Choose what you aspire to
For me, aspirations are all about planning to live life the way you would like to. Some people may call these goals, but I have always found the word goals to be a little too “corporate-speak”. However, I accept that this may be what some folks are used to.
A lot of the people I meet and talk to such as friends, family, colleagues and clients, feel as if they're floating through life, wandering without a purpose. They work hard, but they don't seem to get to where they want to, or, more commonly, they are not sure where it is they want to be. A fundamental reason for this is that often they haven't spent enough time thinking about what they want from life, and haven't decided on their aspirations. The question I often ask in these situations is “Would you set out on a road trip with no real idea of your destination? In most cases, I would guess not.
So, apart from the above, why should we have aspirations? Thinking about and setting aspirations can help to give you a long-term vision and short-term motivation. It can help to focus your gaining of knowledge and to aid you when organising your time and resources so that you can make the most of your life. As I said in a previous blog, how we spend our time is how we spend our life.
By establishing clearly defined aspirations, it is easier to measure and feel proud about the achievement of said aspirations. This achievement will directly lead to an increase in your self-confidence as you recognise your ability and competence in accomplishing the aspirations that you have set yourself.
So, how should you go about setting your aspirations? The first thing to emphasise is that these should be your aspirations, not someone else’s that have been imposed on you (whether by accident or design). At the risk of oversimplification, you should first consider what you want to achieve, and then you should commit to it. You should set yourself SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) aspirations that serve to motivate you and my advice to everyone I talk to about this is to write them down to make them substantial. The next stage is to decide the steps you need to take to realise your aspirations and to then physically cross them off as you complete them.
Setting aspirations is an empowering and powerful method for thinking about your ideal future and as a catalyst for turning your vision into reality. The process of setting aspirations can help you decide what you want to do and where you want to go; by knowing exactly what you want to achieve, you can determine where to concentrate your time and energy. It will also help you to quickly identify the distractions that may steer you off course.
You can set your aspirations on a number of levels; the first phase is to create your "big picture" of what you want to do with your life and ascertain the large-scale aspirations that you want to achieve. The next step is to break these down into smaller, more manageable targets that you must achieve in order to reach your life aspirations. Once you have your plan, you can then start to work on it to achieve these aspirations. Breaking aspirations down in this way makes them more tangible as you can determine the things you want to do in the next 5 years, 1 year, next month, this week, etc. and then start to move towards successful completion.
To achieve balance in your life, it can be helpful to attempt to set aspirations in categories that are important to you. The categories I use, in no particular order, are:
Career – Is there a particular level/job role I want to reach, or a specific project I want to achieve?
Financial – How important are finances to you? Do you want to be financially stable or do you want to accumulate wealth? How might you go about achieving your optimum income?
Education – Is there a specific educational level/qualification that I want to acquire? Are there competencies I need to have in order to achieve any of my other aspirations?
Family – Do you want to have a partner? Do you want to be a parent? Do you know how you are going to parent? What do your family relationships look like?
Artistic – Are there any artistic/creative aspirations you would like to achieve?
Attitude – Is there any part of your mindset that you feel holds you back? Are there any behaviours you have that make you unhappy or upset?
Physical – Are there any health-related aspirations that you want to achieve? What steps could you take to achieve these?
Pleasure – How do you want to spend your leisure time/time spent enjoying yourself?
Charity/Volunteering – Would you like to make a contribution to the wider world via charitable endeavours? If so, how?
It is really worth thinking long and hard about these categories and coming up with some aspirations that are important to you and that you genuinely want to achieve; these should not be the aspirations of your parents, family or employers. However, if you have a partner, then they should obviously be considered. This can be quite a demanding process as it may involve challenging some of your preconceptions and identifying what is really important to you. This is not an activity that you should rush. Also, I find it best to select one or two aspirations in each category that best reflect what you want to do; this will allow you to focus on what you truly value.
