Thomas A Becket murder - oldest known image

Aiming Up

It’s that changeover time again, New Years, when we put behind us what was not so good in the year just ended and indulge in some hoping and dreaming about a better picture for the year ahead.  In this post I’m sharing some thoughts and experience about aiming up, setting some stretch goals, not settling for more of the same.

It’s not about New Year’s resolutions. At least not the way I think of them.

I don’t know about you but I’m not great on New Year’s resolutions. Probably too many in the past that I have not kept.

But I do think it’s good to take some time now to set up some kind of vision of how I want the year to be and some goals I would like to achieve in various aspects of my life – in relationships, finance, business, health and fitness, intellectual life, spirituality.

Which then leads to facing the underlying challenge: how to set goals that are ambitious, but – even at a stretch – not totally unbelievable.

Each of us will know whether it’s our inclination to overreach or underreach, and adjust accordingly.

And then some people may be happy to just settle for middle of the road, “steady as she goes”.

I know myself well enough to know I like to aim up and give myself some challenges. I’ll worry about the bruises later.

And I have already given myself a couple of immediate, big challenges for my business this year, with a couple of quite time-specific, financially quantifiable goals attached.

Dealing with the fear of failure

With ambitious goals comes the risk of failure and the associated fear.

So I am applying for myself one of the processes I teach others and which I find helps me to deal with the fear that comes with ambitious  goal-setting. That is to contemplate some past experiences of aiming up, against the odds and in such a way as might well invite some skepticism from others, and succeeding in spite of all that. I can then use that experience as a reference point for the immediate challenge.

Story of an over ambitious theatrical event producer

One experience I use to motivate myself, a series of actions and events which in retrospect could quite easily have resulted in a total flop and source of deep shame and embarrassment, but in fact turned out well, was an amateur theatrical production, in my student days.

I was encouraged by some theatrically inclined fellow students to produce a play and I chose T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, about the assassination of St Thomas A’Becket in the 12th century.

As planning got underway, one of the more theatrically knowledgeable of those fellow students asked me who I was casting for the lead role of Archbishop Thomas A’Becket. “Me” I said. His obviously shocked and disbelieving reaction was like a dark shadow cast suddenly over my optimism about the whole venture.

For indeed – don’t laugh – I had cast myself as producer, director, lead actor, and set designer – not having any track record in any of those. This was not because I wanted to be extremely egotistical. It was just because I could see how it would all fit together and it made sense to me to take on all those roles – with help from others of course. e.g. I did not personally design the set but briefed an artist on what I wanted and then got people to help build it.

I just had belief that I could do it all, in the sense of leading the process and holding it together.

The process was not without its challenges, including half the cast coming down with the flu just before opening night and not being able to have a full dress rehearsal with everyone in attendance.

But, as I had believed all along, although with some nervousness at times, the play proved to be a great success.

I still remember the moment on opening night, just after the curtain came down, the cast heard the applause and one said to me, disbelievingly, “They liked it.” “Of course,” I said, glad that I had not let that earlier shadow-casting doubter, or any of the other doubters along the way, divert me from my path.

In the intervening years I have sometimes, in one way or another, taken decisions and action that required me to have that kind of daring optimism and self-belief. It has helped to think back on that play and how I felt at that moment of acknowledged success against the odds.

There have been other times when I have listened too much to the doubters, the skeptics, who have counselled caution and keeping a low profile, and then I have not taken some risks that might have proved in retrospect unwise but then again might have brought success.

Everyone has a success story

Can you recall an experience where you achieved something you or others, or both, did not really think you could do?

In my coaching I find so often that people can have high ambitions but be daunted by the memory of times they have dared and not succeeded.

To help them change that negative mindset and emotional state of discouragement, I like to ask questions to elicit a story of some experience in their life where they have been ambitious and brave and beaten the odds, maybe surprising others and even themselves.

This can be in any area of life – from schooldays, in sport, in raising a family, in business, in commercial transactions. Then I help them to use that as a reference point that they can “call up” when the self-doubt looms.

The key to this is that the past successful experience does not have to be in the same field as for the challenge they are facing now. For example, success in raising a family should be a good self-belief reference point for someone contemplating starting their own business. A sporting success from schooldays could help provide courage for helping to heal a family rift. A remembered success in building a community organization can help a day trader make crucial decisions on trades and not freeze up.

The trick is not just to think about that past experience and success, but to bring up the emotions – recalling the fear or anxiety or self-doubt feelings beforehand or during the experience then the feelings of joy, pride, awe that you experienced at the time of success, maybe even recalling amazed or otherwise admiring comments of others.

Then you should find it easier to think and say out loud “I did that, I can do this”.

And then there are some practical steps

Of course, it’s not enough to feel we can achieve our goals. We need to take concerted and consistent action.

For example, to help achieve those goals for 2015 I spoke of above, I have signed up for some intensive coaching, with the financial and time commitments that involves.

But I know that all the financial and time commitments in the world won’t substitute for my emotional commitment to the goals and specific action to ensure I build and maintain the level of self-belief to stay the course and be successful.

Wishing you well for your dreams for 2015

Do you have some specific goals or dreams to achieve in 2015? I wish you all the self-belief and tenacity you need to achieve them and I wish you the joy of fulfilment.

Or if you have been disappointed with yourself from previous years and are choosing to play it safe this year, is that really meeting your best idea of yourself? It’s only day one of the new year so there is still time to dream bigger and aim up. “Who dares, wins.” might not always come true, but isn’t it better than not daring at all?

I’m not talking about taking crazy risks. I’m talking about giving yourself permission to stretch.

And maybe it’s time to get a coach. Remember, you don’t have to be weak or inadequate to benefit from having a coach to help you get clarity, get moving and be true to your word. It works for me.

Whatever you choose to do or not do, I wish you well.

Happy New Year!

Image: Thomas A Becket murder, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain (and see re US public domain)

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).