Set challenging goals
Really challenging goals demand you change your beliefs, values and, surprisingly, your identity – before you even begin. Challenging goals take you outside your comfort zone. In striving towards something that’s powerfully compelling you learn, grow and develop resilience. Often you have to learn new skills and think in different ways to bring your goal to fruition.
You will become a different person.
Your identity is the fundamental basis of who you are, as a human being. It embodies your values, beliefs, capabilities and behaviours within a sense of self. It is your label for who you perceive yourself to be. A statement of identity begins with, “I am.” We may have many ‘I am’s’; different roles that we play on the stage of life. For example I can say, I am:
- A writer
- A trainer
- A coach/mentor
- A business owner
- A sister
- A daughter etc.
All of these labels shape my sense of identity – who I am.
If I say, ‘I write great articles’, this is a statement about my capabilities.
‘I write articles’ is a statement about what I do, or my behaviour.
It took me a while before I could say, with any conviction “I am a writer.”
Why? Because, even though I know this stuff, I hadn’t applied it to myself before! (What do they say, we teach what we most need to learn?)
My writing goal
At the time, January 2011, my goal was to write an article every week. So even though I’ve now written six books (4 of which are being sold in UK) and numerous reports and white papers, it was only about a year ago that I realised that I am, indeed, a writer – an author even!
It would have helped me achieve the goal with more ease if I’d upgraded my beliefs, values and identity before I started working towards the goal.
I don’t think I would have spent so many hours sitting in front of a blank screen, rocking to and fro and making my eyes bleed while questioning, “Why am I doing this?!?” if I’d believed in myself as a writer before I started!
If you weigh 150 kgs (330lbs) and your goal is to achieve a weight of 75 kgs (165lbs) that’s going to take quite an identity adjustment. Basically anyone in this situation will be losing half of themselves!
Someone with a weight issue might have thought of themselves as ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ for many years; sometimes for as long as they can remember. In order to become a slim person, they have to think like a slim person and create a new identity as a slim person. They need to adopt the values and beliefs of a slim person. And it would be useful to do this before beginning any kind of new eating regimen. So, incorporating this identity change into the goal setting process is essential.
A similar situation can occur with any challenging goal
I remember working at the front of a room during a presentation with a young woman who wanted to run a marathon. The problem was she’d never even jogged before. She didn’t even see herself as a runner, let alone a marathon runner. I helped her identify some values, beliefs and behaviours that it would be useful to have as a marathon runner. For example:
- I eat healthily
- I love to run
- I am a runner
- I’m strong and motivated etc.
I had her ‘sensualise’ her goal as well.
I had her imagine herself running happily each morning, noticing how good it felt in her body. Within a few minutes her whole demeanour had changed from despondent and not even knowing how to begin, to feeling energised and having the first few steps in place.
She completed the marathon six months later.
Business person or employee?
If you’re currently an employee and one of your challenging goals is to start your own business, it would be useful to take on the identity of a business owner. Define what’s important to you about being in business and why you want it. How do business people behave differently? This is a complete change of mind set from being an employee. If you work in a small business, notice how the owner behaves and thinks compared to how you behave and think. Ask what’s important to him/her about being in business. Start believing, “I am a businessperson.”
Someone who smokes will tell you, “I am a smoker.” Being a smoker is part of their very identity. If it wasn’t part of their identity they would probably say, ‘I smoke.’ So giving up smoking means changing their identity.
Typically people who have given up smoking refer to themselves as ‘non-smokers’. While this is a new found identity, I’ve never heard anyone who has never smoked refer to themselves as a non-smoker. They don’t call themselves anything that relates to smoking. Smoking doesn’t even enter their psyche because it’s not part of who they are as a person.
The term ‘non-smoker’ still includes the word ‘smoker’ which isn’t where you want to focus your attention if you’re trying to give it up. It’s a difficult conundrum. A smoker could use affirmations about who they will be as they give up smoking such as; “I am a clean air breather.” Or “I enjoy breathing clean, fresh air.” I know these might sound a bit weird – but a lot of things sound weird when you first say them.
With any significant, challenging or long term goal, it will be important to define who you need to become in order to achieve it. Define what’s important to you about reaching the goal (your values) and what beliefs you’ll have as the new person you’re developing into.
Interestingly, a change in identity may come later.
People who gave up smoking a long, long time ago often simply say, “I used to smoke.” Similar to my writing example, their identity changed and evolved over time after achieving the goal.
But from experience, encompassing your new identity into your goal setting process will assist you to reach those challenging goals more quickly and easily than waiting until years later. After all, if you have challenging goals then any help you can get is a bonus.
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