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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Setting Goals

Before you can have any real sense of getting somewhere, you need to know the point from which you're starting, and where you want to go. Goal setting, action, evaluation, and redirection are a set of dynamic tools that can assist you in navigating successfully toward your desired destination. In the absence of these tools, you may well be washed downstream!

Yet many of us resist setting goals and taking the steps that will get us where we want to go. We often take whatever comes along in life with half-hearted resignation, making the best" of a situation rather than risking the disappointment and frustration we may experience when our hopes and expectations are not met. And then we wonder why a once brightly colored world has become nothing but a blur of grays.

It takes courage to call into question, and to consider changing, some of our most basic behaviors and ways of thinking. Working at the process of goal-setting, therefore, may be uncomfortable. Nonetheless, it is well worth the effort. Even if we don't accomplish all the goals we initially set for ourselves, the very process of formulating goals is energizing and life-affirming. It says to the deeper self, "I'm worth it," and "I can make a difference in the way I live my life."

We recommend a simple exercise that never ceases to surprise us, no matter how many times we do it. To start, you take four blank sheets of paper. On the first you write: "Where/How I Want My Life to Be Five Years from Today." On the next: "Where/How I Want My Life to Be Two Years from Today." On the third: ". . . Six Months from Today." On the fourth: "How I Would Spend the Next Six Months of My Life If I Knew for Sure They Would Be My Last." Give yourself a time limit; say, no more than fifteen minutes to work on each sheet, beginning with the five-year projection, and moving down to the last six months. As you complete each page, cover it, and do the next one without referring to the previous ones. They may connect, or they may be totally different. This exercise is all about generating lots of data that you will later work over in a variety of ways.

To provide this exercise with a wellness perspective, recall now that a life of wholeness is an integration of body, mind, and spirit. Then look back at your lists and note if you have included goals that reflect all of these aspects of being. Perhaps you recorded lots of things about new tasks to be accomplished in a job, or different types of relationships you want to establish, but have written nothing about your state of physical health, your lifestyle habits, or your desires for enhanced emotional wellbeing. Now is the time to add those. Take two or three minutes to rework each sheet, including these newly remembered aspects. (If you are using a personal wellness journal, record these observations there.)

Read over what you have written and look for things that are repeated or strongly expressed. Note patterns that are emerging. As you write, listen to your internal self-talk that may be undermining the process; saying, for example, "But that can never happen" or "I don't have the money [or courage or time] to do that." Keep moving ahead despite these self-defeating messages.

Put this exercise aside for at least a day, and do it again tomorrow, or next weekend. Compare and contrast the results of the two experiments, and keep asking yourself, "What would I have/do/be if I had no limitations [like time, money, children, etc.]?" So often we use our imagined limitations as defenses against clearly asserting and then setting out after what we really want. The difference between a life of greatness and a life of mediocrity is that the great move ahead with their limitations, while the mediocre stay stuck in them.

The next step is to focus on one or more of your strongest goals, and to draw a road map or timeline with actions or steps that will begin to bring your dream into form. For instance, if you've always wanted to run your own school, you can start today with a trip to the library to find every book available on innovative education. You can make three phone calls and talk to people involved in a similar venture, sign up for an adult education course in administration, and so on. Many people testify to the power of "magnet maps" - colorful collages that depict your dreams as accomplished realities. These maps are placed somewhere they can be seen regularly and serve to keep your vision alive.

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