If you read my last blog, then you’ll know that in a moment of inspiration (or madness) I landed myself a bit of a challenge - to do 100 laps of the field behind our house (which as my son has calculated will take me around 20 hours to complete gulp!) but having a new goal was exciting. It felt good to think about something different, because despite everything I still have to do, the current situation has left me with a strange feeling of aimlessness.
Having goals is good for us. The excitement of a new challenge generates feelings of positivity. Working towards something gives us purpose, and purpose is crucial for our wellbeing. Studies show it is linked to lower risk of disease, better sleep, and a healthier and happier life. The process of planning gives us a nice hit of dopamine which triggers feelings of pleasure, and the satisfaction when we achieve our goal rewards us with another big rush of it.
But goals can also be daunting. They take us out of our comfort zone and sometimes feel too big to manage. A host of things can get in the way, we end up procrastinating and putting if off. We worry that other people will think our goal is unachievable or silly, and fear of failure is one of the biggest barriers in preventing us even starting. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to do something, or how passionate we are about it, we give up and we are back to square one, or worse than square one with the added disappointment and failure.
So how can we make sure that we stay on track once the initial excitement fades and we start questioning our ability to achieve the goal? I needed to find out because it was happening to me! I had felt really motivated and excited for my new challenge (inspired by Captain Sir Tom and other recent events in our life) and I really wanted to make it happen, but the doubts, unknowns and worries were steadily creeping in. How should I do it? Will I be able to do it? When will I fit it in? Is this a silly idea? Will it make a difference? What if I fail?
Fortunately there are things we can do to strengthen our chance of success…
Having a goal that we are passionate about can help us succeed… it’s about purpose again! Often we make “ought to” rather than “want to” goals, which are harder to complete because they lack strong motivation. It’s not always possible to have goals we are passionate about - we “ought to” lose a few pounds and we “ought to” clear the garage, but reframing an “ought” to a “want” can help. “I want to look good wearing this dress/jacket/bikini and if I lose a few pounds I will”, “I want to get a new bike and if clear the garage I can store one safely”.
Visualising our goals is another technique we can use. Athletes use this a lot as a way of rehearsing an event. It works by building neural pathways and stimulating the connections between different areas of the brain that they use when they are active in that event. Similarly, imagining ourselves wearing that dress/jacket/bikini happily and comfortably, or the new shiny bike in the garage, or in my case, me stomping around the field, does the same and can help us reach that outcome.
It also appears that in writing about this goal, I have inadvertently created a useful commitment device for myself! A commitment device is something we can use to try to lock ourselves into the task - like not having any biscuits in the house if you want to stop eating them. Having written about my potential goal it would certainly feel uncomfortable not to do it, so if you want to reach a goal, I encourage you to tell people about it. In my case, it had the added benefit of people offering to walk a few laps with me, which will be welcome company and extra motivation.
Research shows that even making a small start makes it more likely that we will follow through. If the goal feels too big, breaking it down into small tasks and doing it regularly makes it more likely that we will succeed. I liked an idea I read about making a chart to tick off progress. When we see a chain of ticks building up it makes it hard to break, so we continue. It also reminds us how far we have come. If we become fixated on the end goal, it can feel out of reach but noticing how much progress we have made is satisfying and motivates us to continue.
Even with all of this, we may still struggle and want to give up. That’s ok, but before we do we should be really certain, because feeling that we can’t do something is not the same as our capacity or capability to do it.
I remember a story my son told us about his year 6 school residential trip. One of the challenges was to climb to the top of a 10 metre pole. The children were gently encouraged to climb to their own limits. At any point they could come back down, but they would be asked a question first. The instructors made it clear that all achievements would be a success whether they climbed a few meters or all the way.
Part way up my son, who didn’t like heights, felt he could go no further and stopped. He asked to come down and the instructor nodded, but asked his question; “Can you take just one more step?” Simple but strangely effective. My son said that although he felt no pressure to continue, he looked back up the pole and took one more step, and then another, and then two more. He didn’t reach the top but was enormously proud, amazed and surprised that he had gone way further than he expected. In that one moment he learnt a life-long lesson.
I love this because it reminds us that we all have so much more inside us than we think. It is also important to reflect that the journey is of as least as much value as the goal itself.
So - what’s your goal? Is it a “want” or an “ought to”? Find the purpose, visualise it and tell people - they will encourage and support you. Take the first step and when it feels too tough… ask yourself if you can just take one more step. I expect you’ll go further than you ever felt possible.
And there’s something else too…
Celebrate your achievements however small - it’s really important.
As we are on the topic of goals … think about how footballers celebrate theirs with muddy knee slides, exuberant hip wiggles or even back flips! They’re certainly not shy about celebrating their achievements and although we may not have (or want) thousands of people watching us achieve our goals we should still celebrate our efforts and successes, however small. It releases that dopamine and boosts our positivity, happiness and confidence. It not only makes us feel good in the moment, but it also builds our determination and self-esteem so when the next challenge or goal comes along we are more likely to grasp it with both hands and take it on with success.
And now, having written about it twice… I really have no excuse for not doing my own challenge. So with my commitment device well in place, I’m off to visualise my hip wiggle dance of success!!
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email email@example.com
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us