Visual goal-setting to turn ideas into reality and problems into solutions

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Well at least my blog has……….I’m very excited to announce that this blog has moved to my new website of the same name ( Please catch me over there and bear with me while I work on the new site. See you on the other side…..



Why goal-setting doesn’t work

Happy New Year everyone. I know I’m a bit late to the party but it’s been a hectic and difficult start to the year. We returned home after staying with family for Christmas to find our beloved cat very sick. After ten days backwards and forwards from the vet there really was nothing more they could do and we had to make the very difficult decision to end her suffering and put her to sleep. I also made another very big decision over the festive period – the decision to leave my job at the blue chip organisation where I have worked for the past six years to embark once again upon the daunting but exciting arena of self-employment. The hole where the fluffy black fur-ball used to reside was making my family pretty sad and so after several trips to the RSPCA we finally adopted Alice – a friendly, playful young adult cat. We had really gone to adopt a kitten but Alice was highly persuasive with her feminine, feline whiles and even when we told the centre to go ahead and allow another family to adopt her because we weren’t quite ready (still grieving our beloved mog) when we went back a couple of weeks later and there she was, the adoption with other family having fallen through. So Alice is settling into her new home (currently spread halfway across the desk) and I am settling into a new phase of my career.

With this start to the year there wasn’t much time to think about New Year’s resolutions. The only thought I had really given to the subject was to quietly acknowledge to myself that we really don’t know what the year ahead holds in store and perhaps we should focus more on the moment and appreciating what we have than constantly striving for something better. But New Year is the time people are most likely to set new goals. Since I havn’t had a chance to do that it got me wondering what difference it would make. Will setting the goal ‘lose 12lb make any difference to whether I lose 12lb or not? I’m not convinced it will and here’s why:

Most goals require behavioural change

Most goals actually require some kind of behavioural change. There are some goals that don’t. Goals that are basically a repeat of something we have done over and over again probably don’t require a behavioural change. This may apply for example, to a project at work  that simply requires you to keep on doing the same daily activities you have for the past few months or years.

But most goals require a significant behavioural change. Losing weight, giving up smoking, doing more exercise,  being more patient with the kids, etc. all require us to change our behaviour. Setting the goal isn’t what’s going to enable us to achieve the goal, it’s changing the behaviour. So if achieving our goals is more about changing our behaviour isn’t that what we should focus on rather than the latest goal-setting book?

Most of us don’t actually know what our goals really are

We often mistake the mechanism for achieving a goal with the goal itself. For example, let’s say you have been dreaming about leaving your job to set up your own business. Is having your own business your goal? Or is your goal freedom? It may well be that having your own business is your goal. Many people simply enjoy running a business. They find it challenging, exhilarating even. they want to take the lead, call the shots, make all the decisions and dislike being told what to do by someone else. Some people actually desire the freedom to do what they want when they want. They may want more time to spend with their children or on a personal project in which case the real goal may be more time. People that give up the ‘day job’ to run their own business in the hope of having more time can find, initially at least, that the demands of running a business can take up far more time than their ‘day job’ and so are unable to reach their real goal.

People also tend to be driven in one of two ways – towards pleasure or away from pain. In the example above, the goal to set up your own business might actually be driven by the need to move away from the pain of your current work situation. Your goal might actually be to work for an employer that values your contribution, providing tangible reward and recognition.

The goals we think are ours aren’t

How many young adults embark upon college and university courses based upon their parents’ goals? How many eighteen year olds in the UK have embarked upon university courses in the past five years, not because they really wanted to but because the government set a goal to have fifty per cent of young people in higher education?

Do you want to exercise more because you know you enjoy it or do you want to exercise more because you keep hearing on the news and in magazines that you should be exercising thirty minutes a day a minimum of five days a week (for an revolutionary take on how much exercise is required to provide significant health benefit check out Fast Exercise by Dr Michael Mosley).

We confuse goals with commitments

Let’s also not confuse goals with commitments. Commitments are promises or pledges you make, usually to other people. You commit to helping someone move house on Saturday. You commit to attending a party. You commit to meeting your friend for lunch. If you don’t honour your commitments you usually let someone else down. If you find yourself frequently unable to honour your commitments you need to look at why that is. Are you over-committing? Are you committing to things you don’t really want to do? Are you afraid to say no?  I believe different emotions are bound up in commitment – emotions such as guilt and shame. Guilt can drive you to do something positive but can also eat you up (for more on guilt and shame – and the difference between the two – see the excellent work of Brene Brown). I personally don’t think guilt and shame are emotions conducive to attaining your goals.

