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Show Notes:

I’m back with season 2, lovely ones! In this episode, we dive into my favourite goal setting process, complete with the adjustments you can make to work towards your goals when we’re surrounded by uncertainty.

Welcome to Hello Rebecca Ray, our collective home for courage, growth, and human to human connection. I’m your host, Dr. Rebecca Ray, human, clinical psychologist, author, and educator. I know only too well how fear, comparison, and self doubt can stifle your potential. This podcast is all about brave and meaningful living, and how you can make your authentic contribution to the world today, and everyday.

Hi, lovely ones welcome to episode number 52. The first episode in season number two of Hello, Rebecca Ray. Thank you so much for your patience while I was on a break. I took a break towards the end of 2021. And we’re now in January of 2022. And I don’t know about you, but it’s taken me quite a while to catch up with the fact that a new year has started. I think I could have done with another month just to get used to the idea of a new year. And so in this episode, I want to talk about how I plan out my goals for the year, especially as we’re facing another year of uncertainty. So obviously, we’re in a global pandemic, that’s not changed. If you’re in Australia like I am, then the pandemic has really taken a hold here in recent times. And that can sometimes really throw out goal planning. It can throw out what you’re thinking you can expect of yourself, and also your motivation. And so I want to talk about how to approach your goals for the new year in a way that is a little gentler than perhaps you might do in years where everything is stable and it feels a lot more certain than what it does right now.

So when we’re thinking about uncertainty on a global level, perhaps also on a local level in your communities, but also on an individual level, and what it is that you’re hoping for the year, but also in the context of what you can’t control around you. I want you to approach your goals from a place of controlling the controllables. That’s a lot of control, isn’t it? If you’re a control freak, like me, I’m raising my hand right here. My brain especially loves to feel like things are predictable. And to feel like the efforts that I make will result in a certain outcome. Most brains are like that. So if you’re experiencing this sense of uncertainty that’s making you think, well, what’s the point of me setting goals because I don’t know whether things will be cancelled or they’ll be turned upside down because of COVID, then instead, what I want you to focus on is still set your goals, but focus on those parts of the goals that are within your control. So rather than placing your energies towards things that are outside of your control, like the risks, there’s always a risk of things being cancelled at the moment because of the pandemic. Then I want you to instead to focus on your own actions and what it is that you can control within you. However, that’s not to say that you can’t also plan when you set goals for contingencies or backup plans. So one of the things that you can control is that when you set a goal, you might also set a back up plan for particular steps of the goal or the outcome of the goal, if certain things happen that are outside of your control. So that’s important too, to remember that you have the choice here to be able to plan those contingencies as well. The other thing I want you to think about is the way you approach your goals. Now, while I’m always the first to talk about goal setting and living an inspired expansive life, the one thing that I don’t encourage you to do is to be gung ho about it and to approach your goals as if there is no other option you can’t possibly fail, you can’t go sideways, you can’t go backwards. I really think the risk with that if you approach it from a perfectionistic attitude or from a level of expectation that is possibly unrealistic, then you run the risk of actually harming yourself psychologically in that, you place expectations on your shoulders that are unfair in the current circumstances that we’re living in, in the world.

So what I want you to do is to instead, set goals absolutely I’ll go through how to set those goals in a moment. But please do so from a place of flexibility and gentleness. Please do so knowing that when we’re in a place of uncertainty, especially uncertainty that drags on over a series of years now, like we’ve experienced, what happens is there is quite a significant drain on our emotional resources because brains don’t like uncertainty. So as we sit with these, are we going to be locked down, are we going to be let out of lockdown, is there going to be supplies available at the grocery store, are my travel plans going to be cancelled, again? All of this stuff, carrying that weight on your shoulders, leads to a level of emotional exhaustion and can also result in emotional burnout. So I really want you to mind your expectations. I’m not saying don’t set goals, this entire episode is about you setting your goals but I want you to do so from a place of flexibility and understanding that you might actually not be able to apply the same expectations that you would otherwise apply if there wasn’t a global pandemic, because it’s just bloody exhausting.

The other thing when we’re coping with uncertainty is to take the wisdom that we’ve learned from the past. So you know certain things now about the pandemic, you know, certain things about, perhaps how your local government deals with the pandemic. So, there perhaps are certain things that you might be able to anticipate and certain things that you still can’t anticipate. So when it comes to controlling the controllables, you can also take what you know about the past couple of years, and choose backup plans based on that knowledge as well. As well as also how you’ve coped over the last couple of years, and what you’ve learned about yourself during that time. Use that knowledge to help you set goals that are tailored to your emotional state, to your mental energy that you have available, to the time that you have available, as well as to take into account the other demands on your life that are occurring, perhaps right now, or perhaps that will show up for the rest of 2022.

So, let me take you through with that in mind as that with uncertainty is our foundation, I want to talk you through how I set goals for a new year. The first thing that I start off with doing is looking at the previous year and actually do this, in partnership with my wife Nyssa we at the end of every year, we sit down together, usually, perhaps out at breakfast, or somewhere nice that we find inspiring. We have a cuppa and a blank pad and pen. And all we do is we write an entire list in no particular order of everything that we have to celebrate from the previous year. Everything that we’re grateful for everything that we’ve accomplished. Now, the reason we tend to do this together is because often times, it’s really easy to forget things that you have achieved, especially when you’re looking at 12 months, a chunk of time, like 12 months. So much can happen in that time, it’s really easy to forget. So actually really encourage you to do this more regularly than just 12 months. We do this a couple of times during the year. But we always do one at the end of the year. And what can happen is when we do it as a partnership, I often remember things that Nyssa forgets about her own accomplishments and vice versa. So it can be really helpful to do it with a partner.

So, what we do is we just simply make a list, it’s nothing fancy, we don’t actually even do anything with the list, we simply just make that list and sit and reflect on it, you know, a little bit of time for self celebration can be incredibly powerful. Then my next step is to identify where I’m heading with my goals by looking at what’s not working for me right now. Because that helps me to figure out where I need to tighten my alignment with my values. So if I’m feeling like I’m misaligned with certain values, then that’s a sign that I might need to set goals that helped me come back into alignment, and by also identifying what is working so I know what to do more of. So I tend to sit back, again, this is nothing fancy. I don’t write anything down at this stage. I simply just reflect on each area of my life and think about, okay, what’s feeling good and what’s not feeling so good. And I never do this from a place of judgement, or from a place of force or perfectionism. I’m simply just observing. Where am I feeling good and aligned in my life right now and where am I feeling a little bit off kilter. The third step then is to actually set goals. Now, you know, I’m a big fan of goals as a human and also as a clinical psychologist, because goals help us to flourish, they represent something that’s tangible that you’re working towards. And something that you’ve identified that you want to achieve. Having those goals for accomplishment actually adds to our sense of overall well being and the quality of our lives. The research has proved that so they’re really, really helpful things to be able to spend time on doing these goals. They help us to prioritise and structure our time, as well as to focus our attention and increase our persistence. Goals help us to define who we are by creating a long term vision. And of course, that gives us something to look forward to, which is pretty good. Because if you don’t set goals, then often, you can just find that you’re simply going through the motions. And when you just go through the motions of existing, what the research calls languishing, which is essentially, the space in between being psychologically unwell and thriving, there’s a space in between when you’re not quite unwell, but you’re certainly not living fully, richly or meaningfully, instead, that’s languishing. And what goals help us to do is to shift towards thriving. But the thing is that getting from A to B is a little more convoluted than we usually first imagine, it’s not that simple. You can’t just go oh,

I’m here and I want to go to there. That’s the start but usually what happens is motivation is incredibly unreliable. And there’s a whole series of competing life demands that usually crop up along the way. So what I want to do is show you a formula and a process that I use to maximise the chance of goal achievement. The formula that I use for setting a goal in the first place is the SMART goal formula, because that helps you to make sure that the goals are productive, and meaningful and achievable. The formula is S for specific, M for meaningful, A for adaptive, R for realistic, and T for time limited. When it comes to making sure your goal is specific. What I mean by that is by making sure that you’ve got clarity around what it is that you’re going to achieve. It’s really hard to take action if your goals are vague. So instead, I want you to specify the actions that you will take when and where you’ll do so and who or what is involved. A vague goal or a nonspecific goal might be I’ll, I will get healthy in 2022. But a specific goal would be I’ll eat five servings of vegetables per day and exercise for 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Now if you’re thinking Beck, calm down, that sounds like a lot. I’m not saying you have to do that. I’m just saying there’s a very big difference between a vague goal which is not very achievable, because it doesn’t actually specify what it is that you need to do and a specific goal, which helps you to then break that down into steps. Make sure that your goal is meaningful, I want you to go deep here, set a goal that is personally meaningful to you. I want you to make sure that it’s genuinely guided by your values. That is the things that represent what is important to you deep down and what it is that you want to stand for in your life. Really be aware that setting a goal that is imposed upon you by someone or something else, or that it represents something that someone else wants for you rather than what you want for yourself. Or setting a goal that’s inconsistent with what matters to you means that it will be actually much harder to achieve because it’s not personally meaningful. If your goals lack a sense of meaning or purpose, check in and see if they really actually guided by your values or if they belong to someone else. Make your goal adaptive. What do I mean by that?

What do I mean by adaptive I want you to think about when we’re talking about something that’s adaptable in your life, it just means it fits well. So I want you to think about is the goal going to take you where you want to go? Will it help you to take your life forwards in a direction that, as far as you can predict is likely to improve the quality of your life? This might seem obvious, but many people set goals that they think they should set. You know, perhaps there’s a cultural kind of conditioning that says, you need to set a goal to buy a house by the time you’re 30. And that’s all well and good if that’s the timeframe that you want to put on it. But is that actually important to you? You know, are you more likely to be someone that would respond far better if the goal was about adventure and travelling the world instead rather than something that was solid and tying you to one particular place? So my reminder is here that this is your life. nobody else’s. So I really want you to set goals for you on your terms that help you to stay on the path and make sure that they fit for you. That’s what I mean by making the goal adaptive. Then I want you to make sure that your goal is realistic. Make sure that your goals are realistically achievable in terms of the steps that you’re going to take. When considering what’s realistic, I want you to take into account your health, the competing demands on your time, and whether you need help or guidance to achieve it. Sometimes that might be helpful to set smaller goals to ultimately lead to something bigger in the future. So start with what you feel fits for where you’re at in life right now. And then reassess later. But you don’t want to start so big that you end up being completely overwhelmed because you’ve set a goal that’s unrealistic, or unattainable, because of what it asks of you. And then finally, make sure the goal is timed limited to maximise your motivation and increase the specificity of your goal. And I want you make it time limited. If there is no timeframe for your goal, it’s easy to get off track and lose focus. So I want you to set a day, date and time by which you’ll achieve the goal. And there are some times where you can’t be that specific, especially if it’s like an ongoing habit that you want to develop. So perhaps there is no end point. And if that’s the case, I just want you to set and as accurate a timeframe as possible. So if it’s an ongoing habit, you might set a timeframe for how often you’ll do the habit rather than a goal that has a particular outcome or end date.

This year in 2022, I’ve set goals for health, finances, my relationship with Nyssa, my friendships, my extended family and my business, I’m not saying you have to set goals for every single area of your life or even a few areas like I have, I think it’s really important to simply set goals for the areas that you particularly want to work on in a certain timeframe. Sometimes if you want to set goals across a number of areas, I want you to be mindful of the fact that that can be overwhelming for your brain as well, especially if you’re not used to setting goals. So, one of the key ways of making your goals winnable, is winnable a word? It is now, let’s go with it. Making your goals winnable or achievable is by starting small. So you might just start in one life area. And then if you’re also considering goals, in the area of relationships, that is partner relationship, friendships and family, you might think Beck how can you set goals when it involves other people? What I’m talking about there is how do I show up in those relationships as the person that I want to be? So the goals I set for those areas do involve other people, absolutely. But usually it’s about time and experiences, that I want to make sure that I schedule and I take time to plan out with those important people in my life. So I’m not setting goals that I want them to do. In some cases, I want them to show up, but I’m not setting goals for their lives and saying you need to do this. I’m simply saying this is who I want to be in my relationships. So I, those particular goals for me are more about making sure that I spend quality time with each of those important people in my life throughout 2022.

Now, when you’re doing this and setting these goals, I want you to also consider the equipment or items you’ll need. Who you can seek out if you need help along the way, it’s really important that you don’t expect yourself to set goals that you then achieve completely alone. I mean some goals especially things like health won’t change unless you show up for yourself, absolutely, 1,000%. And often finances as well. But also for things like health and finances, we can often need help, you might need to bring in a personal trainer or sign up for some group training or see a dietician or with finances you might want to see a financial planner or refinance your home loan at the bank or something like that. I really want you to cons, goals don’t have to be you coming up with all the solutions for yourself. They can simply be you saying that you want to overhaul a particular area in your life. And you then bring in the support either friendship support or professional support that will help you to do that.

