I’m going for it

It’s taken me long enough but after four months of blogging about getting more out of life, writing a bucket list, a spot of mentoring from three inspirational entrepreneurs when I was actually on a course learning to become a mentor myself, reading a book called How to find fulfilling work, a chance encounter with a violin teacher in a coffee shop, and lots of supportive comments from friends and family who’ve said I’ve finally nailed it, I’ve realised that it’s time to go for it.

I love my 9-5 job, but I’ve always felt there’s something more out there for me. I’ve found a way I can make a slow transition to self employment and the feeling that I can create my own future is really exciting.

I work as an accountant, I have a massive passion for people’s ideas and I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. For a long time I thought I’d love to sell something, and my ideas have ranged from running a kitchenware shop which eventually turned into a homeware business which I ran online with a friend for a while, having a craft business, right through to becoming a fitness instructor. I even had a plan to open a gourmet hot dog stall (not joking!). I get really excited when anyone has a new idea, I want to get involved, to encourage them and to help them see it through, but having run through many many potential business ideas I’ve come to realise that my own personal strengths aren’t in selling a product, but in the finance side of running a business, and actually that that in itself is a business.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Over the past few months I’ve researched whether with my background I can start up my own accountancy practice, but because my experience comes from another industry and because I’m not prepared to take a job in another industry for several years until I’m up to speed, I can’t. With a bit more training though, I can set myself up as a bookkeeper and share my skills in that way, I can run my own business, I can help people with their books and tax returns, and many other things related to running the finance side of their businesses. I’m proud to say that I’ve already passed two of the 7 exams necessary to get started with my own bookkeeping firm and I’m awaiting the results of my third. Finally I know what I need to do and that I’m on my way.

I looked back at my blog posts and realised that I usually blog with strategies and ideas for how to become more confident or to achieve your life goals, but I don’t really tell you about my own goals or how I’m following my own advice. Today I wanted to put my money where my mouth is and say, look I’m doing it, it’s happening!

And… you can too!

My next steps are to work my way through the exams and get qualified and then start promoting myself and start taking on some clients. Once things pick up, I’m hoping to go part time at my office job so I can focus on building my own business, I can’t wait to get started.

Trying to decide how I can follow my passion and work for myself has been stressful and at times completely overwhelming. Once I started to get an idea I actually found I was afraid of it, I told myself I couldn’t possibly do it, that it wouldn’t work for many reasons and I put barriers in place which convinced me it wasn’t even worth looking into. Funnily enough I wrote a post about overcoming your barriers only the other day, and I had to take my own advice. Having spoken to many people about my plans now though, I realise that although there are a few barriers in the way – having to study again was never in my plan – I could overcome them and it would be worth it because people actually believe in my idea.

My advice for today is if you have an idea you want to pursue, talk to people about it. It’s amazing how peoples different view points can help you see things differently, how people can help you overcome barriers. I’d also say, research it, and don’t rule anything out until you absolutely have all the facts, never say “it’ll never work” because somebody else might just know a way that it could.

I’m looking forward to updating you as I pass my exams and set up my business, it’s an exciting time! I’d love to hear from you if you’re taking steps towards your own exciting dreams.


Never forget a day

Today I wanted to share this TED Talk, Cesar Kuriyama has been filming one second of every day for years and has built up a fantastic journal of his life. What a brilliant idea, I have to do this!

How to stop being busy

I work in an office which thrives on emails and meetings. Being busy with meetings or with sending and receiving emails appears to be a large part of the working day, there have been days when I’ve done nothing but sort through emails; reading them, responding to them, writing my own, and filing them. On these days I’ve come home with a great sense of satisfaction that I’ve dealt with my emails, but the truth is on these days I haven’t done any real work all day.

Tasks like dealing with emails, going to meetings, filing and photocopying are all jobs which make us feel busy. We do feel busy, and we can feel overwhelmed. By focusing on these busy tasks, we’re losing the opportunity to work on the really productive stuff, the stuff which makes a real difference and which gets us noticed and moving away from busy work to productive work requires a big shift in your view point. Making this shift can feel daunting because you feel like your busy work is necessary so I’ve put together some tips which will help you move your focus to productive tasks and away from those which are just eating into your time.

Sort your email by subject

Sometimes I receive 80 or more emails in a day and I know for some people it’s much worse. The worst culprits are emails where many people are copied in and all have something to say on the matter. So that I can quickly deal with and delete (or archive) as many emails as possible from my inbox I sort by subject. This means I can quickly read through all emails on the same subject from start to finish and work out whether a response is needed from me.

Stop filing your email

Some of us spend hours carefully sorting through emails and filing them into different folders for anything from project names, people’s names or month ends and although it can be helpful to know all of your Project Gizmo emails are in the same folder, if it’s an email from Jane Doe about Project Gizmo, which folder do you file it in? Something I’ve implemented is a three folder policy. My folders are:

Action – for emails which need an action which I haven’t had time to work on yet or for which I’m awaiting information

Archive – for emails I need to keep but which have been dealt with

Reading – for emails with information which I might get around to reading one day but which need no action

If Jane Doe calls me with a question about the email she sent me, my archive inbox can be easily sorted by sender name, date or by title to quickly find the email she’s talking about without needing to search through multiple folders.

