Leaps of Faith

Depending on your goal, and the changes you’re looking to make, you may find yourself at a crossroads at some point. Do you play it safe or do you take a leap of faith and hope that things will work out? Playing it safe may seem the better choice: less risk, less chance of getting hurt. But at some point you’ll have to take a chance. You’ll have to take that leap of faith – otherwise you won’t get anywhere. You’ll never achieve your goal. But when is the right time to jump?

I find myself at that crossroads now. Or, at least, I anticipate being at that crossroads in a couple of months, when my maternity leave is over. It has been my goal – my dream – to be a work-at-home mom, and maternity leave seemed like the perfect dividing point. Not only would I, obviously, be a mom at the end of it for the first time, but it would be really, really hard going back to work after several weeks away, especially with a little one at home.

So what do I do? From the statement above, the obvious choice would be to stay home, leave work, do what I wanted to do. But looking at my bank statements and the list of bills that still need to be paid, it’s not such an easy choice. I’m not bringing in nearly enough to cover my full-time income – a necessity if we don’t want to get behind on our bills or default on our mortgage. Do I play it safe, go back to work and be a bit on the miserable side? Or do I take a leap of faith, push myself to do everything I can to succeed so I don’t have to go back?

I have many different scenarios running through my head. Is it possible to leap halfway? Maybe switch to part-time at work? Find a job I like better that would make it easier? Or do I leap wholeheartedly, with the determination to make failure not an option?

The answer would be different for everyone, and when you find yourself at such a crossroads, the way you feel then will likely be different than what you feel now. Perspective is everything. And it’s scary! As much as I would love to just jump, I’ve always been one to plan, and prepare, and worry if things are up in the air.

So how much risk are you willing to take on? What kind of reassurance would you need to take that leap of faith? Would you leap or go back?

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Great Expectations

Have you ever given thought to what life will be like when you accomplish your goal? I bet if you have, you’re picturing a rosy, perfect life filled with happiness and joy, right? Now get realistic and think about what it’ll really be like. Where will the results of your actions lead you?
There are a couple of goals that I personally have that sound great — but even after I reach my goal, I’ll still be putting in a lot of work to maintain things and keep myself in that “rosy, perfect life.” For example, one of my goals was to start a family. Well, I’m just about there. And yes, I’m very happy that my little baby boy is almost here. But guess what? With that comes sleepless nights, mess and noise, stress and worry. So much for picture perfect. And yet, it was what I wanted. So where did my goal get me?
I’ll give you another example. When changing my career, I made the decision to focus on my writing. And the perfect life I picture will enable me to work at home, be there for my children and make a name for myself. But what will that life really bring me? Any kind of self employment brings its share of headaches when it comes to cash flow, keeping yourself motivated and disciplined, and balancing work and life. And, yes, I’ll be there for my children — all the time. Meaning I won’t get that mental break parents who work outside of the home get. I’ll be the one to soothe boo-boos and pick them up when they’re sick at school. I’ll have to deal with arguments and yelling and general rowdiness. Not exactly idyllic.
So where do your goals lead you?
Now I’m not trying to discourage you from accomplishing your goals. I just don’t want you to think that the goal is the only thing to think about. If you focus only on one thing, one point in time, you’ll be disappointed — not only on the way there as you’re frustrated with not being there yet, but also when you get there when you realize it’s not everything you had imagined in your rosy picture. Being realistic will keep you grounded, and keep you focused on what’s really important. Life is filled with good and bad, in balance. As long as there’s more good than bad, I’d say you’re pretty lucky!
In the meantime, while you’re striving for your goals, you can also prepare yourself to make reality even more pleasant. Being realistic will help you lay the foundation for a happier life, as you set yourself up for success instead of disappointment.
With my first example above, I can be more prepared by researching child rearing. I can be prepared with things I’ll need for less-than-perfect situations — like thermometers, diaper rash cream and more. And I can learn relaxation techniques for when he really tries my patience. With my second example, I can be more prepared by coming up with a finance plan, learning time management skills and really doing some soul-searching when it comes to determining what’s important to me.
No matter what your goal, or the challenges that will face you even after you reach it, cutting yourself some slack and accepting that life isn’t perfect — and never will be — will help you enjoy life for what it is. There will be a lot of good moments, worthwhile moments, that make you happy. But accepting that it won’t all be perfect will help make the wonderful little moments all that much sweeter.

