Setting and achieving your life goals
Do you feel drained and beaten down? Or totally burned out? You have the power to banish those feelings and turn your life around within you, says Andrea Hayes. Here, in an extract from her new book, she helps you to take the first steps
I'm a big believer in setting goals. The first step in goal-setting is to have absolute belief and faith in the process. A journal can be a powerful tool for achieving your goals. The simple practice of writing forces you to reflect on your life, and writing down your thoughts can be a cathartic process. I have created a system that works for me and I know it will work for you, too.
Central to my success is a belief in my ability to absolutely transform my life. Making changes in life is not about one-off actions, it is about forming new habits to transform your life. If you follow month-by-month strategies, I know you can achieve great change. If you want to succeed in any area of your life - personal, professional or even your health - you need to set goals, because without goals you can lack focus.
My advice is to listen to the inner you and make a shift - be willing to let go of what no longer serves you. Situations, relationships, jobs, hobbies and places all have expiry dates. If something no longer feels good, don't be afraid to get rid of it. Sometimes by letting go we set ourselves free to explore and manifest brilliant new possibilities. This book is designed to help you do that, to focus on your goals, to develop, step by step, changes in your life that will help you reach those goals and transform your life and, I hope, overcome the pain, whatever its source.
WHO ARE YOU?
When you're asked, 'Who are you?' what is your answer? It is very easy to say, 'I am a mother', 'I am a teacher', 'I am a parent', 'I am a good person' - but who are you? Perhaps you are all these things?
Or do you find yourself saying, 'I am sick and tired of work' or 'I am always the one who ends up doing all the work' or 'I am always being treated badly by people'?
What you attach 'I am' to is very powerful in your subconscious belief system, as you are literally affirming to yourself what you believe to be true for yourself at this moment.
Make a list right now and ask yourself, who am I? Become aware of your 'I am' answers - remember you are the one filling in the blanks and telling your subconscious mind what your reality is.
WHO AM I?
Is your answer more about what you do or where you see yourself in society than about who you really are in life? Sometimes it is a very challenging question to answer. If you can't answer who you are, maybe it is because you don't know, or have simply lost sight of your true self? In today's world, when we are constantly bombarded with images of how we should be, how we should act and how we should think, it is important to understand who you really are.
After my diagnosis, I needed to take time out to begin to find myself again and truly reassess my life, my values and who I wanted to be. I needed to stop so I could understand how to be true to my core. I also decided that I would remove the word 'should' from my life, and replace it with 'could' - I could do whatever I wanted, which gave me the power to make a choice. We all have the power to choose to make changes in our lives. If you want to allow your true self to be seen then now is the time for you to make long-term plans and set new goals for a positive, successful future.
SETTING SMART GOALS
Think about using the SMART system - SMART is an acronym designed to help you set objectives (often attributed to Peter Drucker's management-by-objectives concept). It is ideal for setting personal goals.
Simple specific goal
(I add an extra PLAN)
What's your SMART PLAN? For example, if you want to lose weight, this is how you would apply this method.
- I want to lose weight.
(A simple and specific goal)
- I want to lose one stone in weight.
(You can measure and track your weight loss)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months.
(Here you are giving yourself a time frame to achieve your goal)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months by eating healthily and exercising three times a week.
(Here you are giving yourself a realistic way to help you achieve your goal)
TENSE (PRESENT TENSE)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months by eating healthily and exercising three times a week, beginning today until June.
(You are setting a present-day deadline to achieve your goal - it is beginning now, not in the future)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months by eating healthily and exercising three times a week, beginning today until June. I will feel positive health benefits with my new lifestyle.
(This encourages you to attach positive benefits to achieving your goal, which will go a long way to helping you achieve it)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months by eating healthily and exercising three times a week, beginning today until June. I will feel positive health benefits with my new lifestyle. By achieving this goal it will be an act of self-love.
(Prioritising your goal and making time to achieve it is an act of self-love that will bring you wellbeing and great happiness)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months by eating healthily and exercising three times a week, beginning today until June. I will feel positive health benefits with my new lifestyle. By achieving this goal it will be an act of self-love. I will get up early to walk to work and prepare and plan my dinners every Sunday for the week ahead and measure my weight loss every week.
