Harnessing your personal experience to attain goals

Here we are at the beginning of another New Year, with new hopes and dreams, or perhaps old hopes and dreams surfacing and ready to be nurtured into reality.  But how? Sometimes we have goals that seem to be impossible.  As in, “I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t [roll my kayak, lose the last 10 pounds, make puffy Yorkshire puddings, stay on budget, ride a century, sit through a meeting without rolling my eyes, etc.] What does I can’t really mean? “I can’t” more likely means one of the following: “I have other priorities at the moment”, “I need to acquire more information to move forward”, or “I need to improve certain skills to be able to achieve this”. You, your personal experiences and knowledge, and your genuine hopes and dreams are at the centre.

What is your motivation for the goal?

Examine the goal carefully and the motivation behind it. How does the goal relate to your personal needs? Is this something that you really want to do? Or is it something that you feel you should do, or something your partner/parents/kids/employer/analyst/physician/hairdresser
wants you to do? If it is something you think you should do, consider whether or not it is something that you need to and want to do in the near future.  “I should sign up for the Paris to Ancaster race this year” is different than, “I really enjoy riding my cross bike for hours in cold and muddy conditions, and I want to give the cycling season a kick start in the spring, and thus I really want to do the Paris to Ancaster race!” If it is not the latter, the motivation may not be there.  If it is something that you want to do, but is not a high priority and may take more time, energy, or money than you are able to devote to it in the short term, perhaps put it on the shelf and re-examine it another time.

If someone else has dictated the goal, then back up a step and analyze the motivation chain to figure out where your personal needs fit in.  If your goal is to lose weight because your doctor wants you to lose weight, consider that a bit more carefully. Maybe you feel pretty healthy the way you are and do not really care about your weight – so maybe this is not a good goal for you. But maybe your blood pressure is creeping up and that does worry you, and you want to avoid having to take medications. In this case, perhaps the goal is not specifically to lose weight but rather something you do care about such as lowering your blood pressure or being healthier or getting physically fit or whatever.  Maybe losing a bit of weight becomes part of the plan to be healthier, but it is not the main goal in itself as it is not your motivator.

The goal is most likely to be achieved if it is something that you know from personal experience that you are really motivated to do.  

How do your personal knowledge and experience add to the action plan?

Once you have a goal, again reflect on personal experience in considering how to achieve it. There are many ways to learn how to do something and to gain skills: read online, get a book, take a class, or hire a coach. But your personal experience and knowledge make an excellent starting point. Let’s assume you do want to lose some weight, for you, not because your doctor or anyone else wants you to:) The Internet provides limitless information, friends and relatives have advice, and there are thousands of peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts on the subject.  In theory, it is pretty simple: take in fewer calories than you expend. But the amount of information from all sources is massive and can be overwhelming.  Also, with outside information, there is a tendency to fix what ain’t broke, and sometimes that can cause other issues later on.

So to get started, ignore the outside information.Use your own personal experience as the main knowledge bank to frame how the action is going to unfold. What has worked for you in the past? Maybe you do better if you focus on exercise rather than diet. Maybe cutting carbs has worked well for you. Maybe you have never dieted before, but you hate small meals and love skipping breakfast, and are intrigued to learn more about this thing called intermittent fasting. 

Start with your personal experience and knowledge to develop the broad strokes of your action plan, and then seek out the expert advice to tweak it and fill in details as you go along.  And then set the plan in motion and monitor your progress.

Evaluate progress

Let’s stick with the weight loss goal for a bit longer. Let’s say you have put a plan in motion to try intermittent fasting 14 to 16 hours a day, try to keep to a low carb diet, and go to spin class over lunch hour three times per week. There was good progress in week 1, but none in weeks 2 to 4.  So what’s going wrong? Begin the evaluation by checking in on your motivation. Do you still want to lose weight? Yes? Great. Now check in on the follow-through with your plan.

  • You followed through with intermittent fasting but not with 3 spin classes per week, and you do not have enough information about “low carb” diets to evaluate whether or not you have implemented that part of the plan.
  • How was your progress in terms of rate of weight loss? You lost 2 pounds the first week, which was great, and would like to keep up that rate, but that has not occurred.
  • Do you have the physical and mental capacity to follow through with this plan? Yes, although getting to the lunch time spin class means leaving and getting back to work in an hour, and is stressful, and you prefer not to be rushed with your workouts.
  • Are there any social or financial factors that might be impacting your ability to implement your plan? You have paid for a gym membership but are not using it enough to make it worth it. In terms of social factors, you like the social aspect of the spin classes but feel that your colleagues are not too impressed if you get back to work late.

Now you have some new information to add to your personal experiences that you didn’t have before. You know that the lunchtime thing is not working out for you; you find it stressful and you are conscious that your co-workers may be raising their eyebrows at your occasional extended breaks. So you revamp the plan to go to the gym after work rather than mid day. Also in revamping the plan, you need some expert advice, because your personal knowledge and experience bank does not know what “low carb” actually means. You do some online research and learn specifically how many carbs per day is considered very low carb and moderately low carb. You decide to start with the moderately low carb diet, and re-evaluate your progress in another 2 weeks.

You can…

achieve your goals in 2019! Remember to value your personal knowledge and experiences when setting goals and in developing action plans. Seek expert advice as needed, to meet specific knowledge gaps that are impeding your progress but avoid fixing what ain’t broke. Be thorough and analytical in monitoring your progress, add to your personal knowledge and experience bank, seek further targeted expert advice, and revamp your plans until you are there!

Hurray for the awesome year that 2019 will be.