Set goals, have a five year plan…some self-help rules are made to be broken says life coach Sarah Alexander
At the beginning of every year, our thoughts naturally turn to what we want to achieve in the year ahead. We learn from self-help books and workshops that in order to be effective and successful in our lives, we must follow certain rules. The promise of the self-help movement is that if we abide by these rules, we will achieve all that we hope for, after which our lives will be filled with happiness and a perpetual feeling of satisfaction. But rarely does this approach bear fruit – in fact, the reality is that it can often make us feel worse.
Rule one: set clear goals
The theory behind goal-setting, a favourite self-help idea, is that our rational mind needs specific and pre-determined aims. Once set, we are urged to work consistently towards each goal with laser-focused vision. Should any issues stop us in our tracks, we must take logical steps to work round them – or through them. Giving up is not an option!
Yet in reality, many of us do not succeed in reaching our goals. This approach therefore easily leads to feelings of disappointment, shame and a sense of failure. Add these feelings into the mix of our stressful, fast paced lives – and our self-esteem, our confidence and our feelings of self-worth quickly erode.
Rule two: have a one, three and five year plan
The self-help movement also urges us to know where we are going in life – failing which, it warns, life will send us in many different directions. Therefore, we are advised to create one-, three- and five-year plans as route maps to set destination points in our lives. To stay on track, and at all times when we lose our focus and direction, we are encouraged to refer back to these maps on a regular basis. As in ‘rule one’ above, we are also urged to take rational steps to ensure we meet our planned objectives.
…a set of fixed goals cannot evolve with us.
The problem with these long-term plans is that they don’t take into account life’s ever-changing circumstances. Illness, a change of employment, the ending of a relationship or some other one of life’s curve balls arise unexpectedly, as do new opportunities; before we know it, life has taken on a completely new direction. If we allow for the unexpected, life flows with ease. If, however, we stick rigidly to our objectives, our experience can, once again, be dominated by a sense of failure. We may also lose our motivation, because while as people we change, a set of fixed goals cannot evolve with us.
Rule three: work hard and make life happen
Many of us have been raised with an inherited Protestant work ethic which attributes some kind of godliness to hard work, and dictates that we spend our lives giving our all – often for a relatively low reward. The self-help message supports this philosophy of hard work; we should go out, make our lives happen, take massive action and grab every opportunity that comes our way. We are told that results are guaranteed, and that we will reap the benefits one day.
Yet, many of us find that this advice leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. We may achieve success, but at a cost. Our lives may have become unbalanced and uninspired. We may have no time to enjoy our gains because we have a sense of always having do more – send more emails, make more calls, take further action. We may lose the ability to enjoy our own company, along with that of our families, friends and colleagues. Our quiet or ‘down’ time is eroded, which eventually takes its toll on the body in the form of long-term disease, high anxiety or depression.
The answer lies in a completely different approach, which taps into our own intuitive wisdom and guidance.
So what’s the alternative to these self-help rules?
The answer lies in a completely different approach, which taps into our own intuitive wisdom and guidance. This inner knowledge is a constant presence within us, one that can be experienced as flashes of insight, inspired thoughts or a strong gut feeling. It seems almost other-worldly in the information it imparts, and keeps nudging us towards what we are inherently meant to be, do and have. Such wisdom can see the very best in us, and takes into account all of our skills, talents and abilities. It knows what we can and will achieve, if we follow its precise direction.
So, learn to use this as your guidance system and let it give you the projects and ideas that you are meant to focus upon this year. Let it also guide you through your daily routines and ‘to do ‘lists so that you achieve each day what you are meant to achieve. Your guidance won’t give you information about the long-term future, but if you follow its inner promptings, it will give you an accurate step-by-step plan that you can follow and evolve so that your life can align with your personal evolution.
Here are four ways in which you can practise tuning into your inner guidance.
1: Ask and listen
Following our intuitive guidance requires two things: firstly that we ask for guidance, and secondly that we take the time to listen for the clarity and the answers we need. Either telepathically or out loud, as if speaking to the wisest part of our being, we can ask for direction, information and new understanding – on all issues in our lives. Answers will come in the form of creative thoughts, or as words that we hear, or as visual cues that our eyes are drawn to. The answers we receive will be accompanied by a deep gut feeling of ‘rightness’. As we practise asking for guidance, listening for the answers and then acting on that clarity, we naturally come to trust it and rely on this wisdom.
Answers will come in the form of creative thoughts, or as words that we hear, or as visual cues that our eyes are drawn to.
2: Put white space in your life
Inner listening happens in our periods of reflection, contemplation and quiet. This requires a quiet physical place, but also the capacity to quieten our thoughts to hear the whispers of our intuition. Ideally, the quiet space we organise should be somewhere inspiring that enables us to take the time we need to step back and open up to the new. By organising white space in our weekly or, ideally, daily diaries, we purposely inspire all aspects of our lives with the guidance that comes from within.
3: Practise stilling your mind through your day
Initially, the easiest way to still our busy minds is to focus on our breathing, even if just for three deep breaths at a time. This helps us to relax, let go of stress and bring our awareness from the over-active mind down into the body. In this way, we create a space in the mind for inspired thoughts to enter, and allow ourselves to hear our other-worldly wisdom. The more we can do this throughout the day, the better our mind will grow used to this stillness; soon, it will feel enjoyable. Rather than a long period of meditation each morning, I suggest that you stop to quiet your thoughts regularly through the day. A minimum of three or four stops are advised, focusing on your breath as suggested above. In this way, you punctuate your daily activities with moments when you let go and rest your mind. This offers greater mental clarity as you return to your tasks, and also breaks up the pattern of activity that we get stuck in if we let the work ethic keep driving us ever forward.
4: Practise mono-tasking, not multi-tasking
As a result of the volume of work that we have, and our massive desire to take action, it would seem logical to try to do more than one thing at a time. But research shows that we place stress on our minds if we move quickly from one thing to another. To open ourselves to our internal guidance, it is important that we learn to bring mindfulness and awareness to our acts instead. By focusing on the task at hand, we keep our minds anchored in the present moment. This improves our concentration, and enables us to bring out the best in ourselves with each thing we do.
By following our intuition, we are less stressed and less driven, less demanding of others and more trusting of life.
Our intuitive wisdom offers us longer-term happiness and a greater sense of fulfilment than we can ever achieve through goal-setting, having long term plans and pushing to make things happen. By following our intuition, we are less stressed and less driven, less demanding of others and more trusting of life. We develop a calm sense that things are working out for us. Rather than striving to make life happen, we relax instead in the knowledge that we are guided on our journey through life, that our intuition has us in the right place at the right time and that we are equipped with all necessary resources to follow our inner promptings. This means that when our opportunities appear, we are fully ready, with all our energy lined up to make the most of life’s gifts.
Sarah Alexander is a coach, mentor, author and speaker with 14 years’ coaching experience. Sarah has worked with international sports competitors, executives from multinationals and successful entrepreneurs. She runs a coaching and training system called MAGNIFICENCE: Twelve Steps to High Performance and Low Stress for Business Professionals. She is the author of ‘Spiritual Intelligence in Business: The Eight Pillars of 21st Century Business Success’ and ‘Spiritual intelligence in Leadership: From Manager to Leader in Your Own Life’ To download Sarah’s ‘Eight Top Tips on How To Be Magnificent’ go to sarah-alexander.co.uk. Follow Sarah on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress.
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