Hello 2020, good-bye 2019: new year, real goals

New year goals

I have never been one for setting new year goals. Maybe it’s due to the fact that, for most of my adult life, I have had goals imposed on me by a corporate environment which encouraged me to align my personal sense of achievement to their business strategy. Where others may have thrived, I struggled miserably; I knew those goals just weren’t me.

Imposed goals had a negative impact on me because I had a personal goal vacuum: I didn’t actually have any goals of my own, because I didn’t know what I tangibly wanted, and I was too scared to dream big. I didn’t trust myself to set goals that I would actually go out and achieve, so I just took the ones on the company scorecard and got on with it.

Last year, on the eve of 2019, I thought I had it. I had left imposed, impersonal business goals behind, and it was just me and my own life. I was free to make my own goals, and I thought I had them. I also thought I was the strongest, most capable, and self-aware I have been in my life, so I was going to own 2019.

Not quite.

One year on, and I realise that even then, with no imposed goals to blame, I didn’t actually know what I wanted. And/or I didn’t believe in myself enough to be open about what I really wanted and declare it as a goal. Instead, I spent the year looking for fulfilment and answers elsewhere – and I got the answer I’d been getting ready for a long time: only I can fulfil myself.

This simple truth has changed how I see myself, and resulted in a subtly but critically different person at the end of this year. Instead of declaring the goals I think I should be declaring, I already know what I want. I’ve made my list of goals and I am going to track myself against it, because I am going out to play and fight for what I want this year, God willing.

Are SMART goals the way forward?

It is commonly said that goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (or relevant), and time-bound. In other words, they’re meant to be tangible and concrete; in the realm of substance.

I disagree.

Have SMART goals by all means, but what really called to me as I think ahead to the new year is not so much what I want (although I know that) but who I want to be. Popular thinking would tell you that when you get what you want, then you can be and do what you want. I say if I am who I want to be, then I have a greater chance of getting what I want.

In other words, who do I want to be to get what I want?

Actually, more importantly, who do I want to be?

The most important relationship – life lesson

My relationship with myself has emerged as the one of the most important commodities in my life, second only to my relationship with God. It is more than a commodity: it is a force, a critical lynchpin in defining who I am and how I operate in the world. It is as silent and as necessary as my backbone; the very core of my being.

I look back to who I was last year, and it is like looking at a small figure at the end of an inverted telescope. That is how I related to myself: small, co-dependent, and to blame for everything. I only learned the extent of that during the year, when things happened that forced me to confront this small person who was residing inside me.

The biggest changes arising from this internal confrontation have not been tangible – although they have started to happen – but behavioural. I am changing the conversation I am having about myself with myself, and I am exploring different ways of being with people, and that is where I am finding my answers.

With that, here are my ‘being’ goals for 2020, and also what’s out for 2019, because some things just need to be left behind to make space for something new.

1. Trust

More specifically, trust in myself. The single most important thing I have learned over the past year is this: to trust myself above all other things.

One of my most fundamental, deep-rooted internal conversations has been that I can’t rely on myself; that I am always going to get it wrong. So for many years I have relied on external validation to tell me I’m getting it right or, more importantly, I’m OK. Whether it was a cooler person at school, a more senior or respected person at work, a coach at a self-development programme, or just family, friends and romantic partners. Operating alone most of the time, I didn’t realise how big that chasm of self-doubt and distrust was inside me. It was only when I was vulnerable – when I let somebody close to me or was in a situation where I felt exposed – that I realised what was missing in me, for I was looking to others to provide what I was failing to do for myself.

This year, a series of twists and turns forced me to face this, and decide: my gut, or the external anointed ‘authority’ who would tell me I was right/OK/loveable etc. I chose me because everything – everything – screamed it, and was completely vindicated. It was a revelation for me, and allowed me to break the backbone of a lifelong belief that I was only OK or right if somebody told me I was OK.