Making Lists and Plans

In posts thus far, I’ve often referred to your “game plan” or “course of action.” What I’m talking about is the series of steps you’re taking to get you to your goals. These steps can be as broad or specific as you want or need them to be. They can be short-term, long-term, in-between or a mix of all three. As you progress in your goals, you’ll find a system that works for you.
For me, I’ve found what works for me changes as time progresses. Overall, though, my plan consists of a series of to do lists partnered with a schedule that dictates when I’m doing those items. The format may change with my mood, or as my focus shifts, but the overall plan stays the same for the most part.
Today I’ll be talking a bit about what I do. Maybe it’ll help you; maybe it won’t. Either way I hope it’ll give you ideas that will help when formulating your own course of action.
The first step is taking my desired end result and figuring out what I would need to do to get there. Let’s take a simple example: to become debt-free, I need to pay off each credit card bill and avoid charging additional items. Simple enough. I list each credit card I need to pay off. Then I break it down even farther: how much do I owe on each card? What’s the interest rate on each one? When it comes to the second part, avoiding additional charging, I try to figure out where I can cut back on spending so we’re not living beyond our means. Are there bills I can lower? Expenses I can cut?
Each one of the items on this new list becomes a mini goal, and I can break it down even farther. How am I going to pay off those bills? Will I establish a debt snowball to pay them off one at a time? Will I look at changing energy suppliers to cut my electric bill? Cutting out unneeded items on our cell phone bill? Spending-wise we’re already pretty bare bones, but if I were one to indulge, I could add things like cutting out my daily coffee and bagel run, cutting back on clothes shopping, etc.
The things I come up with become my to do list. Some items I may need to break down farther as I go along, but for now I at least have an actionable list. And once I’ve got a concrete idea of what I’m going to do, I put it into effect. I take the things I’ve decided to do and do them. I look into changing energy suppliers and select one. I cut out those extra minutes we don’t use on our cell phone. And I determine how much I’ll pay each month toward my credit card bills. Each action will take me closer to my goal, and I can check things off my to do list. If there are items I’m trying not to do, I can put that on my to do list for each day or week or month, too: i.e. pass Starbucks without stopping.
When I do the items on my to do list will vary. Some things, such as actually paying the credit card bills, get done according to my bill-paying schedule. Other things I fit in as I have the time. Sometimes I’ll take my work schedule for the week or the month and actually write in when I’ll do things, according to when I have a morning or day off.
Since I have so many goals going at once, my schedule gets quite full. To keep myself somewhat organized, there are times when I will plan out every spare moment. (When I’m feeling really unfocused, I might even plan out every free hour to keep myself on track.) Sometimes this will consist of a general goal for the day (for example “update website”). Other times I will give myself more specific tasks (make a particular phone call, run a particular errand, etc.).
Now, I’m not perfect. There are definitely times when I don’t finish everything on my schedule or my to do list. But having it all written down helps keep me accountable and focused. It’s harder to slack off without guilt if I know there are things I had scheduled myself to do. And, ultimately, the purpose is to move forward in my goals. The only way to do that is to move forward with my course of action. And, for me, that’s checking things off my to do list. What works for you?

