also take a moment to think: “I have achieved my goal. What am I feeling now?” Suppose you have achieved your target of € 10,000 per month, but the feeling of certainty is not there. Then you know that money isn’t what offers you security. In other words, you know that you have to go back to (re)discover your why.
Reflection is essential to prevent us from pursuing the wrong goals and, in spite of achieving the goals, not feeling the way we wanted to feel. So take the time to reflect regularly, before you proceed to the next action. An accountability partner is very valuable here: someone you can share your commitment with and a person who can keep you ‘on track’. This can be a professional coach, but also a friend, colleague or family member. We too often feel we have to do everything all by ourself.
I hope that next year – you’ll come back to this blog to share the wonderful progress you made in achieving your goals. If you need any help along the way, feel free to reach out to our team.