Be clear about your goals

When I undertook my management training many years ago we were taught the importance of a ‘strategic’ approach, which meant at all times being clear about what we were trying to achieve – that is, what our strategic goals are. Our strategy, then, is the plan for achieving these goals, hence the term ‘strategic’. At that point I had been a practising social worker for a number of years and, to me, having clarity about what we were trying to achieve was second nature. So, I was surprised when so many of the other students on the course seemed to think that this ideas of a ‘strategic’ approach was something new and exciting.

Since then I have learned that I should not have been surprised by this. I have come to realise that it is not uncommon for people to lack clarity about their goals or how they are going to achieve them. This is because, whether at work or in our private lives, it is so easy to get bogged down with ‘getting on with it’. At home, it can be about making sure the bills get paid and so on – just the day-to-day chores of earning a living and keeping a household going can take up not just a lot of time and effort, but also space in our head. Similarly, at work, just getting through the day and the demands made on us – especially if you work somewhere where demands come at you from different angles – can be enough to fill your diary and your head. This can be especially the case in workplaces cultures that are characterised by a ‘heads down, get on with it’ culture, with little or no room for reflective practice.

While this state of affairs is understandable, it is far from desirable. As the old saying goes, ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there’. If you are not sure what you are trying to achieve, how do you make informed choices about how to move forward? How do you know whether your time, effort or other resources are being used to best effect? How do you know whether you are wasting your time?

Also, if you are not clear where you are trying to get to, you may well be prey to one or more unscrupulous people manoeuvring you into helping them get where they want to be – that is, they use you by capitalising on your lack of a sense of direction.

There is also the issue of confidence to consider. If we are clear about what we are trying to achieve and this is apparent to the people around us, they are more likely to trust us and have confidence in us – in other words, our credibility will be higher. By contrast, if people get the impression we are drifting, unclear about what we are doing and where we are going, they are likely to have much less faith in us and therefore a lower level of confidence. If we become aware that people have less confidence in us, that can mean that we have less confidence in ourselves and a vicious circle can be created. Contrast that with the confidence boost we can have if we are aware that we have a good level of credibility and people have confidence in us because they know we are clear about where we are trying to get to and how we are going to get there.

And, finally, there is the question of leadership. An effective leader is someone who helps people to understand where they are trying to get to and supports them and inspires them in trying to get there. Having clarity about our own goals, then, can be seen as a feature of ‘self-leadership’ and all the benefits that brings.

Pick yourself up!

The idea that you should get straight back on the bike as soon as you have fallen off is not a new one and is not without its usefulness. Things that we associate with pain and fear have a nasty habit of weighing heavily on our minds and thereby stopping us from getting on with our lives. The longer we leave it before getting back on that bike, literally or metaphorically, the harder it becomes to do so. This is because the negative feelings generated initially have had chance to establish themselves and loom large to us. We are allowing obstacles to progress to establish a foothold.

And ‘allowing’ is a key word here because it does not have to be this way. We can distance ourselves from such problems by ‘picking ourselves up’ – that is, recognising that things have not gone as we would want, but using that negativity to make us all the more determined to move forward positively in whatever ways we can.

The technical term for this is ‘resilience’, what is often referred to as ‘bouncebackability’. It relates to the way in which we have the potential to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. Life knocks us down and we pick ourselves up as best we can.

For some people it’s a case of being knocked down and staying down, being diminished as a person in the process. There may be various reasons for this, such as a lack of confidence. Sadly, it can also be the case that some people do not pick themselves up because they have been knocked down so many times that they have lost the will to get up. Alternatively, the impact of being knocked down can be so severe and overwhelming that we just do not feel capable of picking ourselves up. Abuse and other traumatic experiences can come into this category.

So, it is important not to be judgemental about anyone who does not bounce back – it is a complex set of factors that we are encountering. Making judgements about people and situations we do not fully understand can be dangerous and counterproductive.

Ideally, what we should aim for is not only to pick ourselves up, but also to learn from the experience, to come out of it stronger and better equipped for the next time adversity strikes – and, of course, it will strike again sooner or later, we all know that.

But, of course, that is easier said than done. None the less, it is still worth the effort to get the benefits that can be gained. It is partly a matter of attitude. If we approach such situations with a negative, defeatist attitude, it is unlikely that the results will be positive. However, if, by contrast, we approach such circumstances with a positive attitude it is much more likely that we will indeed secure a more positive outcome.

We can also build on our successes. A small success after one episode of adversity can give us the confidence to take a bigger step next time, and so on, steadily building up a momentum in a positive direction.

We should also do our best to avoid obstacles, not least by steering clear of people’s negativity that can drag us down. Sadly, some people go a long way to encourage negativity in others, perhaps because it makes them feel more comfortable about their own ingrained negativity towards themselves.

The more effective you become at picking yourself up after life has knocked you down, the better equipped you become to help others do the same and the more you get out of your life into the bargain.