How To Set Goals

We hear all the time that setting goals is crucial to one’s success. But recently there’s been some backlash against this, arguing that goal-setting can be detrimental because we tend to set unachievable goals, as well as miss other opportunities because we are hyper-focused on achieving that one thing.

(But then there’s the opposite problem of becoming too flexible: changing course like the wind and following every shining ball that happens to bounce by…)

As with anything, there’s a happy medium. Of course setting goals is important: we can’t get to where we want to be unless we know where it is we’re going and how we’re going to get there. But on the same token, we know that the only constant in life is change and that circumstances are fluid.

The bottom line, then, is that we need to have a clear idea of what we want and how we’re planning to achieve it; but we also need to flexible and be willing to adjust along the way as we gather new information and fall upon unexpected experiences.

Said another way, the key to successful goal-setting and execution is to have a clear picture of what you want – while understanding that certain elements of that picture may look different by the time you get there.

You can develop this picture by being clear on your values, and by identifying how it is you want to feel. With every choice you’re faced with in life, check to see what aligns most closely to your values and how the decision is most likely to affect your quality of life. Then see how the decision fits into your overall goal and see what needs to be adjusted!

Life Balance

We hear the term “life balance” a lot – but what does it really mean? And how do we find and maintain it?

I think there are two answers to these questions. The first has to do with looking at the various roles and responsibilities in our lives; and accurately and honestly assessing how we’re establishing our priorities and directing our energy. The second, I believe, has to do with recognizing and managing our internal conflicts.

I like to think that we’re never truly “balanced” – but that at any given time we’re either moving toward balance or moving away from it. Moving toward balance means taking the time daily to take stock of our tasks, sorting out what’s most important, and working our way through the list – while continuously and effectively monitoring and adjusting the energy and time we’re devoting to each one. If we feel reasonable healthy on all levels, its probably safe to say we’re moving toward balance.

It also helps to do this mindfully: we see and assess things more accurately and effectively if we’re really “present” in all of our actions and interactions. It’s easy to engage mindlessly in doing the things we need to do, and in being the people we need to be – but successfully “checking everything off the list” doesn’t necessarily mean we’re moving toward balance. When we act in a rote and mindless manner we become disengaged from our emotional and spiritual selves. And we can’t experience a move toward true balance without those.


The Winner’s Brain

I’ve been reading a fair bit lately about neuroplasticity: about how our thoughts, behaviors, and experiences literally shape the neural, chemical, and physical structures of our brains – molding them into more or less effective drivers of our physical and mental health and success.

One of the things I just finished reading is a book called “The Winner’s Brain”, and here a few things in the book that stood out for me:

1. I talk a lot about the importance of soliciting feedback – simply because of the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know. But what I learned in this book is that the parts of your brain that are involved with proficiency of a task are also the same parts involved in proficiency awareness. In other words, there’s a very real reason why we may be bad at something and not even know it! Hence the importance of feedback.

2. I’m a real proponent of “showing up in the world as our true selves” – but also that adjusting to different situations by calling upon different versions, or personas, of our selves can be appropriate and beneficial. The authors of the book acknowledge this, but also state that narrowing the gap between our public and private selves allows us to judge our social interactions more accurately, as well as cause others to see us as more confident and authentic people. A good reminder to not take our adaptive skills too far.

3. I write a lot about ways of cultivating and fostering motivation, but I’ve also learned that motivation has a lot to do with removing barriers as opposed to solely focusing on pushing forward with what you have. Makes good sense.

4. I also focus a lot on the field of positive psychology and the documented benefits of a positive perspective or disposition. The thing that really stood out to me in this regard is the authors’ conclusion that “happiness precedes success”. An elegant little statement, confirmed by solid research, highlighting the fact that we can choose to be happy – and that we’ll experience greater levels of success by doing so.

5. Last but not least, and I say this all the time, exercise and meditation is really where it’s at. The book confirmed again what we know to be true: that if you do nothing else to take charge of your own destiny, the best thing you can do is exercise and meditate.

These five points are not all the authors say about shaping your brain for better health and success; but they’re the things that jumped out at me at this particular point in time. I’d encourage you to do your own research about what else is being discovered, and about how and why these sorts of things work. (Naturally, a great place to start would be picking up the book.)

