If you are interested in this blog, you probably have loads of them too: GOALS. Big, lofty, scary goals. Goals so humongous that they seem very, very far away. Inaccessible, unreachable, like dreams. But you have probably heard this one before too: goals are dreams with deadlines. Now I am not too fond of putting deadlines on dreams. But I do love the sentiment behind the quote: that any dream can become a reality. Any dream.
I penned down five big, lofty, scary goals for 2020 myself: to run a marathon, to speak Spanish, to buy a car, to write a book, and to buy a house. You do not have to worry. I do not live under the impression that I will reach all of these goals this year. Except maybe the first one (which is planned to be reached in December). But they do guide me throughout the year. Because I have come to believe I can achieve any goal I set my mind to. And you can too. How? So far, this is what I know works, for sure.
I believe reaching your goals has everything to do with your mental attitude towards it. For example, I never considered myself a runner. And because of that, I never managed to run even a 5k. That changed immediately as soon as I started identifying myself as a runner. This happened last year, when I – completely inexperienced – signed up for a half marathon. I ran a 5k in no time. And then a 10k, and then a 15k, and then a faster 5k. And eventually a half marathon – continuously confirming my identity as a runner. Needless to say, running a half marathon seemed like a TOTALLY UNACHIEVABLE goal when I started training. But I achieved it anyway when I set my mind to it.
The other day, I read in some book (I forgot which one!) the perfect example of the power of identification. The author wrote about people who try to quit smoking. And how identifying as a person who does not smoke, makes it so much easier to resist temptation. When someone at a party offers you a cigarette, instead of saying ‘I am trying to quit smoking,’ consider ‘I am not a smoker.’ Powerful, huh?
So this year, I am a marathoner, una Española, a car owner, a book writer, and a house owner. Even if you are far from accomplishing your goal, identifying yourself with the person you want to become helps with the next, crucial step.
An important technique for achieving goals is visualization. Now I can go and tell you to sit down every morning and evening for ten minutes, cross-legged, with incense burning and crystals in hand. I can go and tell you to visualize yourself having achieved your goals (which WORKS too, by the way). But you might not be on the same spiritual path as me and that is okay (obviously).
However, many goals are about more than what they seem to be about on the surface. For example, my goal about buying a house has more to do with a certain lifestyle than with the house itself. What I want is a ‘workation’ house on Gran Canaria. I see myself going there for peace and quiet. To get up early in the morning, work out a lot, write my books, and close my laptop around 4pm to go to the beach or have a glass of wine next to the pool in the garden.
That sounds all great and dreamy (to me at least), but many of these things do not rely on me actually buying that house. I can get up early now, work out a lot now, write my book now, and enjoy the beach or a glass of wine in the afternoon now. Of course all of that becomes THE DREAM if I can do it in my own, beautiful, perfect, writer’s retreat villa with private pool, but if I do not do these things NOW, who says I am going to them then?
So if your goal is to make more money to be able to treat yourself to something expensive more often, treat yourself NOW (in proportion with your income, obviously). If your goal is to travel to some place exotic, travel more NOW (even if it is just a trip to a city close-by). If your goal is to find the love of your life, make space for him/her in your life NOW. (I read this hilarious story once about a woman who emptied out half of her wardrobe and started sleeping on ‘her’ side of the bed, and then promptly met a guy who is now her husband.)
In line with identifying as your Future You and acting as him/her, it is now time to actually take small steps into the direction of your goal. Preferably daily. For some goals, action steps are easy to identify. If I want to be a book writer, I should put words onto paper, duh. But for some goals, immediate action steps are harder to find.
My goal to buy a car, for example, might not seem very actionable. I want a new, black Audi Q2 with parking assistance (very important), a sky view window thing in the roof, leather seats, etc. etc. I do not have the money for that now or tomorrow, so what can I do? Well, lots of things. I created a ‘car fund’ in which I save money every month. Since I configured my dream Q2 online, I know exactly how much I need. The printed brochure is on my desk. I have started taking my boyfriend’s car for a ride more often. When I go on a holiday, I rent a Q2 instead of the usual Polo. In short, I am acting like I am seriously interested in buying a Q2 right now.
If your goal has to do with a lot of training, saving or gaining experience (like running a marathon, learning Spanish, or writing a book), it is worth it to make a habit out of taking small steps daily. Maybe you do not have the time, energy or money right now to go for an hour-long run, to take Spanish classes, or to devote big chunks of time to writing. So instead, start with a 5-minute run, some Spanish radio in the car, and writing a small paragraph a day.
In his book The Slight Edge (I reviewed it), Jeff Olson argues very convincingly that small, daily disciplines – actions that are so easy to do, it is just as easy not to do them – add up to the difference between failure and success. People who do the daily disciplines enjoy the cumulative effect they have, until all of sudden they have reached a goal. To others, these people often appear to be ‘overnight successes,’ but they are usually not. Goals are achieved by taking small step after small step.
The downside of having big, lofty, scary goals is that many of the people closest to you probably will not like them. And since it is difficult enough in itself to admit having these crazy goals, negative feedback can be a hard pill to swallow. These non-believers may even convince you to not pursue your goals at all! The reason why close friends, family members, or even your partner may not support you, is another topic for another day. Let’s focus on how to fix this situation and keep your vibrations sky-high. Without having to cut all nay-sayers out of your life.
To regularly convince yourself you are not crazy for wanting what you want, find your tribe. I was lucky enough to find a fellow beginner-runner who also wanted to run a half marathon. So we trained together and after every training I felt confident again that I could do it. I did, however, feel very alone in my quest to get up really early for workouts. Since nobody in my immediate circle is a morning person (or wants to be), I started to feel like I was crazy for getting up a 6am. So I set up a running group for 7am morning runs. The people who show up are just like me: earlybirds, who love to go for a run and still have a full day ahead of them. See? I am not crazy! ;)
This is a topic important enough for a separate blogpost, but take responsibility for what you are thinking and saying about your goals. If you are interested in this topic, you might like to read my thoughts about the mindset book Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor. From now on, let’s eliminate ‘I cannot do that’ from our vocabulary. And for all Dutchies reading this, let’s eliminate the common expression ‘Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg’ (= ‘Act normal, then you already act crazy enough’). Instead, allow yourself to dream crazy dreams and allow yourself to go after them!
Colorful stairs up to the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia