A long time ago, I was feeling lost and lacking direction. I couldn’t put my finger on just one thing, as I had a lot going on at the time. I was experiencing issues in my relationship even though we’d just got engaged. I was unhappy in my career, not sure if it was the right path for me or even what I wanted to do instead. I was also overweight and too busy to put in the time or effort to go to the gym and cook at home, let alone have any kind of social life. It was hard to put my finger on the root of the problem exactly. Everything is connected, after all.
So, when my old university friend Jane suggested a long weekend road trip through the Australian countryside, it seemed as good an idea as any. Jane was somebody I had always admired and I was proud of our friendship. She seemed to have her life worked out in many of the ways I felt that I didn’t. She was single, but happily and confidently so, and had a flourishing and fulfilling career that kept her inspired and energised. She was healthier and fitter than I was, and seemed to maintain it effortlessly.
Though we had much to talk about, the drive was long, and at times we fell into silence, gazing out the window at the passing countryside. Every few kilometers we would pass roadside dwellings, farmhouses, some inhabited, some uninhabited, some falling into disrepair. Sometimes, only fragments of the structures remained, just a chimney or concrete foundations. Apart from our conversation, glimpses of these dwellings formed part of the enjoyment of the drive. I imagined the lives of the inhabitants, past and present. Who were these people? Why had some of the houses to fallen into disrepair, while others had not, I mused. Every one of the dwellings was full of mysteries, a story of lives lived, each of them on some level comprised of a series of decisions made, actions taken or not taken, different realities constructed and pursued.
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At that point, it was easy for me to gaze at passing country houses from the comfort of the car window and imagine the lives of the inhabitants, but not so easy to look at my own life and analyse the different decisions that ultimately defined my happiness and satisfaction. It occurred to me on that drive, that I thought I knew where I wanted to be, what I needed to change, more or less, but I still felt unsure about how to do it, how to get there. This filled my days with a niggling discontent that I had become so familiar with I did not question it.
Thinking vs. Doing
As if reading my mind, my wise friend Jane suddenly changed the tone of the conversation. “What are your goals?” She suddenly asked. I felt slightly surprised. She had put me on the spot and I had not expected such a question, but I resisted the impulse to react defensively and tried to honestly address her question. An answer did not come easily. I had a vague idea of what I wanted out of life. I knew I wanted to be happier, healthier and have more time to spend with the people I loved, but beyond that, the details were fuzzy.
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After a pause, I mumbled something about continuing to develop my interests and skills, becoming a “better person”, wiser and kinder and becoming a better partner and friend. “Ok, fine,” said Jane. “But that just sounds like you are baking bread and watching it rising, can you be more specific?” I tried. “I want to improve my relationship,” I said. “To have a more fulfilling relationship. I also want to advance with my career into a position that challenges me more, where I can fulfil my potential. I want to have more meaningful friendships and interactions with people who inspire and encourage me.” Listening to myself speaking, I realised immediately that even this description seemed vague and generic. I felt slightly ashamed and it dawned on me that no one had asked me such a question about goals in as long as I could remember.
That in itself seemed strange. Surely this was a fairly simple question, and I had goals, didn’t I? “Ok” said Jane, “that’s just like saying, ‘I want a piece of cake’. What are you going to do to get it? I mean, what are you going to do every day, to work towards these things. You can make them happen in small ways, day by day. After all, you are more than just a set of habits. You might need to begin by keeping a notebook, recording small changes you make every day, small steps you are taking towards longer term goals. None of it can happen, though, unless you are very specific, unless you make a clear map of the things you can do to work towards your goals on a daily basis. Most importantly, no one knows better than you how to make these small daily changes and what they are, because no one knows your habits, your thought patterns, how you fill in the moments that ultimately comprise of your entire existence.”
Breaking down your goals
Everything that Jane said made complete sense. In fact, it seemed extremely obvious and simple, yet I had not previously considered it on these terms. I thought I knew what I wanted, what would make my life better, and yet I had not laid it out in clear and specific terms and attempted to implement it on the level of my smallest daily habits and rituals. Going for a walk in the morning to reflect on what I wanted to achieve that day, spending less time scrolling on my mobile phone, for example, these were things I could do right now, and I knew they were part of the plan Jane was referring to.
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Erich Fromm was a great psychologist who once said that “Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants.” The way I understood this idea is that although most of us think we have goals, in fact, they are often not so well-formulated or thought out. Many people end up believing that they have goals, when really, they do not. This illusion can lead to complacency and stops people from taking charge and creating the life we truly want. In other words, you might feel that you are working towards a better existence because you know that you want to, but what’s actually happening is that you are not tackling the task of defining your goals on specific terms that will allow you to pursue them in your everyday life.
Instead, many people fall into a pattern of everyday habits that give you short term satisfaction and reassurance, but are not actually contributing to real goals that bring deep satisfaction. Jane had worked this out. Not long after our road trip, I made a list of the things I wanted to achieve in my life in very concrete, specific terms.
Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer
Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight. In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.
Ask yourself better questions
Instead of asking myself big lofty questions like what did I want to get out of life, I started to ask myself questions like “ What does a more fulfilling relationship look like to me?” At the time, this meant talking more regularly with my partner, expressing my feelings openly as best I could, making sure we did things together that built trust and intimacy on a regular basis. When it came to my career, I wondered, what was missing from the career I had now. Could I get those things outside of a job or career? If I could flick my fingers tomorrow and have a job that fulfilled all these things, what would it be and what would it look like? This meant sketching out very real options and steps towards a career that I could pursue on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
I looked at all areas of my life. For more meaningful and enriching friendships, I asked myself what did this mean? What did a meaningful friendship look like to me and how was it different to the friendships I already had. This meant stepping outside of my comfort zone, initiating contact with new people, sharing my thoughts and ideas with them, and being open to new experiences. Just this simple process helped me to start taking action.
I started to go out more to events and invite people I hadn’t seen for ages. I struck up conversations with people I didn’t know and found myself making plans with them for next time. Just the mere act of writing down specifically what I wanted, and what that looked like on a day to day basis, helped me to stay focused. I was able to notice opportunities to connect with my partner and to add value in my job, knowing that it was a stepping stone towards my dream career. These days I have achieved many of the things I originally set out for, and many of those goals have changed as I’ve grown. But now I know I am on the right path because I know what my goals are, and I know I am taking a proactive path towards making them happen. In many ways I guess I have my friend Jane to thank for asking me that simple question.
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