But at the very least, try focusing more on the five things outlined above, and see what kind of difference they make to your life!

There is one caveat, though: these things take time and practice to really make a difference. Remember, we’re talking about literally reshaping and modifying the brain on a physical and chemical level. Developing more adaptive perspectives and behaviors certainly creates some quick and powerful gains; but sustaining these gains requires persistence and work!

(Don’t be afraid of the work, though – just keep it fun… Remember the point about staying positive 🙂

Career Satisfaction

For those of us who work for a living, for ourselves or for someone else, career satisfaction is something we’d most definitely like to achieve. And career satisfaction is certainly an achievable goal – but it’s important that the term “satisfaction” be defined correctly for each one of us.

In other words, if you want career satisfaction, you first need to identify what this really means to you. There is no empirical right or wrong: however you define career satisfaction is up to you. As long as it’s done honestly, is what’s right for you.

For example, do you equate career satisfaction with complete happiness in every way, shape, and form? Or would you be happy to make X amount of dollars despite the actual work you do – i.e., would it be worth the grind in order to be able to live the lifestyle you want to live?

Does career satisfaction mean that you would actually enjoy going to your job every day? Does it mean that you have good relationships at work? Does it mean that you receive a sense of fulfillment and contribution through your work?

Chances are, being happy in your career means a combination of the things listed above; in addition to other factors that only you can identify.

If you expect complete utopia in your career, for example, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. But on the other hand, maybe not: there are people who love every aspect of their career because that’s how they’ve decided to approach their lives and work. They try to always take the good with the bad, and they try to see opportunity in adversity. They always look for the silver lining in discouraging situations; and they’re able to identify and be grateful for the lessons learned.

Others love their career because they’ve taken the time to be clear on what they value and what they need from their work; as well as what they will and will not tolerate. They’ve carved out their work environments in response to this awareness.

So, yes, career satisfaction is an achievable goal. But only you know what you’re capable of creating for yourself in response to your own self-worth, clarity, ability, and desire; and to the reality of the opportunities and obstacles in your environment. It’s up to you to define your happiness, and it’s up to you to go after it!

What is Your Leadership Style?

What is you leadership style?

The study of leadership is certainly not a new one, and there are almost too many theories to count. A quick internet search, however (, identifies that most of the different leadership theories that have emerged over the years can be classified into a handful of major types:

“Great Man” Theories
Trait Theories
Contingency Theories
Situational Theories
Behavioral Theories
Parcipitative Theories
Relationship Theories/Transformational Leadership
Management theories/Transactional Leadership.

There are various theories and models listed under each type, and they’re well worth looking into. The style of leadership you adopt can either be a success or a failure, depending upon a myriad of factors: what works with one personality in one environment may not work in the next. Understanding the theories listed above (and any others floating around out there) can help you clarify what you believe to be true about leadership, and how you might best approach your own leadership development.

Within any of these theories, however, the individual leader and his or her preferences also need to be taken into account. In addition to the leadership theories that have been studied, there are also many leadership “styles” listed in the literature. Again, a quick internet search identifies some of the more common ones discussed:

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership

Participative or Democratic Leadership

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Servant Leadership

Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership

Situational Leadership

Again, these appear to be some the most prominent; but there are other leadership styles identified in the literature that would be worth researching for yourself. I’ve included these ones in particular for two reasons: one because they seem to have the most written about them; and two because these are the styles I see most often in my own leadership coaching practice.

Unfortunately I see examples of Authoritarian Leadership more often than I’d like; where the leader makes decisions unilaterally and often unfairly. And outside of military or paramilitary organizations, this never works. The other styles listed can be more or less effective depending on the environment, culture, and people involved; and you’d be wise to know the difference.

Transformative Leadership is one of the more contemporary styles to be identified, and is often touted as one of the most effective. It is about inspiring others and sharing a greater vision. This type of leadership is great, of course; but it’s often best balanced by a Transactional Leadership style based on role compliance and incentives for achievement. Of the styles listed above, my own bias falls toward Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership; where the leader is able to adjust his or style in response to the unique situation or task at hand.

So what is your leadership style?

