A time of beginning thats full of possibility
Steps to Success: Back to School
Its that wonderful time of year again, students of all ages heading back to school: the start of the academic year. I delight in this time, not only as a parent after a long summer holiday and because I have a penchant for new stationery, but because after years in the education system Im still in tune with the school calendar and see this as a time of beginning, full of possibility a new year (just without the champagne).
As such, its a great opportunity to re-evaluate: see how far weve come with our goals, set some new ones and get back on track after the summer, which, what with holidays and heat, can slow us down and throw us off our game a little.
I like to use this as a time to knuckle down to work again (be that homework, life work, paid work) and to do that, first I have to know what it is I want to achieve. What are my goals?
When I first began this column six months ago, I explained that goal setting is really the cornerstone of coaching. We need to know what our target is before we can hit it. However, sometimes its not easy knowing where to start when setting goals. When faced with questions like, what do I really want out of life? we might have a vague notion but if weve never been specific and written it down, it might seem daunting. Now is a time to explore what you want and what that is going to give you. But how?
Start with the end in mind, says Stephen Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There are many variations on how to approach this. A friend said that on the first day of his MBA course, the class was asked to each write their own obituary. Covey suggests you write your eulogy, but three times, one from the point to view of a family member, one from a friend and one from a work colleague. The idea being that between them, you will identify the character traits and accomplishments youd most like to be known for in these fundamental areas of your life.
One of my favourite exercises on this theme is called the rocking chair test. This is quite a relaxing and inspiring assignment should you wish to give it a go (see the homework has begun already)!
The rocking chair test:
Set aside some time to do this in a quiet, undisturbed place.
Relax, close your eyes, become peaceful and allow yourself, in your minds eye, to project forward in time into your life, far into your ideal future...
See yourself now, towards the end of a very long and fulfilling life, very old, sitting in a rocking chair in a beautiful place and you feel really calm, content and satisfied. Find that place of total fulfillment.
Now look back over the many happy years of that wonderful and ideal life until you come to your current self and see all the things that have led to and contributed to that fulfilled old age. This is everything as you hoped it would happen, there are no limits, no need to edit yourself. Let your mind run free as you see the facets of your life bringing you to this happy dotage.
Do this by easily putting aside any current circumstances, and current beliefs about yourself and what is realistic or how this it could ever happen. Just let it flow.
Look at the specifics what are you doing, seeing, hearing people and yourself say, enjoying at different times of your life?
When you have had a good look, knowing you can revisit this happy vision anytime you wish, come back to where you are now and answer these questions, writing down your responses as fully as you can with as much detail as you can. Remember, no editing or judging yourself...
In this wonderful life:
What have you done? Who have you done them with? What/who has been important to you? What has given you your greatest happiness? Where have you lived? What have you owned? What have you created? Where have you travelled? What do the people around you say about you? Who have you affected and how? How will you be remembered and for what? What are you still doing in your old age that brings you pleasure? What are you still looking forward to? What else is wonderful about your life?
Then for each of these things, qualify them with a reason for why this is important to you. Ask: what specifically does this thing/action/achievement give me? Why?
A client, doing a similar exercise, half-jokingly said, But Brad Pitt is already taken thats my ideal. Fair enough. But the question to ask is: What about Brad makes him ideal? Is it that you want a partner that you find handsome? Or wealthy? An actor? Living in California? Or is well known? And then ask: What is important about this for me? What else could possibly satisfy this need?
Whilst we cannot control others decisions (like who Mr Pitt wants to be with) we can clarify what is important to us and what our ideals are, so that we can recognise them when we see them, even if its not exactly where we expected to find them This goes for ideals in people, work situations, life experiences etc. We may not always be able to get exactly what we think we want, but we can get the essence of whats important about it, so we get what we need to gain the same satisfaction. It seems The Rolling Stones were on to something!
So what are the benefits of this exercise?
Besides showing us what we want, whats important, highlighting our priorities and what we value, generating ideas and offering us direction from these ultimate end ideals, we can then work backwards, figuring out what we have to put in place to make them actually happen.
We can create goals for ourselves: long-term ones then breaking those down into shorter-term goals (check back to earlier columns outlining how to create SMART, PURE goals). From there we can figure out what we can be doing this very day towards that fulfilling and contented future step by step until we achieve our ideal.
And this exercise is not just for life, it is also transferable to projects and time frames. If you are going back to school in the coming days, try the rocking chair test, projecting forward to graduation day, or even just the end of the school year. Create your ideals of what you want to get out of it and achieve. Set goals for yourself and work towards them. And if youve already done it for life it can be useful to see how these shorter-term goals fit into your overall plan.
Id like to extend my personal best to everyone heading back to school (in whatever form), or exploring some new endeavour this autumn. Its an exciting time and a great opportunity for us all to metaphorically sharpen our pencils and set ourselves up for success!
Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner. For further information telephone 705-7488 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com
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