And then also consider how you reward yourself along the way. Now oftentimes when we set goals, achieving the goal in and of itself is a reward. But especially if the goal is something that will take a long time to achieve or require a lot of effort to achieve, you’ll end up getting to a point where if you just focus on the outcome, you might end up drifting off track because it seems too far away or too overwhelming. So it can be really helpful to bring in rewards at certain points along the way during the process. Now, at this point, I then break down my goals into action steps. And as much as possible I delegate, I’m a big fan of making sure that my goals are supported by my team as well, especially when it comes to my business. Because the thing is, goals are simply empty words without the actions to follow them through. And if you’re someone who has struggled with following through on your goals before now, haven’t we all been there? Yeah, I certainly have, then I guarantee that the process I’m about to take you through will help too. So first, when we’re writing the steps down, or thinking about what the action steps will be for each of these goals, we need to start with why the goal is important. When we get clear on why something is really important, it makes it easier to bear any effort or hardship that shows up in the service of reaching that goal. So I want you to consider the values behind your goal. That is the things that are really important to you and kind of represent what you want to stand for as a person. Because it’s your values that provide the foundation for what it is that you’re working towards. An example of a value and a goal and how the relationship between those two fit together might be that let’s say you have a value of living life adventurously. One of the goals that could represent adventure in your life could be that you want to climb Mount Everest in 12 months time from today. Now, of course, this is a little bit extreme. And I’m not saying that you have to go and climb Mount Everest, but it makes a good example. The key is that I want you to work out what you’re trying to create for your life that makes this goal important. Is it a way of being, something you want to stand for? Something you want more of in your life or something that you want to represent? In other words, if you are looking back from your 80th birthday, should you be lucky enough to celebrate one. Why would you like to have achieved this goal? What would it mean to you and the people that you love? And what would it be aligned with in terms of what’s important to you.

So Mount Everest in 12 months time is a goal that might represent your particular love of adventure. My brother has a similar value actually, he hasn’t climbed Mount Everest, but I always think of him when I use the example of Mount Everest because he has a very strong value of adventure, but also courage. And one of the goals he set to fit with those particular values or to represent those particular values was to cross Bass Strait. Bass Strait is a body of water between the mainland of Australia and our most southern state of Tasmania. And it’s a very rough body of water and he set a goal to cross it on a stand up paddleboard, would you believe? Now, I’m certainly not going to do that that’s not consistent with my values. But I totally respect his efforts. He successfully did that in 2018. So that’s one goal that represents those particular values. So I want you to think about what are the values that underpin your goals? Then I want you to acknowledge what is this going to take from you.

Where people commonly fall down in attempting to achieve their goals is by failing to identify clearly what they are willing to commit to in the service of making the goal happen. This means considering what you are willing to give up for the goal, what discomfort you’re willing to experience for the goal. And what will keep you working towards the goal when things start to get tough because I promise you that things probably will get tough because any goal that’s worth doing is usually something that requires a lot of effort from us and often time. So let’s stick with the Mount Everest example to show you what I mean. If you think about what will it take? Well, the easy answer is obviously a lot. Right? It’s gonna take a lot from you to be able to climb Mount Everest in 12 months time. But if we narrow it down, it might look like this. In order to climb Mount Everest, I’m willing to give up sleeping in to attend daily training sessions. I’m willing to cut back on eating out to save my money for the trip. I’m willing to give up my leisure time to ensure I’m adequately prepared. I’m willing to experience fatigue, muscle aches, pains and even injuries. Financial hardship, because I’m sure it’s not the cheapest thing to train and prepare for a trip like Mount Everest. I’m willing to experience a lack of motivation, emotional reluctance, stress, thoughts, like I can’t do this or it’s too hard or I’m not good enough, or I might fail. Lack of support from some people in my life, feeling overwhelmed with time pressures to fit in everything in and perhaps also frustration when things don’t go as I expect them to. So when you’re thinking about what your goal will take, specifically, I want you to go through in your head, what’s likely to be the discomfort that will show up as you try to achieve this.

What are you willing, what discomfort are you willing to make room for in the service of reaching this really important goal. And then we need to plan the steps. At this step, I simply want you to list the steps out, it’s not fancy, nothing like that. I just want you to, I don’t know, open a document on your computer, open your notes app on your phone, grab a pen and paper, whatever works for you. I want you to just write a list of the steps for that particular goal. Now, you might not know all of the steps and that’s completely okay. It’s not about getting it perfect from the get go. It’s simply about planning for what you know now or can anticipate with a little room to move because steps usually crop up along the way that we were unable to predict at the beginning. So just make a list. That’s it, you’ve got the goal there. Now I just want you to make a list of the steps that you can think of that will help you to reach that goal. And then we need to plan for things to get hard. 