Dealing With Setbacks

Last week I discussed setting mini goals to keep yourself moving forward. But even with a great game plan in place, inspiration to keep you motivated, and rewards here and there as you meet your mini goals, there will be times when things won’t go so smoothly. You will encounter setbacks, not the least of which will take place in your own mind.
Out of Your Control
Sometimes things happen that are just out of your control — but they’ll have a negative impact on your goals. You don’t get that job. Your car breaks down. Your significant other breaks up with you. You get sick, whether it’s minor or not. An organization you volunteer with doesn’t need your help anymore.
These outside factors can set you back a bit and make you feel as if you’ve taken one step forward only to get pushed two steps back. Rest assured this is normal. Life isn’t all smooth sailing. Just think how great it’ll feel when things actually go right! These setbacks will help you appreciate the positive when it happens. But in the meantime, do the best you can to muddle through. If you need to wallow a bit, take that time to wallow. Just make sure you’re ready to pick yourself up and push forward again when the wallowing is done.
Slip-Ups
Let’s face it, we’re not perfect. There will be times when we’ll slip a little in our goals and do something that will counteract what we’re trying to achieve, whether it’s splurging on that chocolate cake or buying that gadget we really didn’t need.
Don’t beat yourself up about it. Repeat: don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s going to happen. And the harder you are on yourself, the worse you’ll feel, and the harder it will be to get yourself back on track. Now that’s not saying that you can just throw caution to the wind and do whatever you feel like. If you’re serious about turning things around and taking charge of your life, you’ll need to do the right thing most of the time. But cutting yourself some slack when you slip up will make it easier to stay on track the rest of the time. If you allow yourself a little freedom, you won’t feel as restricted — and you won’t feel the need to rebel with more constant slip-ups.
If you find yourself slipping up often, ask yourself why. Maybe you’re trying to bite off too much at a time. Maybe you’re trying to take steps that are just too drastic. Cut back a little, make your efforts a little smaller, and see if you can do better. Baby steps will still get you there. It may take a little longer, but if you’re frequently setting yourself back, those big steps aren’t getting you there any faster anyway! It’s all about finding the right pace for you — so you can keep yourself in the right frame of mind:
  • Maybe cutting out all extra spending all at once is too much. Try just cutting out that daily coffee to start with.
  • Maybe cutting out all sweets is too dramatic. Try limiting yourself to one or two a day instead.
  • Maybe expecting to ace all your classes is too much pressure. Just try your best, study for your tests, and see how well you do.
Depression
If progress seems slow, or outside factors seem to be against you and you don’t seem to be treading water, never mind moving ahead, it’s easy to start thinking negatively. And this can lead to bouts of depression, whether you’re normally prone to them or not. That’s OK. No one expects you to be happy all the time. But you will have to get yourself out of it eventually. So how do you do it?
I wrote an article for Suite101.com about how to boost your mood. I encourage you to read it here. It’ll give you some ideas to get yourself out of your funk. In addition, when it comes to my goals, I find that simply taking a little bit of time to think about the goal, reformulate my game plan, and come up with concrete action steps helps get me thinking proactively again. My mood may not be magically better, but at least it gets me back on the right track.
If you find yourself constantly in a cloud of depression, and nothing you do gets you out of it, you may need to talk to a doctor. There’s no shame in that. Do what you have to do to get yourself feeling better. Even if one of your goals wasn’t to focus on your health, it’s never too late to add a new goal to the mixing pot!

Setting Mini Goals

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking at the huge life experience that you want to change and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. That’s a huge undertaking you have there! Perhaps you’ve started breaking it down a bit, biting off manageable chunks so it feels like you’re getting somewhere. Perhaps you’ve got a game plan in place to move you in the right direction.

At some point, however, it’s going to feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Your goal is so far in the future that it feels next to impossible, and while you’re still moving in the right direction, you don’t feel like you’re making much progress. At that point you’ll probably get discouraged, want to give up the whole thing and insist that life before had to be better than this purgatory that is your life.
Depressing thought, huh? Well, before you get too depressed, I’m here to tell you that there are ways to combat it. And the simplest way is to set mini goals. That means instead of just striving for your ultimate, big, huge goal set somewhere in the future, you have smaller, more tangible goals that are attainable in a much shorter time frame. The goals can be as big or as small as you need them to be — anything that will keep you motivated and pushing ahead. Want some examples?
Career:
Enroll in a class or program — then pass it and graduate
Apply to (specific number here) jobs a day, a week, a month
Money:
Pay off a single credit card or loan
Save (specific number here) in a savings account or retirement account
Relationships:
Set up (specific number here) dates or meetings with people you want to boost relationships with
Attend (specific number here) family functions
Health:
Make a doctor’s appointment — keep it — and follow the doctor’s recommendations
Commit to a vitamin regimen for (specific number here) days
Making a Difference:
Volunteer for (specific number here) days, weeks or months
Mentor a child for (specific number here) days, weeks or months
As I said, you can make your goals as big or small as you want, so you can fill in whatever number you want for the (specific number here) spaces. And these are just ideas. You can make your mini goals whatever you want — whatever will have meaning for you and keep you going.
As you reach your mini goals, reward yourself. (Just make sure your rewards don’t counteract your progress!) Not only does it feel great to get a reward, but you’ll feel as if you actually accomplished something — instead of making a lot of effort for nothing. As long as your mini goals bring you closer to your ultimate goal, you’ll consistently make progress. And as time moves on, your ultimate goal will move closer and closer. While it may still take a while to get there, it’ll feel a lot sooner than you think. And that’s a whole lot better than getting depressed!

