This blog, written by our co-founder Su, explores how setting meaningful goals can boost our health and wellbeing. This is one in a series exploring The 10 Keys to Happier Living.
It would be fair to say that in my formative years, into my 20’s and 30’s I didn’t consciously or intentionally set specific life, career, financial or wellbeing goals. Looking back, I can see that I pretty much ‘went with the flow’. Any successes or achievements I put down as being ‘in the right place at the right time’ or ‘being lucky’. And I put failures down as ‘life lessons’ to learn from. I consider myself fortunate in many ways as I:
- Received a good education at a comprehensive school – some similarities with Grange Hill
- Had a happy childhood – I spent a lot of time in Ireland in summer holidays, or weekends with extended family as both parents worked full time. It gave me a sense of independence at an early age and probably contributed to my rebellious streak.
- Have a strong network of family and friends – not without sadness, loss and upset yet I can reflect on the fact that there are ‘no family feuds’, big fallouts. We all get along and support each other.
- Enjoy my job role, proud that I trained to be a nurse as it has stood me in good stead for all the job roles that I have had during my working life.
- Have an amazing life partner that has seen me in through highs and lows, put up with my quirks.
And yet up until my 40’s I didn’t get the whole ‘setting goals’ thing at a personal level. At the time, in my line of work as a coach and facilitator, I could see the importance of them, but this ‘goal setting’ thing applied to everyone else, not to me personally as…. Let’s face it, they can be a bit boring. Then there were a series of events in my mid 40’s that changed all that:
- Mental Health and Wellbeing – My mum developed a serious mental ill-health condition, to the point where whenever the phone rang, I would fear what had happened, what I could do if anything and how I would respond to support my dad.
- Physical Health – I fractured my ankle, which meant that I was non-weight bearing for 4 months, I couldn’t physically go into work (good rehearsal for COVID19 as it was a form of self-isolation). I still managed to work from home and have many a funny anecdote to share about how I adapted.
- Grief and Bereavement – Just as I stopped using crutches, had my pins removed and was looking forward to returning to work, my dad died unexpectedly. I hadn’t seen him for 5 months because of my fracture. He had main carer responsibility and couldn’t really travel the 500 mile round trip. Initially, I was able to hold it together and then 4 weeks after his death everything just seemed to fall apart. I didn’t feel able to cope or do anything. Work was now out of the question as I struggled to even do the basics of getting up, getting dressed, having any form of emotional containment.
- Financial Health – Suddenly there was a need to survive on statutory sick pay. This had a significant impact on household finances – double income down to single income. And then the financial crash of 2010 hit and my job role was in jeopardy. Clients stopped commissioning work, so there was minimal income into the company I worked for, so I had to make some decisions quickly.
- Carer responsibility – Understandably, my mum was in her grieving process and in the early days, like me, seemed to be coping well and then her mental health deteriorated even further to a point where she needed intensive care and support. We live 250 miles apart, what were we to do?
This was my unique experience; this doesn’t make me unique.
Like others, who face a series of life events that come together at the same time, I was faced with a sense of ‘sink or swim’.
Working with my life partner, we went through absolutely everything from our finances, options I had for work, carer support for my mum, you name it… we were forensic. He was, and is, an amazing support. One of his key strengths is that he can see things clearly when I’m stuck ‘in it’ and has a talent for calmness and objectivity. It wasn’t easy, but with clear goals, difficult choices and tenacity we turned things around.
Looking back now, I find some comfort in a quote from the texts in Twilight of the Idols (1888) written by the great 19th Century philosopher, Fredrick Nietzsche, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” In my case it was true, and I’m grateful for that.
The art of setting goals and creating a habit
Carver et al (2009) highlight that we have a natural tendency to be either more optimistic or more pessimistic. We also know from the evidence that feeling good about the future, having a sense of purpose brings meaning and optimism to our lives. This, in turn, contributes to our sense of wellbeing. Even when things aren’t going to plan, having goals that can be altered gives us a sense of control. It’s also helpful to know that there are things that we can do to develop a more optimistic outlook without losing touch with reality. What I’ve learnt is:
- Goal setting doesn’t have to be boring, there are many benefits and advantages to having a set of goals to work towards.
- Setting goals helps to trigger new behaviours, guides our focus and helps to sustain momentum.
- Goals also help to align our focus and promote a sense of self-mastery. We can’t manage what we don’t measure, so having a set of goals helps us to do that and more.
Actiononhappiness.com has great materials, tips and resources to help you, those close to you and those you work with to develop goals that are meaningful and motivating. No goal is too small.
A demonstration of my habit in action – The ‘Tyranny’ of the Apple Watch
In 2017 I bought an Apple Watch; I like gadgets but wasn’t prepared for the impact that this little bit of kit would have on my health and wellbeing. I was determined to improve my fitness levels. By using the activity app has turned me from a ‘couch potato’ into someone with higher than average fitness levels (for my age), encouraged me to start running and to shift my generally healthy diet to one that is more plant-based.
During COVID19 month of May 2020, my Apple goal was to walk or run 239KM, approximately 7.7KM per day. Under normal circumstances, I would have struggled with this due to my work patterns. As I had to postpone other work goals, this became very motivating. As a result, I used my one hour exercise each day to walk/run as far as I could in the time. Not only did I achieve the target (smashed it), I also contributed to my wellbeing through connecting with nature, practising active mindfulness and appreciating those things that I perhaps I had taken for granted.
Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., Miller, C.J., Fulford, D. (2009). Optimism. In S.J.Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press cited www.actionforhappiness.org
HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.