I was a fairly driven youth. I set goals and worked hard to achieve them. Mainly, these were in the area of school grades and the sport of badminton. The process of getting to the goals wasn’t often fun. I studied because I HAD to, not because I wanted to. And I remember dragging myself out of bed for those early morning runs around that football field. They were particularly terrible after a downpour. I remember fruitlessly attempting to keep the sludge from filling my shoes by skipping over puddles.

Fear drove me – the fear of not being enough. Whenever I did achieve, my happiness was often brief. I was often hard on myself, feeling like I could have done better. And yet, it made me want to achieve more. Often, I’d get some measure of attention. Validation I needed to assure me I was worthy of love. Good for something. Those moments gave me respite from the often deafening echo chambers of self-doubt.

My journey into personal development taught me that when it comes to setting goals, intent matters. Back then, I was driven by significance. More specifically, an addiction to the dopamine rush of attention. I didn’t realise that what actually drove me was a poor sense of self-worth – that feeling of not being enough. And so the cycle of fear-driven endeavour continued. When I had the inevitable setbacks and failures, what got me going again was the desire to avoid criticism or the perceived apathy of others. That fear of not being enough was a powerful motivator and yet, it made the process often feel like a chore. On the occasion when I did succeed, any euphoria I might have was short-lived. I’d sabotage that with self-talk of how I fluked it or just just got lucky. And I fell prey to the fake imposter syndrome. Even as I was being acknowledged, I feared the day others would discover I really wasn’t that good.

So when I finally got that degree and graduated from uni and went into adulthood and employment, I gradually stopped setting goals. I think subconsciously, the pain of the process outweighed the perceived benefits. My conditioned fear of failure would have contributed to this – after all, the easiest way to not fail is to not have a goal in the first place, right?  And before I knew it, I fell into a “survival” rut – days filled with ‘to do” lists to meet other people’s goals rather than my own, reacting rather than being proactive, a victim of my environment rather than a master of my destiny.

To get myself out of this rut, I realised that whilst I couldn’t control what was outside of me, I totally had the power to decide what I truly wanted from every situation. To make time to imagine and visualise an extraordinary vision. A workshop with Tony Robbins taught me that if you want an extraordinary life, the very first step is to simply decide to make it so. And to make yourself accountable for that – no one else will do that for you.

“It’s in the moments of your decisions that your destiny is shaped” – Tony Robbins

And to design what extraordinary looks like. Much like the way the perfect house or vacation or family or any amazing invention is created – first in the mind and then in reality.

At that time, I was going through a tough period in my career – losing 30% of my team to what was my first experience of an organisational restructure. It was painful. I felt like a massive failure, the years of self-doubt and the “fake imposter” syndrome seemingly reinforced by that phone call from my boss’ boss informing me of a decision I had not been consulted about. For a couple of years, I lost my drive. I fell into a deeper rut.

This quote from the late Jim Rohn was transformative.

“It’s not the blowing of the wind, it’s the setting of the sails that determines where you end up in life”

Learning that the greatest gift in setting stretch goals is the person I would become, not what I’d get as a result was a huge “a-ha” moment for me. For much of my life, the desire for significance was my primary driver for setting and achieving goals. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a human thing. Maslow’s research into human needs reveals that at our core, we have this need to know that we matter (what he calls our “esteem needs”). What made that challenging was the fact that my significance gauge came from external factors I had no absolute control over and societal expectations I hadn’t challenged. I measured success through the level of acknowledgement by others, the number of A’s on my report card, trophies, certificates and later in life, the size of the car, home and colour of my credit cards. I always assumed then once I reached a certain tipping point, that level of significance would then lead to freedom, comfort and happiness.

The aftermath of that restructure taught me that my happiness was something that had to come from within, from factors totally in my control. From the way I thought, felt and responded to my environment.

“Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling ” – Margaret Lee Runbeck

That grateful people are happy. They don’t wait to be happy to feel grateful. That I could choose to simply celebrate the abundance that was already in my life (with or without the favour of others) and to feel intrinsically significant and happy, now. And from that base, to embrace the spirit we were born with, naturally seeking to be better, to fulfil our highest potential and in the process contribute meaningfully and positively to humanity.

Teaching myself the ability to be present and from a state of gratitude, simply dream about the ideal future I’d like to create and the person I’d like to become and then commit this to writing and pictures (using a Vision Board) has helped me recondition my mind to prioritise the fulfilment of my highest potential over significance. To chart a specific direction for my life. Much like the movie “Back to the Future“, the process of time travelling in your mind to experience the stories of adventures to unfold is a wonderful gift you can give yourself – a delicious and most inspiring experience. The subsequent actions taken to turn that vision into reality has enabled me to experience so much more of life than my previous security and significance led self.

Whilst the emotion of gratitude is what forms the base of my goal setting, the paradox is that fear is still an important fuel for me – but fear of a different kind. Of looking back one day and wondering “what if…”. I know I’ll never be able to please everyone around me. And at the end of the day, the only person I’ll ever have to account to is the “man in the mirror”. And to know that I have done my best to expand and utilise the considerable talents the Universe has endowed me to serve.

“You would have mastered your life when the voices from the inside are greater than those from the outside” – Dr John Demartini

But most importantly, having then the integrity to follow through and keep promises I make to myself by taking actions often way outside my comfort zone has strengthened my self-worth. And when I find my cup of self-esteem is filled, I have even more of my energy to direct to others.

It has helped me become a kinder, more inspiring, empathetic, courageous and compassionate person. Whilst to this day, the validation of others remains important to me, it is significantly less so. What’s most important is the need for me to know that I am doing the best I can to be a role model of happiness and love for my three extraordinary children and all those I am blessed to have in my circle of influence. It’s the most important legacy I’d like to leave behind. Know that you are extraordinary and yet, it’s so much more important that you know it from deep place within you. And know that you can form this deep knowing by inculcating the same habits of mindful gratitude and inspirational vision and goal setting. And following up with the love, courage and energy you’re endowed with to bring those to reality.

So if you haven’t already done so, make time to visualise the ideal future you wish to create and set goals this year that inspire you to make progress towards that vision. Be even more of the most extraordinary person you already are.

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