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SMART goals; an acronym to set yourself goals and deemed the most popular and effective way of meeting them. No matter what industry you work in, or what educational path you went through, chances are, you have come across SMART goals before.
Now SMART goals make sense. They require you to follow a logical ‘checklist’ of parameters before they can be deemed SMART. And setting SMART goals are empowering. “I would like to lose a stone across the next 8 weeks by eating a deficit of 500 calories a day for my BME during that period of time, allowing myself to eat my regular BME amount on a Sunday as a treat”. Certainly, a goal like that could be considered SMART. It is very Specific, we can Measure if regularly, it is an Achievable amount of weight to lose whilst being Realistic and there is a clear Timeframe for this to happen in.
The aim of this discussion is not to disregard SMART goals entirely; certainly, they have a place and have been proven to be effective. However, what needs to be considered is the level of emphasis put on SMART goals, when other types of goal setting methods (often seen as ineffective), are being pushed out.
Consider the goal above which we have just mentioned; it clearly sets out the parameters of what we want to achieve and even begins to touch on how we are going to go about doing it. And let’s be honest, when we set a goal like that, it feels really good. We imagine ourselves a stone lighter and what it will feel like when we are that ‘better’ future self. The problem with SMART goal setting however, is that it is so busy planning for the future self, it lacks a real understanding of how we are going to manage the present self. Let us use some research to gain a bit more understanding of this.
Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgement. Effectively, it prevents the present you from following out on what you set to do. SMART goals encourage us to set specific goals and yes, they also empower us to set out some real measurable steps to achieving them along the way. But let’s say part of your weight loss SMART goal was to go to the gym and complete X workout programme on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We have added another layer to the SMART goal but it is still within the realms of being achievable. Now when you set these two goals side-by-side, chances are you were in a pretty positive mood or at least you assumed (consciously or not), that your future self and the subsequent future selves were going to be at a certain level to be able to achieve this. Somewhere along the way on our 64 day journey to being one stone less, something is going to happen that we could never predict. Whether that be something physical which pulls us away, or whether it be something mental or emotional. Maybe we’re just having a bad day? What happens then? Our beautiful specific and time-based goals has all gone to pot and we punish ourselves for it by moping for a day or two and in a lot of cases, never fully getting back onto our perfectly laid out track.
Now let’s consider some other research. I read a book which discussed a number of massively influential people such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Elon Musk. The interesting conclusion of the research into how these people became so incredibly at the top of their game was not skill and talent alone; it was situational chance. Bill Gates happened upon a job in technology at just the right time and the role at the time involved a lot of programming ‘practise’. He was effectively forced into practising programming on a day to day basis through his situation and because this was such a unique role at the time, when the technology boom occurred in the late 80s, he was 5 steps ahead of anyone else in his field. There was talks of a famous athlete who had to run to school to pick his brother up every day because his village was so violent, he didn’t want to leave his mum at home for too long. The time and practise he put in due to the specific situation he was put in, lead him to win 5 gold medals in long distance running to date. And this doesn’t need to be just for the elite or the famous. Thinking about it on a more mainstream level, the family which can only afford one car so mum walks their child back and forth from school every day or the construction worker who works close enough to cycle to work everyday and would actually take longer to drive.
I think back to my childhood and how in school I got into table tennis purely through chance. My friend had been doing it a while and had asked me to come along. Mine and my friends parents set up an agreement where they would take us to table tennis every other week. They certainly didn’t want us to give it up and it gave them both an incentive because every other week they got a break in the afternoon. At the time, did I set goals about how I wanted to perform and exactly how long I wanted to practise for at the club? Certainly not. The only goal which was set in stone was what I like to call a ‘facilitator goal’. It was not a SMART goal; in fact, it wasn’t really SMART at all. Rock up each week at the club, have fun, do a bit of table tennis and go home – that was it. But the fact I was showing up every time and just being there was more important than any SMART goal could have done for me. The passion was there so whilst there was occasions where I goofed off; more times than not, I got my head down and practised hard. I didn’t kick myself if I had a bad session or I didn’t try as hard as I’d have hoped. The truth was, I didn’t really think much at all about the performance itself – I just showed up. Because there was no lack of guilt and no rigid specific goal and vision in my head, it meant I just continued to do my thing naturally and with little judgement. The result? 5 years on I competed in the under 18s National Championship and finished in the final 4.
