Psychologists and inspired bloggers will tell you that happiness comes from having goals.
Studies have shown that happy people have two things in common: 1. knowing what they want 2. feeling that they are currently moving towards achieving it
It is important to have passions and direction; to set goals which are challenging, that generate personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement, and promote hope and optimism.
But what if you don’t have any goals? Or you don’t know what you want? Perhaps you just have a sense of restlessness, an idea that your life could be different somehow, that you need to make some changes. Yet you have no idea what those changes might be?
In the early 1990’s, I came across a book by Barbara Sher, entitled “I could do anything if only I knew what it was”. At the time I was a newly single mum with two young kids, transitioning into a new career, deftly balancing a diverse range of activities and responsibilities. Life was rich but exhausting. Some days I felt exhilarated and satisfied, yet other days brought frustration and resentment. I needed to start setting priorities and making changes. To do that, however, I needed to get back in touch with myself.
By lucky coincidence, Sher’s book appeared on my desk at work at this time. ( I actually don’t believe in coincidences – rather I see them as opportunities – but that is another story). I will not try to summarize this insightful book here, but rather share with you some of the ideas that I still recall and embrace today. Possibly it may help you to start working out what your ‘it’ is.
From the time we are born, we receive a constant stream of messages about how we are supposed to be. These come from parents, teachers, media, religious leaders, politicians and the community. Often these messages are contradictory. We may be told to ‘be independent’ but also ‘do what you are told’. ‘Stand up for yourself’ but ‘don’t be selfish’. ‘Take a risk’ but ‘don’t do anything dangerous’.
We can spend so much time trying to work out what we are supposed to be that we do not get time to work out what we want to be. I can certainly remember the challenge of trying to please those around me by being what they expected me to be. The problem? They all expected different things, so I was doomed to fail anyway.
Fortunately for me, there were a couple of supportive voices that asked me about me, and I was able to start to forge my own path, albeit within very narrow confines. It was only later, through some wise mentors and my professional training, that I was able to challenge and dismiss many of these messages.
Challenge: Pick up a pen and paper, and recall some of the messages you remember receiving as you grew up? Think back to what your parents or teachers said you should be. Or perhaps your peers, or the media? Which ones don’t sit right with you? Why not? Make a decision to dismiss the constraining messages.
Sher argues that to find out what we really want to be, we should reflect on those things in our life that truly ‘make our heart sing’. These are our passions, and the clues to what would make our lives more satisfying and alive. Sher refers to these as our personal ‘touchstones’.
Touchstones are many and varied. Mine are the beach, music, my relationship, gardens, teaching, travel, my sons, dinner with friends, social change, the theatre, a good book, community service… A fulfilled life does not necessitate that I only follow my passions to the exclusion of my responsibilities. However, our touchstones are the clues to the changes we need to make in our lives.
Challenge: What are your touchstones? When you were young, what were those things that made your heart sing? Are there some of these things in your life now? Do you need to make more time and opportunities for what makes your heart sing? How can you blend what you have to do with what you love?
Don’t ignore your fantasies. When we were young we could imagine rich and astounding possibilities. Then we grow up and tell ourselves to be sensible and realistic.
One day, in frustration or desperation, we might find ourselves fantasizing. “ I just wish I could just turn right here, drive to the airport and jump on the first plane to anywhere” ( I confess this was my thought one morning driving into work!). As sensible grownups, we then remind ourselves that this notion is neither responsible nor practical, and dismiss it as foolish nonsense. Sher says that we should not dismiss these fantasies outright. Instead we should listen for the clues in it that point to what we are really needing in our lives.
In my example, the idea of turning up to an airport without clothes, passport or funds was ludicrous. However there were clues there – this fantasy was about spontaneity, change of routine, time out, adventure. And those things are not irresponsible or impractical. In fact, paying closer attention to my fantasy, helped me to make some feasible changes and to set some new achievable goals. There is much truth in the saying ‘a change is as good as a holiday’
Challenge: What are your fantasies? Your outrageous wishes? What clues lie within them? What needs would they fulfill? Are there other ways you could actually meet these needs in your life? Is there one thing you could do differently?
Sher’s ideas were very useful in problem solving my dilemmas at that time. In fact, I was so impressed that I developed a workshop around them to share the wisdom with others.
So if you are feeling restless and in need of change, but don’t know what that change might be, take some time out to reflect. What messages are limiting you? What are your touchstones? What are the clues in your frustrated outbursts and outrageous dreams?
Remember that we can all be more happy and fulfilled but ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’
If you would like professional support to identify and plan your goals for positive change, call Anne-Marie on 0423155963 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Sher’s book is still in print (available on Amazon) and worth reading.