They're usually dissatisfied with some aspect of their personal or professional life and want to make a change. But they're not sure how or even what it might look like.
They come looking for answers. Instead, I begin by having ask themselves questions. Specifically, three questions:
1. Who am I?
2. Where am I going?
3. What do I need to do to get there?
These are among the most important questions you can ask and only you can answer them. They force you reflection, plan, and act. They help you diagnose your discontent and give you the direction needed for moving forward.
Together, they will transform your life.
Let's start with the first question.
Who Am I?
Only when you know who you are - your values, beliefs, and aspirations - can you live true to who you are. Now is the time to take stock of who you are as a person, both personally and professionally.
Some further questions to ask are: What motivates me in life? What do I love doing? How do I define success? And what do I value most – e.g., relationships, financial success/security, adventure, building something, etc.
Years ago, as a newly minted Ph.D. with an ambitious research agenda, I found myself alone, day after day analyzing data and writing papers very few people would read.
I felt dissatisfied but kept laboring on since that’s what professors and researchers do. Or so I thought.
Only years later did I come to understand the source of my dissatisfaction. I value human connection and like to contribute not only to a conversation but also to the lives of other people. At that point, I recognized that I needed to take what I know and use it to make the world a better place.
I now know that who I am is defined by three things -my desire to connect, create, and contribute.
We discover our values by discovering what we value.
Reflect on some of the most meaningful and satisfying experiences in your life. Why were they so significant to you? What makes your remember them so fondly? It's likely because these activities aligned with your deeper values, even though you may not have recognized it until now.
Your values and goals are unique to you. Living aligned with them is the only way to be authentic and experience maximum satisfaction and impact.
Where Am I Going?
Before you can believe in a goal, you must first have an idea of what it looks like. To paraphrase the old adage: you have to see it before you can believe it.
Long-term dreams give us direction and motivate us to act.
Quoting from a Huffington Post blog I wrote a couple of years ago:
Without a clear vision of the future, it's very difficult to muster the motivation to keep going. Visualization also helps you fine-tune your specific efforts.
This is where visualization comes in, which is simply a technique for creating a mental image of a future event. When we visualize our desired outcome, we begin to "see" the possibility of achieving it. Through visualization, we catch a glimpse of what is, in the words of one writer, our "preferred future." When this happens, we are motivated and prepared to pursue our goal.
What is your vision? It may appear gauzy now and that's fine. It becomes clearer as you begin moving towards it and opportunities start to unfold.
As your dream becomes clearer, start setting benchmarks, criteria you can use to measure success.
Success is much bantered about word, but not many people define it. It is unique to you and only you. It is guided by your values and aspirations. It is yours. You own it. You make it happen.
Racking up incremental successes keeps us motivated and moving.
What does success look like to you?
What Do I Need To Do To Get There?
Dreams give us direction, but smart work and short term goals get us there.
Notice I didn't say hard work. Lots of people stay busy and get nowhere. Smart work is doing the right things, in the right order, and the right time.
Often we get caught up in our vision of grandeur and fail to put in the effort needed to get there.
What do you need to start doing NOW in order to begin the process of positive change?
This necessarily involves setting short-term goals and benchmarks of success. Think of goals as stepping stones on the way to your destination.
This way you can assess the progress you are making. Write down what success will look like at each step in the process, keeping in mind the road you are on may look very different than it does today.
What do I have or need to acquire to achieve my long-term dream?
Who do I need to know? What do I need to know? Am I in the right place - geographically, educationally, relationally, etc?
Once you know where you are and what you need, you can identity your first-steps. Take them. Avoid distractions. Focus on what matters, step-by-step.
Along the way you will encounter set-backs and doubts. This is perfectly natural.
When this happen, harness the power of motivational beliefs. Feeling pessimistic? Now is the time to reprogram your mindset. According to research conducted by business consultant Marshall Goldsmith, unflappable optimism is one of the most important characteristics of successful people.
To achieve goals in life and become the best version of yourself, you need to believe in yourself, your values, and your ability to succeed.
Easier said than done, right? Here are a few tips: First, replace negative thoughts with positive alternatives. Be energized by the prospect of winning not the fear of defeat. The choice is yours.
Second, reflect on past successes and draw motivation and assurance from them.
Third, surround yourself with people who are committed to your success. Avoid "energy vampires" - those people who sap your energy and kill your resolve.
Set and achieve short-term goals. Set realistic performance goals. Celebrate successes. Remember this when times get tough. There is nothing like a series of successes to boost long-term motivation and commitment.
Optimism is not a cure-all - alone it won't solve financial woes or help you lose weight. But it will help fuel your passion to persevere and achieve success.
I leave you with a final question:
Are you engaging in activities that move you forward or keep you stuck?
By discovering who you are, where you are going and what it takes to get there you'll begin the process of getting unstuck and living the life you deeply desire.
© 2014 Frank Niles