This topic really resonated with me recently when I had sat down to make my SMART gym goals because I’d been slacking off quite a lot lately. However, when I looked back on every time I’d dropped off at the gym, it was usually the following reasons: I wasn’t feeling 100% so I didn’t stick to the exact, relatively tough plan. I didn’t go at 6am liked I’d vowed to do as it would give me so much more time in the day so then I just sacked the night off. I had an injury so just figured I needed to rest and then fell out of the habit. The problem here is SMART goals give very little allowance if (what I’d consider), very normal situations occur.
Taking the advice from my formal table tennis champion self all those years ago and from all the drop-outs and ‘give-ups’ since, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach to goal setting. Yes, it is a good idea to have a vision in your head as to what the end product will look like (the destination). It gives you drive, it gives you inspiration and it makes you feel really good at the time. However, an equally, if not more important step to goal setting is to set out the facilitator goal. I.e. what do I need to do between now and then to make it happen on a regular basis. This is the boring bit and doesn’t feel as nice. Think of all the rags to riches stories out there – they usually tell you the rags and they usually tell you the success story but they often leave out the boring bit in the middle. Think of all those on the Dragon’s Den – you never hear them saying “I have to attend 8 hours worth of meetings a week and spend 10 hours doing paperwork and being on the phone. And then when that is all done, the other half of my week is taken up sat in airport lounges and travelling”. But it is an important step and it is what makes it all worth it. Naturally as humans we want quick, fast results and the endorphin release from imagining your future amazing self is the beginning.
Set some goals today. I for one had some big health and fitness goals which I wanted to achieve. Now, I say “turn up to the gym 3 times this week”. No expectation and no pressure. I still have an idea of the final product in the back of my mind so as soon as my feet hit that gym, I get a surge of motivation that you just couldn’t put onto paper. I make sure I’m well informed about different training methods and then depending how I’m feeling, I hit the ground running, burn some fat and feel really good. I rinse and repeat and just make a solemn swear that I’ll get my butt into that gym 3 times a week. Something comes up? I’m hungover on the Sunday and it’s my last chance to get the workout in? Fine, I’ll just go in the sauna – I’ll still get that fuzzy feeling that I’ve completed my goal. Still struggling? Reduce the specificity – “I’ll get my butt into the gym at least once but maybe twice a week”. The buzz you’ll get from achieving the goal will likely lead to doing more.
So go easy on yourself. Don’t believe your future self will be just like your present self and allow the facilitation of the goal to control the SMART goal; not the other way around.
Back in the days when text messages had a 160 character limit, abbreviations were all the rage and flip phones were cooler than a cucumber in Alaska; the idea of social media as we know it today was a mere whisper. MSN messenger slowly crept its way into our lives, followed by the ‘LOL’s’ the ‘CUL8R’s’ the ‘BRB’s’ and the ‘G2G’s’. Then Myspace came along and opened a world of personal profiles, arguments over who our ‘top friends’ were and who had the cooler background music on there account. From there the rest is history, social media started popping up everywhere in all different constructs and took the world by storm. Growing up in this era I have experienced these developments as a direct consumer – I was one of many guinea pigs which unknowingly took place in a large market research project and ultimately led to the birth of familiar giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and their tweets, likes, pins, press’, love’s, dislikes, post’s, shares, re-blogs to name a few.
Experiences of social media in my life has ranged anywhere from amazingly useful to downright awful and all the things in-between. Many articles I have read tend to focus on either the good points of social media or the bad points. Personally, I struggled to use social media to create an overall positive benefit to my life, I tried to restrict it and fell back into old habits causing me to eventually removed it from my life (the personal account side at least). However I grew up during the growth of social media and it somehow feels sentimental to me. As such, this article will give social media a fair chance by reflecting on the good, the bad and the downright ugly aspects of social media:
The way in which we communicate with each other has transformed over the last 15-20 years. It has become incredibly accessible and easy to speak with anyone in the world with an internet connection. You can e-mail, Skype, message, FaceTime, play games together, chat in forums, conduct an interview and tutor anyone, anywhere, anytime. The lack of social media would have made it incredibly difficult for me to maintain a connection with my friends I met in America at summer camp in 2014. We can share pictures, message each other and have a ‘face-to-face’ conversation whenever we like. In fact, despite the fact that they all live thousands of miles away, getting in touch with them is just about as easy as getting in touch with my friends around the corner, or the lovely old lady next door – in fact it would probably take longer to walk to the old ladies house than it would be to fire up Facebook and get connected. Communicating through social media has become so accessible, so easy and comfortable that is is with those very benefits, comes its greatest flaws.