After you have decided on your long term aspirations, you should then set a five-year plan of smaller aspirations that you need to complete in order to achieve your lifetime aspirations. You can then break these five-year aspirations down further into aspirations for one-year, six-month, one-month, etc at each step becoming progressively smaller and, importantly, more manageable. Each of these aspirational steps should always reference back to the previous, higher-level plan.
After you have completed this phase, it should be easier to create and maintain a daily to-do list that describes the incremental activities that will help to achieve your life-time aspirations.
To help you stay on track after you have decided on your aspirations it is important to review and update your to-do list on a daily basis, whilst also periodically reviewing your longer term plans and modifying them where appropriate to reflect changes in lifestyle, priorities and lived experience.
The importance of defining your aspirations as SMART should not be underestimated. A good example of a weak aspiration is “to see more of the world”. It is a lot more meaningful and powerful if you could state your aspiration as “to have travelled from the east to west of North America, to visit China for four weeks and to have visited the Louvre in France by the end of 2020”.
Alongside making sure your aspirations are SMART, there are other methods I recommend for setting effective and achievable objectives.
Make sure your aspirations are positive; “I will run a 5k race in less than 30 minutes” rather than “I don’t wat to come last in the 5k race”.
Make sure you are precise when describing your aspirations; specify dates, times, amounts, and any other metrics you can think of that can be measured to define achievement. If you are able to do this, then you’ll know exactly when you have met your aspiration and you can take a great deal of satisfaction from it.
Where you have multiple aspirations make sure to give each one a priority. This will help you to avoid becoming overwhelmed by having too many items to consider at once and will also help you to focus your attention on the most important ones. How you define priority is something that is very personal but I can help with this task as we discuss what you truly value.
Make sure you write them down! This is one of my bugbears and something that I always tell my family, friends, colleagues and clients. Writing aspirations down crystallises them and gives them more potency.
Be mindful of the size of your aspirations; it is perfectly fine to have a lifetime aspiration of being mortgage free by the time you are 50, as long as the low-level aspirations that you are working towards are small and achievable, e.g. reduce spending on takeaway coffee to under £5 a week. If you were always focusing on the lifetime aspirations, this is too large and it may seem that you are not making progress towards it. Having the lower-level aspirations small and incremental means it is easier to determine success and allows for greater opportunity for feelings of achievement.
Make sure that you have as much control as possible over the aspirations you have set yourself as it can be quite dispiriting if you fail to achieve an aspiration of any level for reasons that may be beyond your influence. If you are able to focus your aspirations on personal performance, it is easier to both maintain control of the aspiration as well as to celebrate the successful completion of said aspiration.
The importance of realistic aspirations should not be overestimated; it is crucial to have aspirations that are challenging yet attainable. Other people may set unrealistic aspirations for you and may do this in ignorance of your own ambitions. This can be a difficult situation to find yourself in. You should also be mindful of aspirations that are too difficult as a result of a lack of awareness/appreciation of the obstacles that you may encounter or an under-appreciation of the level of competency that you may require.
Once you have achieved an aspiration goal, it’s important to take time to enjoy the satisfaction of having done so. You should reflect on the implications of realising your aspiration and celebrate the advancement that you've made towards your other aspirations; if the aspiration was significant (only you can determine this), then you should reward yourself appropriately. This will promote the positive feelings that come with achievement and will inspire you to progress with more of your aspirations.
Having successfully completed one of your aspirations, you should take the time to review your others:
If you achieved the aspiration too easily, think about making the next one more difficult.
If the aspiration took a painfully long amount of time, think about making the next one easier.
If you learned something when achieving this aspiration that would lead you to change your other aspirations, do so.
When reflecting, it’s also important to remember that failing to achieve aspirations is not as important as making sure you learn from experience. Take the lessons learnt back into the process of setting your next aspirations. Also, be mindful that your aspirations will change as you change; check on them regularly and modify them as necessary to reflect your personal growth and experience and, crucially, if they are no longer desirable then you should consider removing them from your list.
If you don't already set aspirations, I would recommend you do so, starting right now.
If you need any help in this area, please feel free to get in touch for a free 1 hour consultation.