As a fairly driven person and having been trained to always look at SMART goals as an OT and later learning of the centrality of goals to coaching, I’ve now come to later life with an increasing realisation that this is only half of the story.
This realisation has been more like a creeping awareness that however much I set myself goals and make plans, I seem to rarely achieve them, instead succeeding in other unintentional ways. (I do appreciate that this is not the case for everyone as I know many people who seem to flourish under focus and linear achievement)
I’ve tried to make sense of my wonkiness in many ways, including the following:

  • Perhaps its just my creative mind
  • Perhaps I am unfocused and too easily distracted
  • Perhaps somehow my “energy” system is wired back to front, giving me the opposite of what I desire
  • Perhaps (another woo-woo one) I am not aligned with my “true life” purpose
  • Perhaps I over recognise others ability to achieve their goals
  • Perhaps I have too many goals at once
  • Perhaps I make goals and then completely ignore them

I think it’s a goodly mixture of all of these, but as my journey to understand myself and my creativity continues, I realise how we need to embrace the paradox of having firm goals and letting them go, at the same time.
The reasons for saying this are multiple:

  • Creativity science shows that a wandering mind is more likely to come up with creative ideas
  • Coaching knowledge has shown that goals are emergent, shifting and changing all the time
  • Some of the best “inventions” and discoveries have been made by complete accident
  • Random happenings often lead to great outcomes, whether it’s the impromptu night out or the chance meeting on a train that leads to a new job
  • Detours, whether they be on a physical journey or a metaphorical one, often lead to delightful discoveries
  • Holding on too tight to things, can sometimes leave us burnout and feeling unsuccessful if nothing seems to shift
  • Sometimes we focus on our lack of achievement in the area we want focus on, not noticing the good stuff happening on the side.
  • Society teaches us that we are all the same, that the same goals setting/planning/strategies work for everyone and if they don’t, there is something wrong with you…..or you are not good enough (just think about how education is goal/competency based, how health is measured in linear outcomes)
  • We underestimate the role that luck and serendipity play

Of course, we need to figure out what all this means in terms of tangible actions/support/advise when working with clients and patients.

How can we best serve them in this rather unpredictable world?

My immediate thoughts are that teaching people to let go of rigid plans and expectation is essential, but of course everyone is different. Just as I struggle to set and stick to goals, others don’t. I am immediately reminded of my cousin who at 40 and with 3 children under 5, suffered a back injury resulting in paraplegia – he was told he would never walk again. He decided otherwise and has single-mindedly taught his body to walk again. Two years after his accident, he climbed Snowdon just last month. He exhibits this amazing ability to achieve his intentions with vigour, in other areas of his life too!
Somehow, we need to help our clients and patients to figure out how things usually work for them and how in the past they have successfully worked towards desired goals. So, here are some thoughts:

  • I highly recommend just asking something like “In the past, when you worked towards a goal or project, how did you go about it?”  Clearly some elaboration and poking around needs to follow, reflecting back any patterns or insights.
  • I find that asking questions that encourage us to use our intuition or future insight, are so helpful when finding ways forward.  Try “What do you know now, that you will find out in a years’ time?”  or “Imagine your future self has achieved what you desire. What advice do they have for you?”
  • Whilst we often aim to be non-directive in coaching, teaching our clients and patients how to be flexible, recognise opportunities and embrace unexpected outcomes can be invaluable. Knowing that everyone is different and what works for one person, rarely works for another, can be very freeing.
  • Knowing that “having goals” is quite a modern idea and quite culturally bound. Even as recently as early last century, people were too busy staying alive and making sure they could feed their families. Other parts of the world would find the idea of having life goals, quite peculiar!

Most importantly, in this very driven society we seem to have built, we really need to be more compassionate to ourselves. I doubt that any of you would score highly on the “lazyometer” or that if you looked into each other’s lives, you would see anything other than good intentions.

If you are interested in learning more about coaching as an OT, check out our low cost, online course specially designed for OTs