The characteristics of social media can be represented as a microwave meal. It is great at the time, quick and easy to make but doesn’t really hold a great deal of substance and memorable moments. When we think back of some of our fondest memories we think of that amazing, tasty restaurant, laughing for hours with friends and joking with the waiters. In making communication too easy and too comfortable, we become lackadaisical with our friendships. We assume that because they are always at the end of a computer screen and that we can regularly update ourselves by seeing what they’re up to and where they’re checking in, that we are doing our bit to maintain that connection. However, this is far from realistic. Pure friendships are formed through intention, deep conversations and commitment with those we care about most. Of course, long-distances can make physical interaction difficult but even my close friends in America will take the time to sit down together and Skype. We’ll talk about what we have been up to, our ambitions, passions, fears and we will do so by being present and giving each other our undivided attention. This perhaps isn’t the ‘best’ form of communication but, given the circumstances it is a close compromise to the less meaningful interactions we tend to have on a day-to-day basis.
So sit down and imagine that tomorrow every computer, every internet connection and every smart phone suddenly stops working. Really picture what this would be like (apart from the obvious pandemonium – how crazy is it that we rely so heavily on such technology). Out of the 300, 500 or 1000+ friends that you have on your Facebook, who would you significantly regret not being able to speak to (either face-to-face or video call) within the next 30 days? I imagine it doesn’t happen to be every single 1 of your hundred’s of thousands of friends? Get in touch with those you have identified and make an intentional, commitment to those you really care about and make that human connection.
The Myspace and Facebook profiles I set up years ago contain a whole array of treasured memories from my adolescence. It has created a nostalgic timeline throughout my life and as such I am able to reflect on these memories and enjoy them at my leisure. Myspace in particular allowed me to take a step back in time, laugh at my old hairstyles, and reminisce about old friends who are no longer part of my life. It gives me a real opportunity to see how much has changed and where I have grown both physically and emotionally within that time. Whilst these treasured memories are something I would never regret accruing, one thing I would change is the masses of people that I shared everything with.
It’s easy to share our images and posts with just about everyone in our friends list (and anyone else who fancies taking a peek). This isn’t always our own doing either. Default settings are often hidden or difficult to get to and are set to spread the word as publically as possible and to let us know when others have (possibly unknowingly) done the same. The problem with sharing everything (apart from the obvious privacy issues) is that in takes the shine off precious memories by making it less personal. Think about a time when you have sat at home with your friends or parents and gone through an old photo album. Laughed and joked about the memories together on holiday or when you were a child playing in the back garden. Now imagine the same photo album as a PowerPoint presentation in front of all the hundreds of your Facebook friends. It doesn’t create the same treasured, nostalgic feelingsdoes it?
That’s not to say that sharing photo’s or memories digitally is inherently bad. Maybe you want to reconnect with an old friend and you have a picture of the two of you back in school. Instead of just putting it on your wall and hoping that person will ‘like’ your status, send them an e-mail, call them and chat about your old memories together. Have you ever found out that a close relative is getting married after 500 others? Ever congratulated your best friend on his new job after all their other acquaintances have done so? Maybe you are in a really bad place and instead of reaching out to a friend, you reach out to a bunch of people who don’t really know you or the background of your situation. I’ve personally experienced all these things before and even taken part in such habits. Aim to be more intentional with how you are communicating, rather than how social media wants you to behave.
Social media is revered for creating a platform to express ideas and to give us, the everyday person, a voice. We often hear about the benefits of having this voice can have. I have shared many a story to help track down a friend’s missing iPhone. Inspirational stories to and spreading the word to find the dear old ladies cat down the road. If you need to get an important message out to the masses then it does a fantastic job of this. Purely intentioned goals like these helps those who wouldn’t normally have such a voice. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Being able to spread the world so easily and efficiently can also become it’s Achilles heel.
Profit driven industries have capitalised on being able to spread the word so well. Whether it be PPI claims, buying a new car, increasing SEO traffic, spreading a particular religion or taking out a loan, whether we like it or not, this information overload finds its way to our ‘personal’ space. Whilst websites like Facebook claimed to NEVER use advertisement (remember The Social Network movie?), they have taken it one step further and begun tailoring the advertisements to what they think we desire. Anything from age, hobbies, spending habits, profession, location, where we visit, social media will know.
Let’s also consider the fact that Facebook has also created a common culture of divorces, radicalism, cyber-bullying and aggressive arguments between friends and strangers. Being able to hide behind a computer has allowed others to express a voice, that isn’t necessarily their ‘true’ voice. If you want to be mindful and ‘find yourself’ in life, social media will do a great job of promoting an artificial persona of yourself, and not always a nice one.
