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From Desire to Reality: Why Setting Goals Is Critical for Success

This is a guest post from Dr. Alessandra Wall.

As someone whose business it is to help others create change there is something magical about the New Year; it is so full of hope and motivation. It is a time to evaluate growth and direction, and to dream. Over the next month or so millions of people will share resolutions to get fitter, healthier, and more financially responsible. People will dream of the life they want and declare their desire to make the changes necessary to achieve it. Unfortunately, a great deal of them will remain dreamers; their resolutions, unmet, will nag at them and then be forgotten until next year. The sad part about this whole thing is that their failure is not due to lack of ability, or laziness, or unrealistic aspirations, it’s most likely due to lack of planning.

“A goal without a plan is but a dream” – Helen Thayer (Explorer, age 76)

I agree whole-heartedly with Helen Thayer, which is why her quote resonates so much with me – the difference between a dream and a goal is planning. It’s also the difference between a resolution and a goal. A dream, a resolution or a desire is something we would like to achieve, whereas a goal is something we are working to achieve; it’s the distinction between passive and active engagement. This doesn’t mean that dreaming isn’t valuable. Actually, it should be the starting point of your plan, but on it’s own it will not take you very far. So, how does one go about shifting from dreams to reality? Create a goal and make a plan!

From desire to reality, a five-step approach:

  1. Dream away! I am serious, the best way to stay motivated with your goals is to create ones that are based on values, needs and desires that are current and relevant to you. So dreaming about what you would like your life to look like is an excellent way to get started with your goals.
  2. Define the dream (creating objectives): Once you have an idea of what you desire, take the time to define it in real terms. For example, you might dream of being healthier, but what does that mean? It probably means eating healthier, moving more, reducing your stress, and maybe even eradicating any current health problems you have. By creating a definition of your dream you have your objectives and the starting point for setting goals.

Let’s pause here for a second. Step 2 is where most people stop, because what they defined feels like a plan, but it is very important you understand that these are just starting goals, and not even great ones at that because they are vague, so there is a bit more work to do.

  1. Describe your outcome (creating specific goals): In research they speak of operationalizing goals, which means concretely describing what one expects to happen. Going back to the example above, one of the definitions of being healthier was “moving more.” In order to operationalize that goal the question you would want to ask is “what does moving more look like to me?” It might mean working out three times a week, getting up from your desk and moving for 15 minutes or more at lunch, giving in to your best-friend’s insistent requests to join her for yoga once a week. With these concrete elements not only do you know what your outcome is going to look like, but you can also create a plan of action that will specifically address your needs.
  2. Plan, plan and plan: With step 3 you are WAY ahead of the pack. You have a vision of what you want based on current desires, you have a larger objective and you have specific goals that will allow you to reach that objective. Now all that is left is to plan your journey. Plans need to be realistic, achievable and structured.
    • First things first you have to decide which objectives or goals you will be focusing on. Don’t try to work on more than two or three goals at a time. You can do this by either focusing on goals that belong to a same objective, or selecting introductory goals from different objectives.
    • Examine each goal and identify what you need to put the new behavior in place – these can be concrete things like gym clothes, the right kinds of foods, a resource like the Primal Blueprint [1] book, or more abstract things such as a friend to go to the gym with, moral support, a shift in your evening schedule to allow time for the gym, etc.
    • Put it in the books: Set a specific date and time when you are going to start implementing your plan. Also, make sure you carve out time to actively carry out your plan.
  3. Anticipate roadblocks: Another mistake people often make is failing to anticipate barriers to change. Barriers can be:
    • situational: a party with a whole bunch of your trigger foods, a meeting that runs over into your gym time, getting sick
    • cognitive: any assumption you have that will make it harder for you to carry out your plan
    • emotional: fear is the biggest emotional barrier most people face.

Whatever your barriers, you have to know them so you can recognize and outsmart them.

If you take the time to cover these five steps you will make the transition from desire to reality. There is, however, a caveat – you might not get it right the very first time you try, but that is no reason to give up. Think of any change you are attempting as a skill you are building. You would never expect to just pick up a new skill the first time you tried it. You would understand that sometimes you can be a natural, and other times you require practice. The more you practice, the more certain things become second nature, the more you understand about yourself and the goals you are trying to reach, and the more you are able to succeed.

Bio: Alessandra Wall, Ph.D. is a specialist in change. She is psychologist and a life and nutrition coach in private practice in San Diego, California, as well as the Executive Director and Lifestyle and Nutrition Coach at CrossFit Elysium [2]. Her background is in anxiety, stress management and eating disorders. She specializes in helping people create lasting and significant life change, by providing practical insights into the cognitive and emotional factors that typically hold them back. Alessandra has been a featured speaker on topics such as the psychology of change and stress management at several PrimalCon [3] events and Health Unplugged 2014, the UK’s first Paleo/Primal conference. Check out Alessandra’s Change of Heart [4] program to learn how to create and achieve your life goals.

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