Everyone has goals. I truly believe that. Even if people don’t openly express them, they are there, deep down. Find a new job, earn more money, lose weight, learn how to play the piano, get fit, read more books, learn a language. But somehow, we don’t always reach the goal or we give up along the way. So, what can we do?
As a coach, people come to me with various issues but ultimately behind them all is normally the desire to achieve or change something. After all that’s what coaching is about, to enable and encourage positive change. Once we’ve established what it is the person would like to change, I normally ask the following four questions regarding that particular goal:
Question 1: What?
What is the goal? The most important thing here is to keep asking this question until you have something specific. Vague goals are difficult to reach as they have no benchmarks. How do you know when you’ve really reached the goal? And of course, the goal is sometimes too big and rather overwhelming. For example, “I want a new job“. What type of job? Where? By when? “I want to get fit“. How fit? How quickly? How will you know when you are fitter? Repeatedly asking the question “What?”, should result in a specific goal which is measurable and has some kind of timeline.
Question 2: How?
How are you going to achieve the goal? What’s the plan? What resources are you going to need? This is where the goal becomes a real plan with details. The answers to “How?” should be used to create a plan with steps and a timeline. After all, a goal without a plan is just a wish!
Question 3: Can I?
Can I really do this? Do you really believe deep down that you can achieve this goal? Do you have the time, resources and ability to get this done? If not, can you make the time, get the resources and train yourself to get this done? A lack of self-belief from the beginning means we often mentally give up before we’ve even started. If the answer to “Can I?” is “No” then the next question is “Why not?“. Then go back to “What?” and perhaps modify the goal.
Question 4: Why?
Why do you want this? What is the real motivation here? Is it coming from you or is it pressure from someone else? Why is this goal important to you? If there is no motivation or the motivation is not truly your own, chances are you won’t stick to the plan.
When I go through these questions with my client, we often find that at least one point is, what I call, the wobbler. The question that can’t be answered or only partly. That doesn’t mean we give up on the goal. We simply work on the wobbler or adapt the goal to stop the wobbling. Let me give you two examples from own life to explain what I mean.
When I hit 30, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. The London marathon to be exact. Up to that point, the furthest I had ever run was 5km and not particularly quickly. During nine months of training, I often wondered if I would really reach my goal. So, I asked myself the four questions to see where the wobbler was.
What? The London marathon. Running 42.2km in London in April and crossing the line without dying.
How? When I arrived at the starting point on a rainy day in April, I was probably the most informed novice marathon runner you could ever meet. I had read numerous books, listened to advice from other runners, found a suitable training plan, put it in my diary and stuck to it.
Why? I had various motivations. I wanted to raise money for charity and it had always been a bit of a childhood dream to take part in the London marathon. And, I really wanted one of those shiny foil capes the runners got at the end to keep them warm. Don’t know why but as a child I thought they were cool and I was determind to get mine.
Can I? Now here’s the wobbler. After asking myself the “Can I?” question, I realised that was my problem. Could I do this? Could I really keep moving for 4-5 hours without collapsing? Was I going to have to pull out and disappoint not only myself but all the people who had supported me? It was this thought that kept me awake at night. According to my expert training plan, the longest run I would do before the big day was 35km. That’s 7.2km short! What if that was my limit. Maybe I would just get there and then collapse.
So, it was this point that I really had to work on. I read success stories of people similar to me and told myself everytime I went out for a run, I could do this. I trusted the plan and did my best. Focussing on self-belief and confidence is what really pulled me through.
Another goal, another four questions.
What? Japanese JLPT exam in December 2018.
How? Private lessons, various flashcards and books, mock papers and a study plan.
Can I? Slight wobble. The exam is known for being pretty tough BUT I’ve learned plenty of other languages before and I knew deep down it was possible if I worked hard and stuck to the study plan.
Why? Here’s the wobbler. Why? Why was I doing this? I didn’t need it for my job. Nice for a holiday but the main reason I gave when people asked me this question was, for fun. Was it really fun? Is fun a big enough motivation? The jury is still out on that point. Sometime I feel that yes, holidays and fun is enough. When I feel that isn’t enough to answer the question “why?”, I add on that learning a complex foreign language is good for brain health and it has also enriched my life in other ways: I’ve made new friends, discovered so much about an amazing country, tasted fantastic new types of food and learnt about a whole different culture. In my opinion, those things are enough to answer the “Why?”