I like being on my own side. It’s a good – great – feeling, albeit still a novelty. It’s allowed me to walk away from things which I felt I should be doing, but knew weren’t right for me. I like knowing I can count on myself to get it right. I like being able to trust that I know what’s right for me, and who I am. Next year is definitely about continuing to develop the self-trust muscle, and take actions led by positive, affirmative knowledge of myself, rather than relying on others. I’m pretty confident new actions will result from this…

2. Compassion

A couple of years ago, I did an online mindfulness course, and one of the things that caught my attention was the emphasis on practical compassion. Compassion has been quite an ethereal concept for me, despite being one of the most emphasised attributes of God in Islam (Ar Rahim or the Most Merciful/Compassionate occurs very frequently in the Qu’ran). It is therefore a desired attribute for us humans to take on, except that we’re not great at it. I, in particular, am terrible at it.

The course gave some really useful tips about how to practise compassion as a tangible behaviour, rather than view it as an aspirational concept. The starting point had to be myself, for that relationship is the source of my relationship with everybody and everything else.

We all have a voice that speaks to us non-stop inside our heads. It represents our relationship with ourselves. I knew my ‘voice’, but hadn’t really considered how I talk to myself – and it turns out it’s pretty vile. The way that an emotionally abusive adult might speak to a child. Or Boris Johnson speaks to NHS nurses. It’s nasty; I talk to myself nastily. I do not have compassion for myself, and therefore it becomes very hard to extend it to others. Really accepting that and being open to altering it has been a big step for me.

I have been working on self-compassion this past year, focusing on how I talk to myself, and gently correcting that nasty voice into a softer one. It takes continual practice, for that voice is always talking – always. And it has been used to being nasty for a long time. One exercise that helps is to talk to yourself as if you’re talking to a puppy (this sounds weird but it actually works, because imagine yelling at a puppy and see what happens). Or imagine you are talking to a friend who hasn’t done something on time, or isn’t concentrating on their work, or who doesn’t believe in themselves (all things I have verbally abused myself for), and adopt that tone for yourself.

‘Not for the faint of heart’ – image (and title) credit: the wonderful @worry__lines

Learning to have compassion for myself has transformed my faith and relationship with God. I see Him as more Compassionate and Merciful than judging and punishing, which reflected how I thought I deserved to be treated. It is slowly starting to percolate into how I approach things, too, making me calmer and accepting of my humanity than I was before. I am learning to extend this to others, too, and next year is definitely about being compassionate towards myself and others, and embedding it as a way of being.

3. Forgiveness

This is a big one, and such a huge learning for me this year. Again, forgiveness has been a conceptual behaviour which I thought I had nailed. It’s an important human behaviour in Islam, mentioned many times in the Qur’an both as an attribute of God and a way of being for humans to incorporate into our lives. I thought, I know what it is, and of course I do it.

I learned this year that my version of forgiveness was the safe version. The kind that I hand out to people that I love so much that my safety net for trust and repair was big and wide. But for people where that net was not so big, where I’ve had nothing to reassure me as I consider letting go of a wrong done and wiping the slate completely clean – for that is what true forgiveness is – it has not been so easy. I have grappled with it, and in the struggle I discovered that I am as unforgiving with myself: I punish myself for wrongs done, and hold them to be indelible, like I am permanently damaged for having made a mistake and hurt somebody else or wronged myself.

My challenge with forgiveness has sparked an internal enquiry: why do I find it so hard? How can I do it? Can I learn to do it? It led me to write an article about it, which was on Amaliah, a platform I love and am honoured to be featured on. You can read the article here.

My enquiry continues, and my goal for next year is to forgive myself and others. I am not giving up until I master it, because I think it is a huge act of grace and strength, and one of the most god-like things a human can do. And maybe the fact that I am being quite stoic about the fact I’m not there yet indicates progress with the compassion goal 🙂

4. Courage

‘Creativity starts with a leap of faith – telling your fears they are not allowed where you are headed’.