When Wants Conflict – Setting Priorities

If you want to change more than one aspect of your life, chances are there will come a time when those wants will conflict. In other words, moving forward in one of your goals will create a problem with another one of your goals.

A Decision To Make
For me, the time came when I was about 4 months pregnant. Obviously having this child was very important to me. My husband and I were very anxious to be parents, and we had been trying for a while. At the same time, I was trying to change my career. I was working on establishing myself as a writer, including writing and marketing my novels, working on a website and writing articles for another site. One would think that the two would have little to no effect on each other. My body was taking care of the baby making, and any free time I had was being filled with writing endeavors. No problem.

Well, no problem — until the baby making took its toll on my body. I was exhausted, unmotivated and lazy. I wanted nothing more than to sit and watch movies all day. Not exactly a great idea when I have a career to get off the ground! My plans were thrown into upheaval, and I found myself getting more and more behind in my goals. So what did I do?

I had to make a choice.

When your wants conflict, you simply have to decide what’s more important. Which want is more pressing, more vital to your happiness? For me, I could push myself harder, get my work done, but continue to add strain to my body. I would likely move forward in my career goals, but there was the chance I would have a negative impact on my baby. Or, I could take it easy, let my body do what it had to do, and cut myself some slack on the writing goals. I chose to put my baby first. Yes, I got behind in my career goals, and I’m still trying to play catch-up. But I didn’t want to do anything to harm my baby. That was more important to me than advancing in my career.

Only you can make the decision as to what’s right for you. Perhaps your choice would have been different than mine. Perhaps you will find yourself more conflicted, unsure which path to choose. It may not be easy. But ultimately you have to do what will make you the happiest. If something had happened to my baby because I had pushed myself too hard, I never would have been able to live with myself. Will you be able to live with your decision?

Setting Priorities
Chances are your choices will not be a matter of life and death. Few choices are. But knowing your priorities, and which goals mean more to you, can help make your decisions easier. It can also help you figure out what to focus on so you don’t get overwhelmed trying to change everything at once. Which want do you want to change the most?

It may help you as you go if you sit down and list everything you’re looking to change — no matter how big or small. Then, place them in order of importance. What are you looking to change first? What can wait a while? What will have the biggest impact on your life? Does one thing have to be done before another?

Setting your priorities can not only settle your mind, it can also make it a little easier when what you want to change conflicts. And checking items off that list is a great feeling!

Making the Most of What You’ve Got

If you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? Well, when it comes to making changes in your life, if you’ve got it, utilize it. This could be time, money, people, resources — anything that can help you in your new mission. Let’s see some examples, shall we?

  1. You want to find a new career, so you tell everyone you know. (Utilizing your friends and acquaintances.)
  2. You want to earn more money to get out of debt, so you spend your weekends mowing lawns and raking leaves. (Utilizing your spare time.)
  3. You want to repair your relationship with your mother, so you enlist your younger brother, who has a close relationship with Mom, to help. (Utilizing your family members.)
  4. You want to lose weight, so you scour your cabinets and cookbooks to find low-fat recipes and ideas. (Utilizing your resources.)
  5. You want to make a difference in children’s lives, so you spend a couple of nights a week coaching a basketball team. You also take some of your personal funds to purchase uniforms and equipment for the team. (Utilizing your spare time and money.)

These are obviously not the only ways you can use what you’ve got to move you forward, but they’ll give you some ideas. Below are some more ideas to really get the ball rolling.