Goals you complete versus goals you achieve

Is there a difference between goals you achieve and goals you complete? If I decide I want to run a marathon I have to complete the marathon, but in order to stand even a chance at completing the goal I have to achieve a level of fitness.

To be awarded a first Class Honours Degree you have to complete the course but you have to achieve a level of skill or knowledge to be awarded that particular classification. In both these examples you are required to ‘achieve’ and ‘complete’. If you achieve a certain level of fitness conducive to marathon running but don’t complete the marathon the goal is not attained. If you complete the course but don’t achieve the required level skill or knowledge in your degree subject, again your goal is not attained. Are different processes or systems required for achievement versus completion?

A recent Forbes article entitled ‘Why setting goals can do more harm than good‘ highlights the findings by researchers from four top business schools which showed that goals can do more harm than good. The authors of the research caution against goal-setting to increase productivity, pointing out that in organisational settings, when individuals focus on one stretch goal this can lead to neglect of other key activities and a rise in unethical behaviour, although they do point out that learning and mastery goals can have a positive effect. Thinking of my own experience of goal-setting, my most successful outcomes have been where I was learning a new subject or mastering a new skill.

Are goals bad then?

I don’t think goals are bad but I wonder if perhaps we should focus less on the goal and more on the bigger picture and the finer detail. It seems I may be more likely to achieve my ‘goal’ if I am clear on what the real goal is, am prepared and able to change my behaviour and the goal is based on learning something new or mastering a skill. These aspects all require a bit more, well…… effort, than a simple declaration that I’m going to ‘do’ something, an addition to my calendar  or even, dare I say it, a bright and colourful visual depiction of my goal on a piece of A3 paper!

What’s your vision?

Initially this post is going to seem like a bit of a diversion. I’m not going to write about drawing your goals, your resilience or your comfort zone. In fact I’m not going to write about drawing anything at all really. Drawing is the tool, the process, the mechanism, the facilitator, the means that I have been suggesting we all could benefit from in order to get our brain working just a little bit differently, just a little bit more effectively to solve a problem or attain a goal or brainstorm an idea. But what are problems, goals and ideas? It all starts with a thought doesn’t it? When it comes to problem-solving, goal-setting, brainstorming or any other ‘thing’ you are doing which involves getting from some ‘stuck’ position A to some ‘unstuck’ position B, it first involves a thought. The thought that you don’t want to be where you are right now but someplace else instead.

Thoughts come by other names too. Ideas. Visions. Dreams. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about visions and dreams. It’s been just over a week now since Nelson Mandela died. A truly inspirational man. A freedom fighter who at one time was considered a terrorist by some but whose memorial service was attended by heads of state and leaders from around the globe including David Cameron and President Obama. What Mandela had was a vision. He had a vision of what his country would one day be like. He had a vision of what his people’s lives would one day be like. And he had a vision so strong and so vivid that he held it throughout his imprisonment and was able to start taking action towards making that vision a reality the moment he took the first steps of his infamous walk to freedom.

Many people have had a vision so strong and vivid, which they were completely committed to, that they were able to make it happen. These visions come in all shapes and sizes but there is something different about those people that make their visions and dreams a reality. The most important thing seems to be that they had a crystal clear vision in the first place and what these inspirational people seem to have in common is their unwavering commitment to that vision.

So today I’m asking ‘what’s your vision?’ And ‘how committed are you?’

Do images help?

This week I was introduced to this motivational video on dreams which seems to have inspired even Richard Branson.

It is a great motivational speech on pursuing your dreams but for me the video footage that accompanies it invokes an even greater emotional response in me than would the speech alone. I was also introduced to the latest Brené Brown blog post which shows an RSA animation of a speech she gave on empathy in London. I simply love listening to Brené speak because I enjoy the way she delivers her stories so much. But her speech is made even more powerful by the amazing animation that RSA created to accompany it.

And something completely different – I recently came across this article from the College of Occupational Therapists on how they used visual goal-setting to help people with learning disabilities set personal goals for their treatment and care pathways.

So whatever we want to change about our ‘world’, whatever we want to achieve, it starts with a vision and commitment to that vision. If creating a drawing, a model, an animation or a video strengthens that vision then why not give it a go.

What’s your vision?