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

I) Tickling the Tiger

My biggest dreams are also my biggest fears. They are primarily centred around my creativity, and they manifest as huge, sinister monoliths which I can never hope to overcome. That’s what I have told myself anyway, and then I have told myself off and called myself nasty names (read all of the above points – a work in progress).

I have learned with time that fear isn’t real. The terrible things I imagine happening if I pursue my dreams – failure, rejection, being laughed at, losing everything I own – aren’t actually real. The failure I see in my head is a caricature monster version of what failure will look like in real life. My mind turns fears into fanged phantoms to keep me safe from the perceived threat of even trying.

Fears seems to be like huge tsunamis which I see and instinctively want to run away from. In moments of clarity, however, I have imagined staying my ground, and playing chicken with the wave. I have done this with fears in my life: submitting articles to be published, calling someone to apologise for something I’ve done. As soon as it touches my skin, the tidal wave disappears like a puff of smoke. The wave is a projected illusion; it is not real. The only way it stays fearful is if I continue to run away from it.

Next year, I am playing a game called Tickle the Tiger. My fears only dominate me when they retain their monolithic bulk, for they seem too large to tackle. I figure that if I scratch away at them everyday – and remove even a chip off the monolith – then I making more progress in conquering them than if I didn’t try at all. My fears are the tigers, and I am committing to tickling them everyday – in other words, doing one small thing to dispel the myth that they are terrible and terrifying and insurmountable, and just doing one thing everyday to interact with them and, with time, reduce them.

One of the ways I’ll be tackling my fears AKA the devil (image credit: @worry__lines)

II) Shooting for stars

I am beginning to learn that courage doesn’t mean always getting things right. It’s easy to look at social media and people’s success stories and conclude that if you’re courageous – you take that risk, you act against popular opinion – you’ll be rewarded with success. What I haven’t paid so much attention to is the many, many times people take risks which ‘fail’, or don’t open that magical door. And we never see those on Instagram, either.

It is easy to see courage as synonymous with success, and fear with failure. The old adage of ‘(s)he who dares, wins’, seems to suggest that courage must entail victory, and social media helps to perpetuate it, with pristine images of people’s success stories and the great end result. But it’s erroneous to conflate courage with the outcome of courageous actions.

I have concluded that courage is granting yourself the right to try, no matter what the outcome.

I have limited myself a lot in the past by being discouraged after an act of courage has resulted in ‘failure’ – or not getting my desired result. I realise I have penalised myself for having the courage to try and fail by denying myself another shot.

However, I am finally accepting that the only difference between me and the perennially brave is that they don’t let failure limit how many chances they have going forward. Actually, as I write that I realise I don’t even know who ‘they’ are – I think the ‘brave ones’ are a tribe I’ve created to make myself feel small and like I’m not doing as much as others. So I’m scrapping that, too.

But one thing is true: we are all taking chances. That’s all life is, right? Taking chances, and some chances will land and turn into something fruitful and fulfilling, others will be a fluke, and others won’t land at all.

Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage’

Anais Nin

We are all shooting for stars in the sky, and the only difference is that some of us limit ourselves to how many shots we get, for whatever reason, and others just keep going. The more you keep going, the more you expand your space in the universe and force things to move around and accommodate you. We all have that right; the universe is infinitely flexible as far as humans are concerned, and it is only we who limit ourselves to contract the space we occupy and not fill what is available to us.

‘Write like you have no fear’

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

I have been one of those people, but I’m not doing it any more. Courage is not about success, but about how determined I am to keep shooting and taking chances, and to never tell myself that I’ve used up all my chances or don’t deserve any more. Next year is about shooting at stars.

5. Patience

I told my brother the other day that I thought I was patient, and he laughed in my face. He’s right – I’m not. I am terribly impatient, with myself and others, and it’s reflected in how I talk (very fast), think (very fast), and walk (very fast).

On a deeper level, it is reflected in what I expect of myself and others, and often ends up in frustration as things don’t happen as completely and quickly as I think they should. My expectations have no justification, they just seem to be there to create a sport where I test myself and others against silly standards. An offshoot of perfectionism.

