drowningDo you feel really stressed and overworked?

Dinah did. Her work days were filled with back-to-back meetings which meant she frequently only got to her accumulated e-mails and voice-messages after supper. Tension caused pain in her shoulders, neck and stomach. She was not the senior manager, mother or partner she wanted to be.

She described herself as a fly trapped on sticky flypaper. No matter how much she tried, she could not break free. She felt dispirited and hopeless.

Our coaching focused on regaining her self-confidence and zest for life. We started with an exercise to help her reconnect with the important things in her life. It’s called the Best Possible Self exercise and has been proven to boost positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism and hope .

Best Possible Self Exercise

I asked her to imagine 5 to 7 years in the future, and that her life has turned out in the best possible way. Her best wishes and hopes for herself have come true. I asked her to use the Six Areas of Life below, and for each area imagine: what are you doing, what has happened, who is with you and how you feeling?

Six  Areas of Life      

6 life areas v2The next step was to set goals for Dinah to start creating the exciting future she now saw for herself.

I knew however we were getting into deceptively difficult territory. Only about 10% of people are reported to achieve their personal goals. Why?

What goal setting strategies work and what don’t work?

It turns out that there some commonly used strategies have been shown by research to not work in achieving personal goals, while there are other strategies that do.


Take a look at the following methods and identify the ones that you use and also don’t use:

  1. Make a step-by-step plan.
  2. Motivate yourself by focusing on someone who has achieved something similar.
  3. Tell other people about your goals
  4. Think about bad things that will happen if you do not achieve your goals.
  5. Think about the good things that will happen if you achieve your goals.
  6. Try to suppress unhelpful or negative thoughts about achieving your goals.
  7. Reward yourself for making progress in achieving your goals.
  8. Rely on willpower.
  9. Record your progress.
  10. Fantasize or visualize how great your life will be when you achieve your goals.

The goal setting strategies that don’t work

The even-numbered strategies (nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 & 10) don’t work, despite what self-help books and popular TV program personalities say.

The goal setting strategies that do work

In contrast, all the odd-numbered strategies do work. In other words:

  • Break your goals down into steps, starting with what small step you can take right now
  • Tell people who will encourage and help you how you will achieve your goals
  • Keep your Best Possible Self goals where you will be frequently reminded of them
  • Celebrate your achievements, as you start reaching your goals
  • Keep a record of your achievement of your goals, for example in a journal or with a graph

Dinah used these 5 strategies to change the story of her life. Over the past 6 months she has made great progress and now describes herself as an eagle, effortlessly soaring on the thermals, with her eyes firmly fixed on the horizon.

If you would like to make changes in your life, try the Best Possible Self exercise together with the 5 goal setting strategies that really work. Let me know how it goes!

Check out an article I recently wrote on how to develop Resilient Leaders. It describes the training process in some detail and is based on the training workshop: Resilient Leadership Workshop

Mental Strength training

NEW! Mental Strength Training!

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).

Building Resilience workshop

Building Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).


Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: the effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.

Meevissen, Y. M. C., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. E. M. (2011). Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry,   42, 371-378

Wiseman, R. (2009). 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. London, UK: Pan Macmillan

Image Drowning licensed under Creative Commons