Your Leadership Development Plan

If you want to be a strong leader in any capacity, it would be wise to start crafting your leadership development plan.

Where do you want to be a better leader? Perhaps it’s at home with your kids. Or maybe you’re looking for a promotion at work. Or maybe you just want to be a stronger role model in your community… Wherever you want to be a leader, you can – as long as you’ve got the passion as well as the ability to reflect, learn, and grow.

Your leadership development plan begins with an assessment of who you are and who you want to be. When targeting areas for this step, try to just pick two or three to start with. Some actions we take will have a more broader-reaching impact, and will accelerate our growth more quickly than others. Choose a couple of areas that you really feel are priorities. You can always add on to the list and increase the complexity of your plan later.

As possible goal areas, consider any and all ideas that come to you through your ongoing self-reflection. And think about where you can begin to practice your leadership skills: what non-threatening situations can you identify to practice on a small scale? – It’s really about flexing the muscles and developing smaller habits that lead to new ways of being.

Also be creative when thinking about the supports you need to help with your leadership growth. Perhaps a manager or mentor can help create leadership opportunities for you. Maybe there’s a training course you can sign up for at work or in your community…

Remember that it’s important to be flexible in your thinking when creating and acting on your leadership development plan. In order to grow, we need to do some things differently than we have in the past!

Here are a few quotes I like to serve as food for thought in this regard:


“He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

“It takes a habit to replace a habit.” – Napoleon Hill


Here are some questions to get started. Answer them in as much detail as you can, and take as much time as necessary to make them clear and actionable:


What do you see as your major strengths?

What do you see as your areas for growth?

Which skills related to your leadership is it most important for you to develop?

In what ways can you apply your strengths to more areas of your work and life?

How can you strengthen the weaknesses you identified?

What resources do you need to strengthen these skills?

How will you know when you are successful?


All of these questions are equally important, and they’re not easy to answer. They take a great deal of time and reflection, and they require complete honesty and candor. You will also need to revisit them regularly, and ask as many people as you can to answer them for you as well – and be prepared and willing to hear their answers.

Also take the time to revisit the last question until you have a crystal-clear answer: we can’t get to where we’re going until we know exactly where it is we’re headed!

How To Build Trust

A solid level of trust is paramount to any situation where individuals and teams need to reach a common set of goals. And the cornerstones of trust are assertive communication and consistency in behavior.

People often confuse “assertive” with “aggressive”, but they couldn’t be any different. Assertive basically means standing up for one’s own rights while respecting the rights of the other. Aggressive, on the other hand, means standing up for your own rights while disrespecting or disregarding the rights of the other.

(These are both different from passivity: the third style of communication. Being passive simply means allowing your own rights to be violated in your interactions.)

So with this definition in mind, assertive communication implies interactions that are clear, direct, respectful, and purposeful. In order for people or teams to develop trust between one another, both parties need to know what they want from their interactions; and they need to communicate their needs and desires in a way that is understood. They also need to be sure that they understand the other party’s positions and requests, and they need to be focused on outcomes that best meet the interests of all involved.

(Of course this isn’t always possible, but the more all parties strive for this ideal the greater levels of trust will be built.)

In addition to this assertive communication, trust requires a high degree of behavioral consistency. In other words, in order to build trust people need to “walk the walk and talk the talk” in a variety of situations over time – and they need to have a solid track record of integrity and results.

Basically stated, when we know what to expect of one another – and we’re usually happy with the results of their actions – trust is maintained. (And as they say, trust takes forever to develop but is broken at the drop of a hat.)

So in order to fortify and develop trust between one another, we need to regularly engage in assertive communication and be consistent in our behaviors – and we can only do our own part in this equation; modeling this way of being in the hopes that that’s how others will begin to interact with us.

And on a final note, it also helps if we can develop some sort of relationship with the people around us: people do business with people they know, like, and respect. Sharing a bit of ourselves and building rapport with others in a meaningful way can help us all interact more assertively and consistently.

How Well Do You Know the Important People in Your Life?

A big part of developing and strengthening your relationships is about really knowing the important people in your life. We all know many people on a superficial or even friendly level; but how much do we really know about who they are under the exterior we see and interact with every day?