Time
Time can be your greatest resource, and using the time you’ve got can be a valuable way to get what you want. In the examples above, time was used to take action on changes you want to make. Time can also be used to research, network or plan out a course of action. And putting time to good use will move you forward more than anything else.

Now before you start arguing “I have no free time!” take a good hard look at your day. How much time do you spend watching TV? Surfing the web? Texting or chatting with your friends? That time could be spent moving you forward in your goals. If your nights and weekends are already filled to the brim, see where you can maybe cut back on some extracurricular activities that don’t mean very much to you. Or use your lunch break to look for that new job, search for healthy recipes or research volunteer opportunities.

Money
If what you want to change is in the money category, this may not be a plentiful resource for you to use. But before you dismiss it completely, take a look at your finances and make sure you’re really putting your money to its best use. Are you wasting money on eating out? Frivolous purchases? Special features on your TV or cell phone bill that you don’t use? Redirect your money so it’s moving you closer to your goals.

If money is not an issue for you, then perhaps it can help you in your mission: fund education to advance your career, enlist the help of a counselor to help with your family or relationship troubles, hire a personal trainer to help in weight loss or working out goals, donate to a charity that means a lot to you. The sky’s the limit.

People
Your friends, family and acquaintances can also be a valuable tool when it comes to advancing your goals. As I mentioned in a previous post, telling everyone you know can give you a kick in the butt when it comes to keeping you on track. But talking to them about your changes can provide you with support, information and leads on new ideas and opportunities as well. This is called networking and many people will tell you that it’s the only way to get ahead. Even if you don’t know how to get a foot in the door at a particular place of employment, or you’re not familiar with the latest medical breakthrough, a friend of a friend might. And that’s a very powerful tool to have in your belt. In addition, simply talking to others about your changes can encourage ideas that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

When you’re accepting the help of other people, however, make sure you’re not taking advantage of them. Just as they can help you, you may be able to help them. Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunities that can help someone you know, and be willing to lend an ear to someone else who needs to discuss making changes, too.

Resources
Just about anything else can fall into this category. In the example I used above, I mentioned using the tangible items — food and cookbooks — that you already had to guide you. But even intangible items can help you in your mission. For example, if you’re reading this blog, you have the internet at your fingertips. The internet offers a wealth of information on any subject imaginable. Using it to research what you want to change can give you tons of ideas. Likewise the library and the people who work there can provide information and leads in a variety of subjects.

More abstractly, consider taking a walk to clear your head. This can free your mind to problem solve and think more creatively. Listen to music. Paint a picture. Doodle. Your greatest resource is your brain — use it!

I Think I Can

There have been books written about it. People have spoken about it. It’s pretty powerful stuff. What it is? The power of positive thinking. It’s like the Little Engine That Could, chugging up that mountain. If you think you can do it, then you can. By the same token, if you think you can’t do it, then you can’t. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So moral of the story? Believe in yourself, and you’ll get far.

There is a quote I’ve loved since I was in high school. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says “we know what we are but know not what we may be.” It’s been quite some time since I’ve read Hamlet, so I don’t recall the context exactly. But I’ve always interpreted it to be saying that anything is possible. We don’t know what we’re capable of. And while that can be good or bad, I prefer to see the positive side of it: I can do anything. I can achieve anything. I can be who I want to be. If you believe in yourself, and you truly want your goals to become reality, you can achieve them.

Now this may sound cheesy to all you cynics out there. Even I can acknowledge that it’s a slightly skewed version of things. But I really believe that the more you think positively, and the harder you work toward your goal, the more likely you’ll achieve it. Negative thinking doesn’t move you forward. It will just make you depressed, discouraged, and unmotivated. Try to keep yourself going in the right direction.

This journey you’ve decided to start won’t be easy. There are times when you’ll think it’s just better to throw in the towel and go back to how things were. But remember what brought you to this point. If you haven’t already, take a moment or two to visualize what your life will be like when you’ve made the changes you’re trying to make. What comes to mind? Try to remember that when the going gets tough. Remember that image you just visualized. If it helps, find a picture or symbol online, print it out and post it on your fridge or somewhere else you’ll see it every day. That is what you’re striving for. That is what will keep you going. And if you believe you can get there, you’ll get there.