(Here you are stating what specific steps you need to take to achieve your goal and including a day for review and forward planning)
- I want to lose one stone in weight in six months by eating healthily and exercising three times a week, beginning today until June. I will feel positive health benefits with my new lifestyle. By achieving this goal it will be an act of self-love. I will get up early to walk to work and prepare and plan my dinners every Sunday for the week ahead and measure my weight loss every week. I will be disciplined and consistent until I reach my goal.
(You are taking personal accountability for your actions and decisions so you make every effort to achieve your goal)
Here are some ways to start taking care of you.
1 Change your language
Loving yourself fully and completely has a lot to do with the language you use about yourself. Use words to describe yourself that are positive and loving. Notice today how many times you say negative things about yourself and make an effort to stop.
Switch the words 'I should' to 'I could' or 'I would like to'. 'Should' limits your choices and immediately puts pressure on you. It is simply self-inflicted stress that you don't need. For example, instead of saying 'I should stay late at work to finish this project,' try 'I would like to clear my desk before tomorrow so I could stay on an extra hour tonight and get this done.'
Learn to say no. If you've been asked to do something or feel like you 'should' do something, ask yourself, is it something I really want to do? Learn to say no to things that are not what you want. It is important to say no to people and activities that drain you or fill you with negative energy. If you find it very hard to say no, instead of committing to things try saying, 'Let me get back to you on that' - it gives you time to really consider if you want to say yes.
2 Start to put yourself first in all your relationships
Remember to love yourself first and keep your unique individuality alive. You deserve and need as much of your own attention as your partner does, so instead of always thinking of your partner first, remember you will be a better partner if you give yourself time for you. When you feel happy you will make the people around you happy.
Are you a people-pleaser? Do you like to keep the peace even if it means doing more than your share of the workload? It is an act of self-love to apply some boundaries to your work. By setting reasonable and fair expectations at work, you can relieve the unnecessary guilt of not being able to please everyone all the time.
Put yourself first by focusing on friendships that stem naturally from a place of joy and compatibility. When you're surrounded by people who are similar to you, and who are equally kind and loving, you no longer need to sacrifice yourself to make the friendships work.
3 Get to know yourself with some 'me' time in your calendar
We can all lose touch with who we are and we can forget the simple pleasures that make us happy. By setting a small amount of time aside each day to get in touch with yourself you can easily re-evaluate how your day went. Think about:
1. Did I enjoy what I did today?
2. Am I looking forward to anything tomorrow?
3. Am I being true to myself and my goals?
4. Did I make time for me today?
Don't be afraid to ask yourself what makes you happy.
• Set aside 'me' time each week to do at least one thing that you know will have the biggest impact on your personal happiness.
• You know the feeling you get when something isn't right? Make time to listen to that inner voice and pause for that time to reflect on what your mind and body needs.
4 Don't be afraid to ask for help
A big act of self-love is accepting that you cannot do everything alone and sometimes it is OK to ask for help - in fact, it can be essential. You may have been raised to believe it is a sign of weakness to look for assistance and you like to hide your flaws and imperfections. Or maybe you feel that by asking for help you are going to be a burden on others. But, trust me, the people who love you will be only too happy to help and there is no shame asking for it every now and then.
Make it your intention this month to fall in love with yourself. Pamper yourself. Do anything that uplifts your spirit. This can mean being with those you love, petting your dog or cat, going for a walk, sitting quietly by yourself - anything that puts you in a better-feeling place. Give yourself permission to do things that you love. If you can't think of ways to pamper yourself then we have some work to do - maybe giving yourself time is the first act of self-love.
1. Every time you catch yourself thinking stressful or negative thoughts, stop, take a moment and imagine deleting that thought and replacing it with a positive one. There's no milk for your coffee? Delete the negative feelings of disappointment, pour a glass of water and think of how good it is to cleanse your system.
2. If you catch yourself catastrophising about the future and predicting a negative outcome or attaching failure to a situation that hasn't happened, stop, take a moment and begin to imagine yourself in the future and see that situation working out perfectly with the best possible outcome. Visualise success and allow that feeling to really sink in for a minute or two and then believe that to be true.
3. Monitor your language. If you hear yourself talking in a negative or pessimistic way, stop, take a moment and make a decision to keep your conversation positive or choose to say nothing at all. This will help you remain calm.