Now sure, your goal may not be Mount Everest your Bass Strait on a stand up paddleboard. But one thing that is common to the vast majority of goals that are important to us is that they take time and effort. And the more time and effort something takes, the more we tend to value the process and the outcome of that goal. This means that it’s going to get tough at some point. That’s the bad news. But it’s also the good news because it’s going to prove to you what you’re capable of. So rather than ignoring this fact, I want you to maximise the chance of achieving your goals. By planning for the hard times at the outset. It’s about identifying what you will do when it gets hard, what you need, who can support you and any contingency plans you might have.

So continuing the Mount Everest example, it might be the case that you’d have a list of reasons for wanting to climb Mount Everest on your vision board like adventure, and courage. I’ll talk about vision boards in a moment. You might also plan that when you’re having negative thoughts, you reach out to a close friend who you can turn to for encouragement to get you through periods where you’re lacking in motivation, you might utilise the support of group training for people who share your same goal. If you get injured, you’d seek the support of your doctor and other medical professionals who will help you stay on track through your preparation. And when it gets too hard, you might have a contingency plan for small breaks and rewards along the way. So whatever your goal is, I want you to think about the times that are likely to crop up when you simply just don’t want to continue because it got too hard. Or when you get pushed off track, you know, especially when we’re developing new habits, those new habits are incredibly vulnerable for the first few months that we’re developing them. And it’s really easy to fall back into old, unhelpful habits if you get pushed off track. So I want you to plan for that. What, what’s it going to look like when you’re off track? What kind of, type of things can you bring in that will help you get back on track?

So, again, go back to your pen and paper and I want you to answer the following questions for your goals. Why is the goal important? Which values does it represent? What discomfort are you willing to feel think and experience to reach your goal? What are you willing to give up to reach your goal? How will you keep going when things get tough? What are the things that will get you through? Now from this point, you’ve probably got a fairly good map of what your goals look like. And as backwards as this might sound, some people say do a vision board first. But I actually set my goals up first. And then I go to my vision board. And what I do is I transfer each of these goals onto my vision board in a visual format. So they might be represented by a picture or a word or both. That simply is then placed in my direct vision. I have my vision board in my office. So I’m actually looking at it as we speak. And that means that every time I sit down, I’m constantly connected with my goals in a visual way. So one of the things about goals is that are actually really unhelpful. If you simply write it down as you’re listening to this episode or after you listen to this episode, and then you don’t look at them again. That’s the problem, because brains are really easy creatures to fall back into old habits and old routines and forget what it is that you’re working towards. So I really encourage you to both keep your goal list out somewhere that you can read it daily, or at least weekly. And then to also make your goals a visual using something like a vision board, to be able to then maximise the chance that you’ll continue stepping toward achieving them.

Now, part of this process, then, which I’ll do an entire episode on fairly shortly, is you need to be able to check in with your goals as you’re working towards them. Because if you don’t check in, then sometimes you miss out on the fact that the process that you’re going through towards achieving your goal is no longer working for you. Or you’ve, your brain has become really overwhelmed at the steps, or you need to adjust your expectations because something’s not working, or because something has cropped up that you haven’t anticipated. So once you start on the path, and you get that initial kind of kick of motivation, what I then need you to do is to review your goals regularly to make sure that you’re on track because it’s really easy to slip off track in an insidious way. So to end this episode, lovely one, I just want to send you all my love and courage for 2022, wherever you are, and whatever it is that you’re planning, I want you to remember to go gently. Motivation can be very unreliable and emotional resources are very easily exhausted when we’re in a time of uncertainty. So please make sure that your expectations are flexible and gentle. And then don’t make it too fancy. You don’t need anything fancy to set goals. You just need to follow this particular process and write them down so that you can at least see them and review them. That’s an incredibly powerful step is just simply writing them down so you can see what it is that you’re out to achieve.

I am with you and I can’t wait to see what you create in 2022. I’ll catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello Rebecca Ray.

Lovely ones. Thank you so much for listening to Hello, Rebecca Ray. If you’ve got something meaningful from this episode, and the most meaningful thing you can do is jump on over to wherever you listen to your podcast episodes and leave a review. Because it’s those reviews that help this podcast stay here. Make sure to subscribe, and if you’re generous enough to share this episode, thank you so much, I love seeing your shares on social media. So please tag me, catch you next time.