Moving outside your comfort zone

In the last couple of posts I talked about vulnerability, taking risks and resistance to change and how the root of these is fear. If we can overcome the fear we can make ourselves at least a little vulnerable, take risks, overcome our resistance to change and take those actions steps. One way of overcoming the fear is to identify just how resilient we are. Another is to recognise when we are in our comfort zone and slowly move out of it.

How can we use visual images to move out of our comfort zone?

It can be quite hard to identify when we are in our comfort zone. We know what it feels like but don’t necessarily know what it looks like. Our comfort zone is like the protective bubble we keep ourselves in. We don’t like going outside the bubble and we don’t like anything from outside the bubble coming in. The worst thing that can happen is when we feel our bubble has burst. So let’s use this image of a bubble to draw our comfort zone. Your comfort zone at the time you are drawing the image will be relative to the purpose of the exercise, project, problem or goal. As an example let’s say I have an action to make a video of myself facilitating a meeting using drawing techniques. I am quite comfortable in meetings and I am pretty comfortable giving presentations. I am comfortable if I know my subject – but not if I don’t. I am comfortable with giving a presentation to a room full of people, but not a theater or large conference facility. But I am horribly uncomfortable being videoed. For many people their comfort zones will be flipped the other way around (they might be comfortable being videoed but not giving a presentation) and for some they will be uncomfortable doing either. In my picture I have drawn me inside the bubble doing what I am comfortable with, leaving all the other activities outside the bubble. Once you have drawn your ‘comfort bubble’, pick something outside the bubble to work on. So I’ll pick the web cam. This is the smallest step for me to get used to being in front of a video camera. At this stage I havn’t even drawn on Vimeo or YouTube although I could have done. The aim is to work on one of the elements outside your comfort zone over a period of perhaps a week, then redraw it once you have mastered that step. Over the period of a few weeks you will be able to see how far you have come and how your comfort zone has expanded. You could even drawn the bubble in pencil and simply rub it out each week and redraw it around the elements you have accomplished. This exercise is a great confidence booster and can really help you move outside your comfort zone and get you taking action towards your goals.  Let me know what is and isn’t in your comfort zone……….


A technique for improving your resilience

In my previous post I talked about resistance to change and vulnerability, primarily caused by fear, as obstacles to taking action in pursuit of our goals and solutions. This post shows a simple visual technique for building your resilience  against failure, criticism, ridicule and knock-back. Remember we cannot prevent these things from happening – they are part of life. We can invest a lot of energy trying to prevent them when our energies may be better invested in building our resilience to them. 

What is resilience and how do we gain it? Resilience is defined as the ability to overcome difficulty – to spring back. Actually most of us are far more resilient than we think. We just need to recognise our skills and strengths. It’s easy to forget them when we experience a set-back. It’s easy to beat ourselves up or join in with those on the outside already doing a great job of that for us! 

Imagine you are a fighter pilot. You’re jet is shot at and starts to go into a spin. What is your first tool from your resilience toolbox? The ejector seat? Well that’s a pretty good one! But the first tool is your skill as a pilot. You might be able to bring the aircraft back under control. We often forget that our inner strengths, innate talents and learned skills are available to us, choosing to turn to external resources first. In this instance bringing the aircraft back under control isn’t possible. You and your Navigator have to eject. However your own skills and strengths are still at play because you, as the pilot, are the only only that can press the eject button (in some training aircraft the pilot is in the back and has to shout ‘eject, eject, eject’ to the training pilot so he knows when to press it). You have to keep your cool to undertake that task. So you’ve ejected from the aircraft and at this point you are using two external resources – the ejection seat and the parachute. First obstacle overcome. You land in the sea at night, in strong winds and heavy rain. Now you have to survive until you are rescued. The tools in your resilience toolbox are made up of both external and internal resources. External resources include the life-raft, your life jacket, whistle and flare, the survival pack in the life-raft and eventually the search and rescue helicopter that is going to find you and winch you up to safety. However you are very much dependent on your inner resources to make it that far. They might include remaining clear-headed, your ability to swim, problem-solving skills, good memory from the training exercise, teamwork, intelligence, tenacity and even humour. Take a look at the picture below:


The ‘Survival’ picture shows all the external problems and obstacles and both the external and internal resources. You can draw the same picture for your current goal or solution in order to help you take action instead of remaining stuck, paralysed with fear. In place of the wind, rain and waves add the obstacles, fears and problems to the picture. This picture works particularly well for businesses. So the wind, rain and waves might be finance, regulations, lack of customers. Why not throw in some sharks for good measure – I missed them off my picture but they are a great one to represent external critics! The whistle, life-raft, life jacket, survival pack, flare and helicopter might be colleagues, savings, local business support organisation, etc. But the most important element to add to your picture are the internal strengths and skills. List absolutely everything you can possibly think of. The important thing is to make sure there are more internal skills and strengths than external ones and problems/obstacles. You should end up with a picture that clearly shows at the bottom a raft (no pun intended) of inner skills and strengths combined with a handful of external resources that clearly outweigh your fears, problems and obstacles. Keep this picture in mind at all times or display it somewhere prominent to remind you that you have enough resilience make yourself vulnerable enough to take the risks required to move forward and take those actions steps that support your goal. 

In his book ‘The Inner Game of Stress’, Timothy Gallway uses the concept of the Tree of stability to help identify our resources to help us retain stability against stressors. The same idea can be applied to resilience against fear of vulnerability and change. The roots of the tree are the external and internal resources that keep the tree stable when faced with stressors (in our case obstacles, fears and problems) represented by wind, rain, lightening and tornadoes. I think the Tree of Stability works particularly well for personal goals and Timothy Gallway lists around 30 inner resources we each have available to us from imagination and humour, to empathy and compassion. 


Tim uses the analogy of the story of the The Three Little Pigs. Only the house of bricks withstands the wolf’s attempts to huff and puff and blow the house down. This is another image you can try. Again, draw on the fears, problems and obstacles as perhaps, wind, rain and lightning and the resources, represented by strong foundations, a solid roof, keeping it well-maintained, etc. as the external and internal resources you have available. Draw them underneath the house where the foundations would be. Would you rather have this house


Or this one?



Using one of these images (‘Survival’, Gallway’s ‘Tree of stability’ or ‘Strong Foundations’) or one of your own works very effectively to help you keep in mind the resources you have available to you to remain resilient in the face of failure, criticism or knock-back. Once you realise just how resilient you are there is nothing stopping you from taking that step, putting yourself out there, making that presentation, approaching that person or proposing that solution. You can be confident in your abilities and confident that in the event of a set-back you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on.

Let me know how resilient you are. 



Vulnerability and resistence to change

One of the obstacles  to taking action on your goals and solutions generated using visual techniques (or any other technique for that matter) is your own vulnerability, whether ‘you’ are an individual or an organisation. The very fact that you have brainstormed a new future or solution to a problem means that you want something to change. You want something to be different.  But we all know how hard it can be to enact change. Many, many books have been written on the subject. In fact a quick search on Amazon books under ‘change’ returned 126,824 results! I came across a book earlier this year called Immunity to Change written by Harvard psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey which aims to help people and organisation overcome their ‘immunity’ (or resistance) to change. I enjoyed it so much I have signed up to take part in an online course Kegan is running via EdX, an online higher education collaboration by Harvard and MIT which commences in January 2014.  But what if you don’t want to sift through 126,824 books on the subject or even read a book at all? what if you don;t want to go on a Change Management course?

The main reason we are so resistant to change is fear. Fear of failure, fear of making ourselves vulnerable. When we are setting goals and developing solutions to problems the thing that so often stops us taking those first action steps is that fear. What if the bank manager turns us down for the business loan? What if our boss ridicules our proposed solution? What if we make a fool of ourselves when we put ourselves out there?  What about those inner or outer critics that are intent on knocking our confidence? What will they say?

One of the things we can do is to build our resilience. If we build our resilience we can embark upon our action steps safe in the knowledge that even if we do fail, get turned down, knocked back, criticised or even ridiculed, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and carry on. It is virtually impossible to guarantee our future success. All the self-confidence, positive thinking and belief in the Law of Attraction in the world cannot guarantee our success – just ask the Thomas Edison’s of the world*. Instead of fearing failure, knock back and criticism we can build our resilience to these inevitable facets of life. This isn’t about expecting failure and thinking the worst – it is about being confident in our abilities to achieve our goals and confident in our abilities to handle our set backs. We have to make ourselves vulnerable because without doing so we will never take risks and all change involves an element of risk.

In the next post I will show you how, using a very simple visual technique, you can build your resilience.

*Thomas Edison was famous for failing 10,000 times before finally inventing the lightbulb.

Should we set deadlines for our goals?