I’ve given social media a fairly balanced chance. Whilst I do miss some of the aspects about these technologies, for me, the negatives continued to outweigh the positives and as such, I closed my account back in January and not looked back since. Whilst I’ve reminisced about the good and the bad of social media, some things are just down-right ugly and here they are:
Social media and the constant beeping and buzzing of notifications in our pocket creates complete mindlessness in our physical, intentional interactions with people. Because of this our brains find it hard to switch off and be present. Somewhere in the back of our mind we are wondering how many people will reply to a birthday invitation or who has ‘liked’ the funny picture of your cat you shared on your wall the other day. Turning off notifications on your phone is a mid-way compromise to reducing the physical prompts of social media but you will always still know that it is there. For example, whenever I lost my focus at work or was procrastinating, social media would be my vice. Distractions like this can act as a positive recharge but the quick flick through my messages would often turn into watching videos, getting wound up by last night’s pictures (where was my invite?!), and commenting on statuses for what turns into 30 minutes and beyond. The concern is that sometimes social media even takes hold when we aren’t bored, when we are interacting with people in the physical world. It can be addictive and create a background buzz when we should be listening to what our friends have to say and making memorable moments. It is a common occurrence (and I have done this myself) to leave our phones out on the table. It’s as if we are making a statement “Yes, I’m here, but if you don’t mind I’ve brought my other 500 friends as well”. We have all felt the ‘need’ at some point to check-in and tag our friends but, if you didn’t invite them (or would consider inviting them) in the first place, why do we feel such an urge to tell them all? It all ties into the next ugly side of social media. Remember: Just because it hasn’t been posted on Facebook, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Social media creates a desirable urge to be constantly recognised by our peers. The need for recognition is a natural thing. Whether we need a pat on the back from our boss for doing such a good job, the exhausted single mother who wants someone to just reassure her that she’s doing the best she can or the hours of sports practice you’ve put in with no gold medal at the end. These things are worthy of recognition in their own right – they take dedication, sacrifice, passion and perseverance. However, because it is becoming easier and easier to gain recognition for just about anything (i.e. ‘likes’ ‘shares’ and comments are only a click away), we thrive on this as it takes little effort from both parties involved. They make us feel good for a short while but because it holds very little substance or significance, we are soon hunting for that next recognition ‘fix’. This vicious circle allows us to half-heartedly recognise others meaning that those receiving it focus on the quantity of people, rather than the quality of the sentiment.
This one is an absolute killer, social media has been compared to similar indications of alcohol, drugs and video gaming. Sometimes we will scroll through out wall, watch endless funny movies, and like random pictures, without even realising we are doing it. I was going to bed at night, scrolling through news stories until late, then waking up groggy to new posts, statuses and likes. When I realised that social media was becoming more of an obsessive, addictive love relationship than a useful tool, I knew it was time to get rid.
So where do we go from here? Human connection was not made to be sat behind a computer, a tablet or a smart phone. It is in the here and now, in the real world, doing real things. Everyone owes it to themselves and their mindful sanity to try a social media sabbatical. Click here, de-activate your account, remove the apps from your phone and go 14 days without it. Don’t worry, you can get it back after that but really reflect on if your life is a better or worse place than what it was before. It may feel unusual at first, as changing all embedded habits do, but stick with it and post your experiences below. I found a great video on the effects of social media compared with real human interaction, check it out below.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll be posting some more in the coming weeks on healthy habits, yoga and meditation J
Most of us experience our morning commute to work as a fairly hectic and unpleasant one. The snooze button gets hit almost sub-consciously and then we finally pull ourselves out of bed and drag our zombie-like body to the bathroom. Eventually, when we finally pull ourselves around we are usually running a little late (probably shouldn’t have hit that snooze button), jump in the car and head off for work.
Our minds are usually buzzing with to-do lists, emails we need to reply to and that ‘oops I should have done that on Friday’. The road is usually full of like-minded frantics, pushing through the traffic to shave off those essential few minutes of the journey. The chatter of the radio, the beeping of horns, checking our phones, urging that person in front to speed up or move out of the way and the trying to plan the day before it unfolds. It’s safe to say that it leaves us rather exhausted as we eventually arrive at our destination. But the truth is, the morning commute doesn’t have to be so tiresome. In fact, our morning commute is a prime opportunity to put some positive, mindful habits in place to leave us feeling calm, awake and refreshed when we arrive at work. It’s an opportunity where (in most cases) we are travelling alone. Even if we are getting the tube or the bus to work, we can still take some time for ourselves and find a level of peace that on at first glance would seem impossible. Here are some tips on how we can take advantage of such a valuable time in our day:
First thing on a morning we are not at our prime. It may seem perfectly reasonable to make our lunch, iron that shirt or send those e-mails first thing but if you don’t feel inclined to do it the night before, the chances are you will feel even less inclined in the morning. We simply need to accept that our mind cannot be trusted on a morning. Our 7pm-self can make a great sandwich and can finish iron that shirt like a boss, but our 7am-self is not so skilled, nor is out 7am self as motivated. Our 7am-self is like a slow burning coal fire – we can’t just throw all the coal on at once, we have to let it slowly warm up and in doing so we will have a roaring fire by breakfast. The pre-planning stages will allow this extra breathing room, less thinking demands to juggle and a chance for us to soak up the morning because if we take a second to look up for a moment, it is a very beautiful part of the day.