4. Surround yourself with positive people and live in a positive environment. It is easy to identify the people whose negative mindset can be draining and stressful to be around. Make a conscious effort to avoid these people. If you find you fall into stressful thought patterns in work, stop and take note. Put a positive quote or uplifting image as your screen saver on your computer as a reminder to stay positive and avoid the negative nellies.
5. Breathe - centre yourself during moments of increased tension and allow yourself 30 seconds to stop. Begin by taking a deep breath - there is no greater gift we can give ourselves than the power of our breath connected to our consciousness. Breathing in slowly, think of things that bring you joy and, breathing out slowly, think of people or situations that fill you with love. Breathing in again, acknowledge that there are times when you need to just stop, and breathing out, admit that today you can choose your thoughts. Reach for positive ones. Taking another deep, healing breath in, and allowing the fresh air to balance your energies, then breathe out and consciously release stressful negative thoughts and energies. Spend a few seconds longer in this sacred space and then, when you're ready, continue on with your day.
6. Consciously smile more, and every time you smile remember that, from today, you are leaving negative stress-related thoughts behind you and forming new patterns towards positive thinking and behaviour. When in doubt, smile it out.
THE WHEEL OF LIFE
Sometimes I find myself taking on additional stress when my life is out of balance - when I am not giving every area of my life equal measures of my time and attention. In today's busy world why do we find it so hard to get the balance right? It can be hard to juggle your career, money, health, social life, family, love, home and personal life. So if you feel like you're being pulled in any one direction, it is time to get your life aligned.
I reconnect with my inner navigation system to make sure I am on the right path with a simple wheel of life exercise, which I find very useful and effective in helping me deal with the stresses and strains of life.
When I am overwhelmed or out of balance and not pacing myself properly, I know it is time to take stock, anchor myself again and make sure I am going in the right direction. The wheel of life is divided into categories that reflect different parts of your daily life and allow you to take a helicopter view of what's happening. You can then see if you are in balance or are spending too much time on one area or another. I find it very useful when I am faced with stressful situations, as it reminds me to identify what areas need more attention and helps me to see the bigger picture in my life.
Use the following steps to create your life wheel and assess your balance.
Think about the areas of life that are important to you. For our wheel (above), I have chosen career, money, health, social and friends, family, love, physical environment and personal growth. If you don't feel that all of these categories apply to you, you can draw your own wheel.
Reflect on each category and consider how much time and effort you give it. Using a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), write a number in each segment of the wheel to reflect the time currently devoted to this area in your life.
Some questions to ask yourself:
1. Career: Is your career where you want it to be by now? Are you heading in the right direction?
2. Money: Are you earning enough income to satisfy your current needs? Are you financially set up for future growth in wealth?
3. Health: How physically healthy are you? Are you satisfied with your level of fitness? Are you satisfied with your diet?
4. Social and friends: Are your friends supportive of you? Are you meeting friends and socialising enough? Are you having fun? Should you be spending more time meeting people and relaxing?
5. Family: Is your family supportive of you? Are you supportive of your family? Do you see your family enough and enjoy quality time together?
6. Love: Are you in love? Do you feel loved? How often do you express love to others?
7. Physical environment: Are you enjoying where you live? Do you live the way you want to live? Could you make better choices in the foods you buy? Are you conscious about the environment? Are you recycling?
8. Personal growth: Are you enjoying your life? How focused are you on personal growth? Are you satisfied with your direction? Are you trying new experiences and seeking to learn? Are you satisfied with your relationship with your spiritual being?
When you've answered the questions above and assessed each area of your life, think about your level of satisfaction and consider the amount of attention and focus you give each area. If an area is not currently a priority and you are not happy about that, you might give it a low score. If you focus too much attention on an area you might give it a high score. Mark each score on the appropriate spoke of your life wheel.
Reflect on your wheel and see how balanced it is. Think about your time and how you could share it out more evenly to bring more happiness into your life in the areas that are lacking. Are you completely out of balance in any area? You might notice that certain areas are interrelated - for instance, it can be difficult to go out socially if you don't have money, which may link to a low career score. If you begin to improve in one area, it will have a knock-on effect on other areas, so take time to see where you can redress the balance of your wheel. Ask yourself where you could make better choices with your time and energy.
Plan for change. Identify what areas need urgent attention and write down how you can regain balance in them. Make a commitment to take steps to change your wheel of life and decide how you will transform those areas that need positive change.
GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE
On average a person sleeps for eight hours a day, which means that an average person will sleep for 229,961 hours in their lifetime - one-third of our lives. Far from being wasted time, from the moment we slide into unconsciousness, a whole raft of functions takes place to make sure that we get optimal benefit from our nightly rest.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours' sleep. Others can't perform at their peak unless they've slept 10 hours.
We all know that a good night's rest makes you feel better but the importance of sleep goes way beyond just boosting your mood. Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels; ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
As well as being good for our health and our ability to perform at our best, sleep also is good for our relationships. At the 2013 Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual meeting, scientists from UC Berkeley presented new research suggesting that inadequate sleep can impair our ability to appreciate our partners and loved ones, which can lead to stress and tension in relationships. The SPSP reports that less sleep means fewer feelings of gratitude and higher levels of selfishness, both of which can make a partner feel unacknowledged and under-appreciated.
BEDTIME HABITS TO OPTIMISE OUR SLEEP
I first heard the term sleep hygiene on my pain-management course and, contrary to the images the name conjures up, it has nothing to do with clean bedsheets or your washing routine. In fact, it relates to the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. When you have chronic pain, getting a regular night's sleep is like the Holy Grail - an elusive goal that often is impossible. I learned that I could set myself up for success with a few simple tips and tricks.
There are many books about this topic but these are some of the changes I made that helped me along the way:
1Create the right mood and set the scene. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Try to make it dark, relaxing, quiet and peaceful. For me, this meant switching off the TV and listening to my relaxations. This was a big change for me, but it worked and I seemed to relax more.
2 Make healthier choices before bed: avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other chemicals that interfere with sleep. Eat lightly in the evening, as going to bed with a full stomach won't help.
3 Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule. Try to establish a soothing pre-sleep routine - this could be having a nice bath or reading a book or meditating. Whatever you choose, keep it consistent and relaxing.
4 Try to avoid daytime napping. This seems obvious but because I wasn't sleeping at night I would rest during the day and this just made it more difficult to sleep at night. If you do need to nap, try to limit your snooze session to 30 minutes, and give yourself at least four hours between the nap and when you plan to go to bed properly.
5 Keep note of your sleeping habits in your journal. This can help establish a routine - plus, if you identify that you have a problem falling asleep at night, it can be helpful if you need to share your sleep patterns with your doctor. Insomnia can be a serious issue that may need medical intervention so don't be afraid to seek advice from your GP.
DARE OF THE DAY
Try to sit and be still in nature today for a few minutes. Find a safe place to focus your attention on your breath. Start breathing in and out slowly, without effort - allow each breath to come and go with ease. Let go of thoughts about things you have to do or commitments you need to attend to later in the day. Just sit in silence and be still in nature. Breathe in this day, inhale its greatness, savour the experiences of today, as it will only last 24 hours and then be gone forever.
DARE OF THE WEEK
I have always used walking as a way to centre my thoughts, to really become mindful and to appreciate my life and all around me. Breathing and mindful walking go hand in hand. This week, take some time to yourself for a walk outside and try to breathe in a similar rhythm to your walking; make sure your shoulders and body posture are relaxed and you are really concentrating on each breath and each step you take.
Remember, it is easy to let your mind wander off, but when you notice you are thinking about something in the past or the future, centre yourself with your breathing and bring yourself back to the here and now. Be aware of all your senses and keep your attention on everything around you and seeing yourself in that space.
Try to be aware of the beauty and wonder in all of creation. Try to walk on the grass or sand barefoot, really rejoice in the sounds and sights of nature and open your eyes to the magnificence in all living things.
DARE OF THE MONTH
Whatever the weather, get outdoors. Take an early morning walk or go out at dusk. Choose a lovely location where you can hear the breeze in the trees or waves lapping on the shore. Find solitude and sit peacefully meditating and being in the moment. Remember to breathe in and out slowly for a few minutes. Deep breaths are love notes to our bodies and you will feel grounded and peaceful with every breath. Enjoy the beauty around you.
Tip: If you can bring a camera or phone, take a photograph of where you are to remind you of each of the things that tickled your senses. You can include these photos into your journal, too.
TRY THIS EXERCISE
Be fearless and dare to dream big. Be in alignment with your life's purpose. If you do not know what you want to achieve in life ask yourself these questions:
What do I want my purpose in life to be?
How would I like to be remembered?
What makes me happiest in life?
How can I make a contribution to help others?