Yesterday, on another forum, I invited people to have a go at visual goal-setting/problem-solving using the video I put together and posted on YouTube. One person got back to me and shared her reservation about setting goals. She loved the idea of working in a visual format but hated setting goals. More specifically she hated the pressure of deadlines. Conversely another person suggested I add a step to my video about putting the action steps in the diary. So I have a dilemma.

How important is it to set deadlines in goal-setting? If you are trying to solve a problem the chances are there is a deadline which may have been yesterday! Are deadlines good or bad? Should I include that step in my visual goal-setting method? In an earlier post I talked about how I prefer to think of visual goal-setting as designing my reality rather than my future because the future is always ‘out there’ giving a sense of it being unattainable. That may be fine in our personal lives but surely in some facets of life (such as in business or academic study) deadlines are absolutely essential right? 

A small company called Coudmaniac Labs have banned deadlines from their organisation with the aim of encouraging the creative process. They claim that productivity has improved as a result and that “It turns out when employees are less stressed, they do better work, faster”.

In contrast many writers claim that they simply would not get their writing activities completed if it wasn’t for the deadlines set by publishers and editors. 

How useful are deadlines to me? Well they are imperative to academic or professional study. I can base this on two very simple facts. When I have had to hand in assignments or projects by a particular deadline, or study for an exam I have completed the work on time and to a high standard. No matter how much I enjoyed the subject I’m not sure I would have got my head down without the deadline. I surmise this from the fact that I have twice signed up and paid for courses with no deadline so that you could complete them in your own time. I didn’t complete either of them. The first I never even sent off an assignment; the second I sent off the first assignment but never completed another one. Clearly the fact that I have paid for something is not the deciding factor, although if you have spent hundreds or thousands on a course (these were each around £200) that might provide a greater motivation for completion. Is it just the deadline? Other factors might include the reward or accolade at the end. Might we be more motivated to complete a goal if the end result is a recognised qualification such as a degree, a promotion or a pay rise? I can’t answer regarding promotions or pay rises since every promotion I have ever had has been as a result of moving jobs (I’m not sure if that says something about me or the organisations I have worked for!). I do know that I have worked for an organisation that had performance related pay and neither this aspect nor the deadline was much incentive for me completing the goal. The incentive was mostly just wanting to do a good job. Producing something of good quality has always been more important to me than just producing. I have never been afraid to say to a manager or a customer ‘look I’m running behind, I could give you what I have but I’d rather finish the job properly. It will be with you a couple of days later’. It’s not like I’m the kind of person that always runs behind. I’m not. but quality is important to me. 

However am I right to focus on producing quality rather than producing something? Perhaps it depends on the situation. Aren’t there Hard deadlines and Soft deadlines? Are Soft deadlines targets? Should targets have penalties if they are not met or just bonuses if they are?

Recently I came across James Clear’s blog post advocating scheduling over deadlines. A lot of it makes sense to me. He suggests that scheduling in set time to work towards our goals is more productive than setting deadlines. Last year I completed the very successful Beachbody Power 90 and P90X workout programmes. I printed off the workout schedules for the 90 days. One of my favourite Tony Horton sayings is ‘do your best and forget the rest’. He advocates modifying when you need to as long as you turn up. This really worked for me. Yes I had a goal weight and there was a 90 day deadline but the two were not inextricably linked. As long as I was improving over the 90 days I was working towards my goal. I completed the workout programmes and lost weight but the real sense of achievement was the improvements to my fitness slowly and surely over the 90 days. Without scheduling in the workouts and ‘turning up’ I quite simply would not have kept it up. Some days I almost walked my way through the workouts and others I made huge breakthroughs like the day I realised I could do proper push ups rather than doing them from my knees. As long as I turned up I was bound to make progress. Does this apply to other kinds of goals? You often hear successful writers talking about how they sit down and write every day. Just this week I was listening to John Grisham being interviewed on Radio 2. Apparently he sits down to write every day between 7 am and 11 am.  So is scheduling more important than setting deadlines for your goals?

Perhaps when we are setting ourselves goals we need to think about whether the goal or indeed the person requires a deadline (some people after all thrive on deadlines), whether that deadline should be Hard or Soft, whether there should be reward for meeting the deadline (I’m a fan of rewards not punishments by the way) and whether scheduling is appropriate (and if so for how long and when). Perhaps these are questions I need to factor into any visual goal-setting method I develop. 

So taking the 10 steps I included on my video lets add a couple more:

11. Set a deadline if required

12. Schedule in time to work on your actions

Now making the most of the time you schedule in is a whole other topic for consideration……….



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