This is a perfect opportunity to practice some mindful eating. Research has suggested that time spent actually having a break at lunch time is decreasing year by year. Perhaps you witness this yourself, maybe you are a victim of this. Many of us will continue working through our lunch hour, wolfing down that half-arsed attempt of a sandwich at our desk. I’m not here to challenge that (yet) but what is worth pointing out is that the morning gives us the perfect opportunity to eat at our own pace without the social pressures to practically swallow the food whole. Mindful eating may feel very strange at first and if it does feel uncomfortable then try and stick with it. Make sure you mobile phone is out of sight and on silent and all other distractions are removed. When you take your first bite of your toast or cereal or whatever it is you are having, chew your food at least 20 times. For most of us this is going to feel a lot. Whilst you are doing this really focus on the flavour and the texture of the food. Think about how the flavour of the food changes as you continue to chew it, maybe you notice that the slice of toast starts to taste sweeter as you continue to eat it. Savour this moment, you may surprise yourself at how little attention and appreciation we pay to what is ultimately keeping us functioning.
With the additional time you have accumulated from pre-planning it will be worth looking at something beneficial to do on your commute. On average our commute is usually 20-25 minutes, with some people travelling a whopping 90 minutes each way. This is time that can be well spent if we are smart about our decisions. I recommend leaving what you plan to do with your commute for the morning because once you find some positive and interesting things to do, it can be quite exciting to get something new every day – like that feeling you used to get from opening a new door on your Christmas advent calendar. Some of these activities will be explored further but you may have some of your own ideas you may wish to implement. The golden rule is that your phone must be silenced (or switched off), the activity needs to be intentional, it needs to be new and it needs to have a positive impact on your day.
Listening to podcasts on a morning is an excellent way to start your day. Most radio stations are full of advertisements, annoying jingles that stick in your head, bias opinions, repetitive music and annoying chatter. Try and find some podcasts that are reasonable and similar length for your journey so that you can soak up the full message of the episode. Perhaps you could listen to some TED talks? They’re fairly short and give you insights into some fascinating things. Imagine if you listened to a TED talk a day, 5 days a week for even a month? You would learn so much. Some of the self help/motivational podcasts can be quite useful and may help you approach your day better. The Minimalists, Steve Pavlina, The Daily Boost, Robin Sharma Mastery Sessions and the 5am Miracle are amongst some of my favourites.
Try out having a complete silence commute, if you like it, maybe you could incorporate it more frequently. Give it a chance though, because most of us are so used to a noisy, hectic lifestyle that the quiet can be almost unnerving and uncomfortable. Turn off your phone, silence the radio and just soak up your journey. Look around you as you drive, appreciate the weather, watch others pass you by, try to observe the things around you without judgement. You’ll be surprised at how much more you notice. Be kind, let people in your lane if they are indicating. Be aware of the frantics racing up behind you but relax, stay at your pace and do not judge. The silence gives you an opportunity to just be, and that is what mindfulness is all about. Try and take that calm with you when you walk into work.
6: Take a different route – You go the same route to work every day, it puts your brain on auto-pilot and numbs our awareness. Plan a route out before you set off. In most cases it will be a slightly longer route (but that’s okay because you will have more time today). If you are fortunate enough you may even be able to plan your route through more rural, less built up areas. You may enjoy that route, you may find that route isn’t suitable all the time. Either way, appreciate that journey and find a refreshing sense of newness from the experience.
And that’s all for now folks – I would love to hear from some of your own personal experiences on how you have been more mindful or put some positive habits into your morning commute. So remember, when we continue to go through our daily commute on auto-pilot we are throwing away a valuable 40 minutes (to 2 hours+) of our lives 5 days a week. Take back control of your morning commute and no longer will your journey seem tedious or pointless again.
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