Whether you want to give up smoking, cut back on drinking or lose weight, focusing on giving something up or denying yourself something you are attached to is unlikely to end in success.
If we set ourselves goals on moving away from something, such as smoking, or drinking too much, or reducing our weight, then invariably the strength of our desire to complete the goal diminishes the further we move away from our starting point. As our drive to complete the goal diminishes old habits start to creep back, we will sneak the odd cigarette on a night out, have a cheeky glass of wine on a Friday night, or have a favourite chocolate bar on the way home from work.
All these minor discretions in another context would be perfectly acceptable if that was part of your plan. But most of us don’t plan it that way, we decide we are going to give up and then stop doing it. This works fine at first and we feel proud of ourselves. “We can do this”… we say to ourselves, we feel empowered. Because we are not sure what our criteria of success is, we can if we are not careful convince ourselves that we are nearer to achieving our goal than we are, and we begin to lose focus, and that’s when our old well formed habits sneak in, and push our new slightly awkward and partially formed habits out of the way. This is most likely to happen when we are stressed and tired, and in need of some comfort. We will reach for those habits we rely on to give us solace and comfort, like a cigarette, glass of wine or a chocolate bar. In the short term they give us a hit of endorphins and we feel comforted. At this point we convince ourselves all is good, we have proved we can do it, and we go back to denying ourselves until the next stress point. Eventually we resign ourselves to failure and go back to our old habits. Some of us tell ourselves that it is just to hard to give up at the moment, I will try again when I am feeling stronger, and some of us tell ourselves that we can give up anytime, we just choose not too. Both are just stories we use to cover up that feel like failures, and are unable to give up.
You are not a failure
You are not a failure, you are just looking at it from the wrong angle. What is important to do before you tackle anything in your life that you want to change, is to be clear about the destination where you want to end up. Rather than concentrating on giving something up, instead you are concentrating on creating a future version of yourself.
To create a realistic future version of yourself that is not fanciful and unrealistic it is important to be very clear on what values you hold. What you value in life, what is important to you. Then examine your life now through the lens of your values. What parts of your life live up to your values, and which parts of your life don’t. Now you can start to build a picture of how you want to live your life that lives up to your values. It is vital to spend a lot of time creating a picture (by writing down how you want to live your life and what that looks like) of your future life. Once you have this vision of your future you can start creating goals to achieve that vision. I say goals because there will be more than one thing that is required to create this change.
Your overall vision is the stretch goal as it will help you stretch and grow, and the smaller goals are your performance goals. These performance goals are based on the parts of your life that do not live up to your values.
For instance my core values are usefulness and courage. I set myself a stretch goal of living a healthy life. The vision I have is being an active and supportive Grandparent. I set this stretch goal about 6 years ago, when my boys were teenagers. I want to continue to be useful as I get older, and being there for my children as they grow older and someday start their own families. So I have this image of me playing in the park with my grandchildren. To be that fun loving Grandad I will have to be healthy. I cannot guarantee that but I can increase my chances. So my first performance goal was to become a non-smoker. I set myself a start date and prepared for that day, by buying nicotine replacement gum. The day came and I threw away the cigarettes I had, and started using the gum. The cravings were challenging even with the gum, I found myself picturing my vision of the future every time I had a craving. I set myself a criteria of success, success for me was when I no longer craved a cigarette. Once the craving stopped I could call myself a non-smoker. I never gave up smoking, I chose to be a non-smoker. I then set myself a goal of running the Great North Run, and then running the Hull 10k and the Great Manchester Run, all achieved. My next goal and one that has been ongoing as it requires more work for me is losing weight. The stretch goal is still on target I am still moving towards living a healthy lifestyle and continuing being useful as I get older.
Be clear what your values are
To help you identify what your values are, ask yourself the following questions.
- What motivates me?
- What is important to me?
- What moves me into action?
- What can I not imagine being without?
- What gives me a sense of identity?
- What do I use to influence others?
Look at your life through the lens of your values?
Once you have 2 or 3 clear values, think of three occasions when you have lived up to your values. What were you doing? Why were you doing it? How did people close to you react? How did it make you feel? Then think of three occasions when you have not lived up to your values and then answer the same questions. This will give you a map of what you do in your life that is based on your values and what you do that does not live up to your values. You can use this map to create a vision of your preferred future and what you need to do to achieve this.
Create you stretch and performance goals
From your map of your value based life, create your stretch goal, which is your vision of your future life. You can put a time on it. For instance in a year’s time I want to be fit enough to be regularly running marathons. Once you have a stretch goal you can then indentify the performance goals to achieve this based on aspects of your lifestyle that do no live up to your values. By the 15th November 2022 I will be eating a low carbohydrate, nutritionally valuable diet at every meal 7 days a week. It is important to each of your performance goals are SMART (specific, measured, achievable, relevant, and timely) it is helpful to write it down in a SMT format like above and then give yourself a scale on how achievable this goal is and and how important it is in relation to your stretch goal. Do this for every performance goal you identify. It is important to remember that your life is complex and ever changing, so be prepared to add more goals, or remove and revise goals.
Once you are satisfied with the goals you have set it is now time to prioritise which goal you are going to start with.
Time to plan and take action
Now it is time to create your action plan.
- What can you possibly do to achieve this goal?
- What could you possibly need?
- Who could possibly help you?
- What barriers and pitfalls could you possibly encounter?
- What possible risks could this create?
- How could you possibly overcome barriers and pitfalls, and reduce the risks?
- What are the possible implications of achieving this goal?
- What assumptions are you making about achieving this goal?
- If you were stood with the world expert in achieving goals like this, what advice would they give?
- What is the first action you will take?
- When will you do this?
- Who is the most important person to help you?
- When are you going to ask them for their support?
- How will you ask them?
- What is the next thing, and then the next thing and so on?
- When will you check your progress?
- What will you measure?
- How will you know when you have achieved your goal?
- How will you celebrate your success?
Repeat this process for every performance goal. Prepare to be flexible and stop and start as your circumstances change or when things don’t work. Most importantly don’t do it alone. Get some support.
If this has inspired you to make a change, and you want to know more or even work with me to achieve your success please message me via the platform your are reading this on or email firstname.lastname@example.org