A bit of a different blog this time. Just for this month, rather than posting my usual style of article, I’m instead thinking about fulfilling ambitions, inspired by the launch of my book Eavesdrop….
Many of us have held ambitions for years – even decades – without ever having made a serious attempt to fulfil them. Now’s the time to face yourself in the mirror, give yourself a shake, and remember that you’re never too old to fulfil an ambition.
A couple of years ago, palliative-care nurse Bronnie Ware recorded the top five regrets of her patients on a blog. The most common regret, she wrote, occurred when they suddenly realised they’d not fulfilled even half of their dreams. Don’t let that be you.
This short article hopes to offer encouragement and a handful of tips on how to have the best chance of achieving your goals.
Write It Down
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the best tools is a pen – simply writing down what you want to achieve helps dramatically. There are two reasons for this: firstly, if you only ever hold a list of ambitions in your head, it will feel longer and more daunting than if it’s in black and white in front of you. Once they’re written down one after the other, you’ll realise the list isn’t as long as you thought, especially once you’ve removed duplications.
Secondly, such a list will help you decide what to focus on first. With them recorded on paper, your brain is free to concentrate on what’s important – i.e. on deciding how to go about fulfilling that ambition, rather than worrying about all the other things you want to do.
Try it! You’ll be surprised how much it helps.
Now with that list in front of you, pick the ambition that’s most important you. Let’s concentrate on that one first.
Make It Realistic
Realism is important here, of-course. If your dream is to take a place in the first violins of the LSO but you only ever achieved grade one violin as a child and haven’t played since, that’s probably a step too far. So now amend the ambition you selected with an eye on what’s realistically achievable. If necessary, do a little research to see what’s sensible. For instance, my childhood dream was to write a novel, so I studied the art of writing and quickly realised that to get published these days is very difficult. Therefore, I set my goal, instead, to be: “complete and edit a full length novel so that it’s ready for a publisher.”
Don’t worry just yet that you might not be pushing yourself far enough. You want to achieve more? That’s brilliant, but make that your second goal, which you’ll set once you’ve completed the first, simpler one. Think of it as a sequence of steps with each one harder than its predecessor – let’s deal with stage one initially, and remember it’s only the beginning. So don’t be tempted to go straight for the big one in a single step – that’s setting yourself up for motivational problems later.
Perhaps you won’t ever play in the first violins at the Royal Albert Hall, but wouldn’t performing as part of your local sinfonietta be just as satisfying? Go for that one instead, at least as a first step.
It can also make an amazing difference how you word your goal. Best is to describe what will be different after you’ve achieved it, so write about it in the past tense: pretend you have already achieved it, and describe what you’ve managed to do. That turns it into a more positive statement. Mine came to be worded: “I have written and edited a full length thriller, and what I’m holding is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher.” Far more inspirational.
Now reword yours and stick it above your desk or on the fridge; somewhere you can see it. It’s also worth giving thought to who you will tell. Studies suggest that those people who tell others about their personal goals are more likely to achieve them than those who keep them secret. If your friends know what you’re planning, you will feel that bit of extra pressure to keep working at it. And a little bit of pressure is good for encouragement.
How to Make it Happen
Whether you share your ambition with someone or not, it’s important to put something in place to help you now convert that dream into reality.
For most of your working life, others have probably set targets and actions for you. Now is the time to write your own. Take a fresh sheet of paper and jot down the individual actions you’re going to take to achieve that goal. Make them manageable chunks and write down dates when they’ll be achieved.
For instance, when I was working on my thriller Eavesdrop, I reckoned I could sensibly write 600 words a day between my other commitments, so I simply wrote my weekly word-count targets on a calendar. There it was – visible on my wall to harass me each day, and I annotated it weekly with progress. So break yours down in a similar fashion and you’ll have your personal stepping stones to fulfilling that lifelong ambition.
Now go and pin that calendar to your wall as a constant reminder.
Have a Flexible Routine
The best approach is then to create a daily or weekly routine. When will you perform those actions? For me, I adopted a regime of thirty minutes writing first thing every morning. Try to get yourself into a routine that becomes habitual.
But be prepared to be flexible – if other things keep arising to derail your plans, don’t just sit back and let your hopes of fulfilling that ambition die away, but amend your plans. If you keep it realistic and flexible, you will succeed. Don’t give excuses – if you want it to happen, you must work at it to ensure it does. At the end of the day, it’s you to you.
Achieving That Dream
A recent study undertaken by Ohio University proved the theory propounded by both Freud and Jung that parents who push their children very hard to succeed, are actually attempting to fulfil their own dreams through their children. There’s no need for you to do that – you’ve listed out your goals, selected the first one, and you’re already on your way to making that ambition a reality.