My goal is to slow down, give others space, and appreciate them and what they’re trying to do instead of judging them against impossible standards which need to be met yesterday.

6. Being with others

This is quite a personal one to share, but this is as much for myself as a record of where I am at. One of my goals is to let go of thinking about myself, and to be with others instead.

I have focused on myself for a long, long time. It is a long-standing self-defence mechanism against the perceived threat that I will be ignored, overlooked, considered irrelevant, unappreciated – a relic from a childhood experience which my mind turned into a full-blown red alert emergency situation which can never happen again.

The result is I have probably dedicated more mental space and energy than is necessary to thinking about myself and looking after myself. To make sure I don’t let myself be forgotten, in a way. It has involved avoiding situations where I feel I will be ignored or overlooked, which has often meant not really being with people. I don’t mean socialising and working with people – I’m OK with that, and I actually love learning about and from people – but really being with them.

What is being with somebody else?

You can only be with somebody else when you give up all concerns about yourself, and get out of your own head so you can be completely with them, in their world. For me, that involves trusting myself enough to know that I will not ‘disappear’ as soon as I stop thinking about myself, and let go of that to be completely with somebody else. It’s a bit like being willing to leave your own home, where you are safe and comfortable, to go out and meet somebody in their home.

This may sound esoteric to some, completely bizarre to others, but I think there is a wonderful world out there where other people are. I want to give up being stuck in my own head and go and explore where other people are, instead.

7. JOMO

As somebody who has a semi-acute addiction to Instagram, I have been too easily caught up in the manufactured hysteria around places I have to visit, new restaurants I have to try, clothes I have to buy, things I need to see and eat and experience, otherwise…what? Otherwise I’ll be sitting at home or in some old familiar coffee shop somewhere with a high risk of being content with what I have in that exact moment.

So much of my present has been wasted thinking about where I ‘should’ be and what I ‘should’ be doing and eating. That fear of missing out (AKA ‘FOMO’) is what drives social media and consumerism, and also general dissatisfaction. It’s exhausting, and since I’ve been letting a lot of it go I’ve been feeling a lot calmer and more content. So I’m a growing advocate of JOMO – the Joy Of Missing Out – and am opting to be individual and not part of a pack which is chasing the same things at the same time.

And saying good-bye with 2019…

1. FOMO

See point on JOMO above.

2. Social media

Things I love about Instagram:

  1. Being inspired by talented voices, artists, businesses (like the brilliant artists whose images are featured in this post – please do check them out)
  2. Discovering new food and small businesses which deserve my time and money
  3. Connecting with new people who have enhanced my life and helped me build a new tribe to support my change in lifestyle
  4. Discovering and supporting great platforms which promote their news and views on social media
  5. Learning to love my body through the brilliant and growing movement around body positivity and body neutrality (lots to say about this, so might cover in a separate post)
  6. Being published and promoted on Instagram – and getting messages of support from complete strangers, which has really moved me

What I hate about Instagram

  1. It is addictive and makes me want more.
  2. It fuels feelings of inadequacy and like I am not doing enough or my life is not good enough.
  3. It is riddled with inauthenticity.
  4. Funky algorithm changes mean it is now stacked against small businesses and hobbyists like me.
  5. It continues to be dominated by superficiality. Images are potent and stimulate our brains faster than any text that comes with it. The result is meaningless eye candy can become ‘famous’, which just supports the misconception that looks are everything.
  6. It fuels FOMO in a big way.
  7. It has made me lose presence to my own life – I have been addicted to sharing the moment ‘for the ‘Gram’ rather than living it and being with the people around me. I have really hated that.
  8. I continue to be bombarded by ‘influencers’, when I’m quite happy as I am thank you very much.
  9. It’s not actually that much fun if you’re obsessed by it.
  10. It’s not real.
One of the things I hate about Instagram. (Image credit: @peopleiveloved)

This year I realised that my use of Instagram has not really been serving me. Next year, I am going to redefine my relationship with social media so I am running it, and not the other way round.

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