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Tuesday Insight: Positive Goals


One thing I’ve been reflecting on this week is the nature of goals. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how recognising and celebrating ‘little wins’ can help us feel more positive and in control. On the back of this, I realised that our personal goals have an important role to play in ensuring we have those little wins to celebrate, and ultimately in helping us develop positive mental health and resilience.

Think about this:

As some of you know, outside of work, I love writing short stories; it’s fun to tap into the weird wonders of my imagination and go on adventures, and I don’t even have to break a sweat. To be honest, there’s probably nothing I’d like more in life than to be a celebrated author.

So, let’s suppose I set myself the goal of becoming a best-selling author, with my first book of short stories featured on a TV chat show by the end of 2021. I write my goal down on a piece of paper. It’s specific, measurable, relevant and time based. (Spot the missing word.) 

How does my goal make me feel?

Now, imagine instead that I set myself the goal of having a short story published in a magazine, any magazine, within six months. 

How does that make me feel?

My definition of Positive Goal Setting is really simple; it’s the ability to set goals that make us feel good, whilst stretching us. We might feel nervous about pushing for a positive goal, but critically, the excitement we feel should outweigh the nerves.

Try it: Write yourself a clear, aspirational goal and then reflect on it. How does that goal make you feel now you’ve written it down? Does the idea of going for it, I mean really going for it, give you feelings of tingly, nervous excitement or do you feel anxious and overwhelmed by all that it demands? Do you feel better for having written it down, or worse? Or do you perhaps feel indifferent about it?

Goals that excite us are also likely to energise us. That energy can be used to fuel our efforts, and that will hopefully feed success in a virtuous cycle. 

On the other hand, a goal that scares us too much, that feels overwhelming, perhaps even impossible, is likely to lead to negative thoughts, a loss of momentum and feelings of disappointment, frustration and failure.

In short, a positive goal is one that stretches us beyond our comfort zone (where lurks indifference) but not so far as to take us into a zone where the overwhelming feelings are those of fear and even panic.

That stretch zone is a constantly shifting space that’s personal to each of us. Our personal capacity for stretch is influenced by past success and failures, our environment, the people around us, our health, our financial security, the amount we’ve slept and a myriad of other shifting patterns in our lives. 

Even an international phenomenon like the pandemic can influence our ability to stretch, and sometimes in surprising ways. It’s a fact that had it not been for the pandemic, I would not now be living in France: Being confronted with an unseen danger that threatened not just our health, but our livelihood and everything else that had felt so secure, somehow increased our personal capacity to take a risk we’d previously rejected.

The only real guide as to whether our goals are within our personal Stretch Zone are our feelings. So, it’s important, I think, to know your goals and to check in with them from time to time, asking yourself, “How does this goal make me feel now?” 

And positive goal setting isn’t just something to apply to big aspirations; it’s a powerful tool we can use every day to build positivity and resilience. Why not try it? For the next two weeks, set yourself a positive goal; something you’re going to strive to achieve that day. It might be a simple as cooking something you’ve never attempted, joining an online yoga class for the first time or tackling that difficult conversation you know you need to have. At the end of the two weeks, take the opportunity to reflect on how having those goals in your personal stretch zone, and then achieving them, has impacted your mood and sense of resilience. 

And, if you’d like to encourage your learners to reflect on personal goals and the extent to which they’re helping them develop their positivity and resilience, I’ve written a new module for Trainers’ Library on this theme, which will be available soon. 

Until next time…

February 16 2021Rod Webb



Rod Webb





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