First up I need to declare a bit of a vested interest. I absolutely love goals. I love everything about them. The thinking about what you want to change, deciding to make a fresh start, working towards your goals and then that wonderful buzz that you get when you achieve them. Goals are kind of my thing. I’m not quite sure how people get out of bed in the morning without knowing that they have goals they’re working towards. One of my favourite books is “Goals! How To Get Everything You Want – Faster Than You Ever Though Possible” by Brian Tracy. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read that book. It inspires me every time I even think about reading it again.
I used to work in sales and I loved having targets. If I didn’t know what I was supposed to achieve then I didn’t feel like I had a reason to go to work. Working in financial services things changed a bit and you were no longer allowed to have targets. Rightly so you should be providing what’s right for the customer. The thing is though that if sales is done right the customer gets what’s right for them and you hit your quota. If I wasn’t given a target then I would just set one for myself.
As well as targets at work I’ve always set myself goals to work on in my private life. I’m constantly working on my weight, exercise, sleep, studying languages, you name it really. I’m good at achieving goals if I really set my mind to it. My problem has never really been around not being able to hit goals, but rather in deciding what I wanted to work towards. Once I had something in mind then I would do everything in my power to achieve that goal.
There’s been a number of times in my life where I’ve had some pretty audacious goals. When I was in my early twenties I decided that I wanted to go and live and work in Spain. I had just graduated, had a load of debt, no idea how to earn a living over there and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Within two years I’d paid all my debts off, had been to night classes to learn enough Spanish to get by and I had been on a two week course to learn how to teach English as a foreign language. Next thing I knew I was over in Spain living my dream.
Another goal that I set myself was around the house that I lived in. After getting divorced I found myself having to start again financially with a two and three year old in tow. The family home got sold and I had to downsize to what I could afford on part time wages with child care thrown into the mix. I made a lovely home for the three of us, and we lived in that house for eleven years. I always knew I wanted something better though. I overpaid my mortgage, scrimped and saved and invested money that was to be allocated for the next home. Four years ago I managed to move us to a much bigger house, with plenty of room for the kids to come back to stay after they’ve flown the nest. It also gives me the option to have my folks come to live with me if needs be in the future. This was a really important goal for me, but not one that could be achieved quickly or easily. I learnt the value of patience whilst working towards this goal.
Whilst researching financial planning I discovered the FIRE movement which then gave me my biggest goal ever to shoot for. On the face of it I wasn’t the ideal candidate for FIRE. I was in my late forties by the time I discovered it. I was in a position where I honestly thought I could never retire. All my planning had been around surviving month to month and trying to improve our living situation. Every time I thought about retirement and pensions I would feel incredibly stressed and that there was nothing I could do about my situation. In just a few years I’ve gone from that point to knowing that I can definitely retire at sixty, probably on more disposable income than I’ve ever had before, and with it looking pretty likely that I’ll be able to afford to go part time in four years time when I hit 55. That’s quite a turnaround.
The way I’ve been able to work my way towards FIRE is with goal setting. I’ve looked at how much I need to have invested to be able to stop working. As time has gone on I’ve adjusted these goals, and decided that I wanted to have a bit more money in retirement to be able to travel when I want to. My goals have changed as a result and I’m definitely on track to achieve everything that I want to. No doubt there will be plenty more adjustments to make over the next nine years, but staying flexible in the face of new information is one of the things I love about goal setting.
As I’m such a big fan of goal setting I’m not sure why I’d need any other way to work towards change. Then I read James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”. That was a bit of a game changer for me. I am all about habits and routines, probably more than is good for me, but this showed me the benefits of the way that I have naturally organised my life. I already have so many habits that have developed naturally over time, lots of them good, but plenty of them not quite so beneficial.
I tried to think about all of the habits that I have. I’m sure I have missed a lot, but some of them include
- Weighing myself every day
- Doing physio exercises for my neck in the shower daily
- Making my bed every morning
- Having the same porridge with raisins and chia seeds breakfast
- Strength exercises to help with my running
- Having a fruit and yoghurt morning snack
- Drying down the shower to stop mould developing
- Studying Spanish on Duolingo (900 days and counting)
- Eating a bowl of branflakes after work
- Taking part in parkrun every Saturday that I’m not working
- Speaking to my folks every Sunday
Quite frankly the list could go on and on. I am clearly a creature of habit. If I’m brutally honest I’ve always thought that this is a bad thing about myself. I’m stuck in my ways, I’m not good with change and I don’t like to deviate from my norm. After reading James Clear though I’ve started to view things a little bit differently. I’ve realised that a lot of the habits I have in place are really good ones. As I do the same things at the same time every day I don’t have to think about them. I’ve been doing my physio exercises for my neck for about fifteen years since I had a trapped nerve. I don’t give it any thought. I’m in the shower and I do my exercises. I’m pretty sure if I had to make myself do those exercises it wouldn’t happen, but as it is no will power whatsoever is requited. Similarly if it’s 9.30 on a Saturday (9am in England) and I’m not at work I’ll be in a park somewhere lining up to run 5k. No needing to make myself go out for a run. It’s a non negotiable in my life. Saturdays are parkrun days.
I’ve realised that a lot of the things I do in my life are because of how I view myself. I don’t run for exercise or because it’s good for me, I run because I’m a runner (and I like to eat). I realised recently that I’d stopped viewing myself as a healthy person, and as a result my eating habits had got pretty bad. I’d put on weight and I was generally eating a pretty poor diet. I had a word with myself, remembered that I’m health conscious and started to buy more healthy tasty food. As a result I’ve dropped half a stone without really trying. My new mantra is that I’m eating for health not for weight. It’s all about making consistently healthy lifestyle choices. And a lot of that is all about automating my choices. Not having chocolate in the house, but instead plenty of fruit and veg.
I think for me probably a combination of goals and habits works quite well. I really enjoy the whole thing of setting goals and seeing myself making progress towards them. In all honesty though every time I achieve a goal it’s because I’ve implemented good habits. My most recent habit I’ve introduced is meditation. I’ve always thought it wasn’t really active enough for me and that it wouldn’t suit me. After my recent mental health struggles though I was willing to give anything a go. Of course I set myself a goal around this of completing all the Headspace beginner courses. I’m well on track to achieve that, but I think that’s probably because I’ve instigated a habit of meditating every morning after breakfast and before I start work. So for me I think I probably need the dopamine hit of ticking things off my To Do list whilst working towards my goals, but it’s the habits that I implement that are going to get me to where I want to be.