Banzai! I passed my Japanese exam and I’m still learning and slowly improving. Japanese is not a top priority in my life but I feel it will always be part of my life in a positive way. I will keep learning and simply enjoy all the nice extras along the way.
And I finished my marathon. Despite parental concerns (dad wrote his phone number on the back of my starting number , just in case I collapsed and couldn’t communicate with anyone!) rain and snow (thank you London), toilet queue dramas and being overtaken by a Womble and various Smurfs, I made it to the end, no emergency numbers needed. And yes, I got my shiny cape!
For more tips on reaching goals, please see my previous post. And as always, if you would like posts like this straight to your inbox, just add your email to the box on the right to follow my blog.
So, here we are at the beginning of a new year, looking ahead at what we want to achieve and once again, I’m making a new list of goals. You may remember I did the same last year. I had 9 goals on my list and here’s how I got on:
- 2 goals ticked off 100% (Japanese and slow cooking)
- 3 goals adapted and then ticked off 100% (I started learning Polish instead of Italian, I learned to loom instead of knit and loomed a jumper for Polo, my dog)
- 1 goal got 30% ticked off (still a few more kilos to go)
- 3 goals were complete failures (guitar, book proposal and (gasp) my cake decorating skills! Still no idea how the hell that didn’t happen.)
Despite those 3 flops, I’m pretty happy with what I achieved. So, I decided to make a list again, consider what went right and what went wrong last year and make a few adjustments to my strategy.
My list for 2019 turned out to be very “language learning” dominant, so I thought I would share a separate “language goal list” with you and my tips for sticking with it. When people make their bucket lists, learning a language often comes high up along with travel, learning a musical instrument and getting healthy/losing weight. Surprisingly, when I recently took a look at dayzero (a website where people share their bucket lists) “Kissing in the rain” was also featured very highly! Just head to Sheffield on a Friday night and have a few drinks. Job done.
But moving away from the random targets, why is it that things like learning a language, playing an instrument and losing weight are often on these lists. Unfortunately, it’s because they are often the things that elude us. They take time, dedication, some discipline and are long-term projects. While my 24-hour Polish Project had its advantages, I know a lot of what I learned has already slipped away as I have been totally focussed on my Japanese for the last few months. In many ways, languages are the same as health and music. They are never really short-term projects, but rather a way of life. While that all sounds a bit daunting (especially the health part as cinnamon rolls are currently my “way of life”), let me share my language targets for this year plus some tips on how I intend to reach them:
1. Do the next JLPT (Japanese Proficiency) certificate in December
How? So, this is a good example of smart goal. The key here is the deadline. I’ll talk about the pros and cons of language exams in another post soon but registering for and taking part in an official exam really kept me on track last year. Finally getting my certificate also gave me a real motivation boost.
2. Refresh my conversational Spanish by mid-March
How? Again, I have a deadline (wedding in Madrid in March) but I have also tried to make the language focus quite specific. I initially wrote “Refresh my Spanish” but then realised that is way too vague. What does it even mean? How much? Refresh what exactly? Better to prioritise exactly what I want to use it for. In my case, to chat to any Spanish people on our table (although the bride is actually English. Hopefully we are not on a Brexit table!)
3. Refresh my Polish for a trip to Warsaw in June
How? Once again there is a date. It isn’t fixed yet but I am definitely going to Warsaw with a friend sometime around June. As I am still very much a beginner, my focus here will be on travel survival phrases and some basic small talk. Again, I have already planned what I need to focus on.
4. Start learning Turkish
How? Turkish is going to be another 24-hour experiment (like the Polish Project) but this time only using the Duolingo app. No idea yet where this journey will take me but I’m excited to start something totally new (the only word I know is Döner) and get more experience of using apps to learn languages which I can also pass onto my clients.
5. Read at least 4 books in German
How? One of my non-language learning targets for this year is to read more fiction. I realised that I’ve spent the last few years mainly reading coaching books and I really miss reading fiction. Luckily, my German is good enough to do this quite easily and I feel that it’s a good way to keep my language level up in a passive way. The key here is fun. It‘s something I like doing that takes little effort.
So what are your goals? Do you have any language learning plans for 2019? Feel free to add your targets in the comments below. Sometimes just writing them down can give you the motivation to get moving. And as always, if you would like my posts sent straight to your inbox, feel free to follow me by using the box on the right.