I got thinking about this question after receiving an email from my mother some time ago. The structure of the email was that it asked a bunch of personal questions, and you were supposed to fill it out and send it onto your friends. Your friends were then able to see how much they knew about you; as well as learn some new things they didn’t know.

Truth be told, I was a little surprised (and more than a little ashamed) that seventy-five percent or so of the answers completed by my mother was new information to me.

My mother’s responses contained some obvious things I couldn’t help but know after being acquainted with her for 40 years; but there were also a lot of things I would only have known had I actually asked. It made me realize that I actually know very little about the people in my life outside the regular stuff I see every day.

Despite “knowing” certain people in my life for many years, I realized that within each one resides a whole world I’ve never seen: a world filled with hopes and dreams; likes and dislikes; goals and fears; victories and disappointments.

Within each one lies a history of choices and experiences that have shaped who they’ve become, and have brought them to where they are today: experiences rich with lessons to be shared and morals to be embraced.

I hope that you’ve put more effort into knowing the important people in your life than I have. If not, think about how much more enriched your life could be; simply by asking them about the things they don’t generally share for the sake of casual conversation.

How Do You Relate to Others?

The way to strengthen or develop a relationship is to identify what is already working – or at least the possibilities and potential – as well as an awareness of what isn’t. We can then maximize the positive aspects of the relationship while working together to develop and practice more adaptive alternatives to what’s broken. Exactly how to do this is beyond the scope of this article (and is explored in depth in Building Better Relationships) – but a good place to start is looking at how you relate to others:

Having this awareness helps foster successful relationships because it gives you the opportunity to identify what you do well, as well as identify new behaviors to try on. It also fosters insight into which types of personalities, environments, and situations you prefer.

Knowing this allows you to make some conscious decisions and plan accordingly. It allows you to decide with whom and where you can easily develop relationships, and with whom and where you choose to step out of your comfort zone (or not). You can decide which relationships will come more naturally and easily; and which will take more time, energy, and skill.

Begin by looking at the relationships you’ve had in the past. Start with your childhood and move forward to the present day. Here are some example questions to ask yourself:


Who was your best friend? Why?

Who did you get along with best in your family? Why?

Who were your favourite teachers? Bosses?

What drew you to various romantic partners or adult friendships? What sustained them?

Who do you feel most comfortable around currently?

Who makes you challenge yourself to be a better person? How?


Think of all the people in your life, past and present, that you connected with on the deepest levels. What were the common features of these relationships? Of these people? Of the situation you were in together?

What was your contribution?

Now think about who you’ve had the most difficult times with. What made it difficult? What part did you play in this?

Think about what your answers to these questions mean: after you’ve decided what you want from the relationships in your life – and which relationships you want to work on – think about what it is that you’re bringing to the table.

Think about how you typically relate to others in a variety of circumstances; and decide which traits and habits to build upon, which to change, and which to let go of completely.

What Do You Want From Your Relationships?

Solid and meaningful relationships are critical to our happiness and success. The connectedness we experience with others provides comfort when we need it; intellectual stimulation when we want it; and reciprocity of love when we share it. It allows us to get our needs met and to meet the needs of others.

We’re all in this thing together and we need one another: humans are social animals. When we develop the relationships in our lives we become filled with abundance and prosperity. And the further we branch out of our small troupes to connect with others in meaningful way, the better off we all are.

But a wider circle of connectedness begins with strengthening the connections in our immediate environment. And even before that it starts with an understanding of our needs…

What exactly do you want from your relationships? What are your goals?

– Do you want to strengthen the existing connections in your home or work life? Or maybe just one or two in particular?

– Do you want to be more effective at getting along with others in general? Or just have more quality people in your life?

– Do you want to expand your social circle for personal and/or business reasons? Or do you just want to overcome your shyness?

And why do you want these things?

– To experience more enjoyment in your life?

– To shield yourself from feelings of loneliness?

– To foster greater levels of confidence?

The list could go on with any number of reasons, but it’s important to be clear about the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’. The clearer you can be about your purposes, the stronger your intentions – and the more likely it is that change will happen.

So decide what it is you’d like to accomplish with your relationships, and why. And choose a specific target. Decide what the ideal outcome for this relationship (or set of relationships) would look like, and start to think about ways to make it happen!