Flag email from VIPs

I set up a mail rule which flags email from important people – my boss, my team, and my husband (!). This means I don’t miss these emails amongst the sea of email from other people.

Sometimes a quick call will save 20 emails

If I’m copied into one of those email threads where a lot of people are involved, each of which has their own view or question, I try to put a stop to it by inviting people to a 15 minute call. I jot down the main points or questions in the email thread and invite people to quickly talk through the main points. This can save days of back and forth on email.

Focus on the goal for the day

Every Monday I print out Outlook’s five day calendar view so I can see my meetings for the week. At the top of this sheet I write my main goal for the week, the goals of my team and high level jobs for each day. I have this on my desk and it keeps me focussed on my priorities. If there’s something else I want to track like how many glasses of water I’ve had to drink I can keep a note of this as well.

Reflect on the week

At the end of the day on Friday I like to take 5 minutes to think about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what I can improve. This task helps me reflect on my successes for the week, it helps me set goals for the following week and it keeps me focussed on productivity every day as I know I’ll be reviewing myself at the end of the week.

I hope this has helped you to think about how you can be more productive at work next week, I find that moving my focus away from being busy towards being productive instead means I get a lot more out of my days in the office.

Are you Procrastinating?

Today I wanted to share Tim Urban’s funny and insightful talk about procrastination. He talks about how we can procrastinate when working towards a task with a long deadline, how we think we’ve got ages and then suddenly up close to the deadline we panic and somehow find the motivation to pull us through. What I found really interesting was his insight into how we can also procrastinate about things with no apparent deadlines and how that can leave us feeling sad because we don’t take time to identify and work towards our goals.

If this talk leaves you inspired to take action, why not have a look at my posts about life planning

Why you should embrace your Impulses

I’ve been sharing a lot of TED Talks lately, they’re so inspiring. I love that I can spend just  a few minutes of my day watching a short video and come away with a whole new perspective on something, or new tools I can apply to get my more from my life.

Today I want to share this video from Mel Robbins presenting to TEDx. I was drawn to it because of it’s title How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over and it links so well to my posts about goals and building happiness. Robbins speaks about how people can think it’s hard to make a change because it doesn’t just happen, we don’t instantly lose weight if we choose to go on a diet, we don’t instantly learn a language. This is because making a change involves going against our autopilot mode and actively taking time for something new or changing our approach to something. Changes are easier to make though once you know this. She also talks about how if we respond more to our impulses, we’ll get more of the things we want. Watch it right to the end and there’s a perfect example of peoples’ reluctance to respond to impulses, brilliant.

Dreaming Big

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of having a life plan for a couple of months now. If you’ve been reading my posts you’ll know all about my grand plans to play my sax and speak fluent German but they’re not very big goals really are they? Not the most courageous extravagant goals you’ve heard, I’ve hardly announced I’m going to sail around the South Pacific or that I’m going to relocate to Timbuktu. I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with setting really ground breaking goals either. So what holds us back?

I think partly it’s that we have an expectation of what life should look like. My mum brought my sister and me up on her own, a single mum unable to work through ill health. I grew up in a community surrounded by people who didn’t really work so I had no real hope of choosing a career I loved because I didn’t know what a career was. My grandparents ran their own small business and I was brought up knowing I needed to work hard but not knowing why and not believing I was or would ever be more than average. The most important thing to me, my one dream was a roof over my head, my own roof over my own head, so I chose a job that would give me that. And now, years later I’m in a slightly different version of the same job. I got the roof I wanted, admittedly I have quite a bit more roof by now, but I haven’t moved on.  I’m very content with a lot of things in my life but surely I have more dreams than the one I achieved when I was 19. When I see people having great adventures, the ones I haven’t dared to really dream yet, I think that those things aren’t meant for me. But why not?

There are many beliefs in life which can hold us back. Some of us tell ourselves we’re not special, we’re too old, we’re not clever enough or we don’t have what it takes. Some of us believe we need to earn £100,000 before we’ll be able to afford to do or have what we really want. Some of us worry our friends and family won’t support us if we make a change. We might shy away from our dreams of adventure because we don’t want to be branded crazy by our friends and family, or we might not pursue or even really think about our dreams because of fear of failure or of feeling demoralised by the thought that we’ll never get to achieve them.

A lot of us feel trapped by the barriers society appears to impose on us. You don’t actually have to buy a house, settle down and work hard until you retire, but we think we have to because that’s what society tells us has to happen. Isn’t it sad to think that you could do something you hate or something that disagrees with your real values just because you think you should? This is compounded even more to think that you might waste the best years of your life doing that. Settling down doesn’t have to mean never doing anything interesting again. Surely having worked hard is actually a very good excuse to have a bit of excitement, to make it all worthwhile. Whatever you do there will be eyebrow-raisers and the thing is, with the economy as it is, with such low interest rates and considering some people have little or no pension savings at all, we might have to work for ever, and then when will we enjoy this life we’ve worked so hard for?

So lets think about these barriers in a bit more detail. Let’s rewrite the rules.

I can’t afford to…

This is definitely my favourite excuse. It stops every spark of imagination in it’s tracks every time. For me it goes hand in hand with “what about my house?”

Maybe you don’t have any savings, or maybe you need to pay for a new bathroom this year. Maybe your dog needs an expensive operation or you haven’t paid off your student loan yet and you think it would be stupid to start dreaming about running a surf shack in the Bahamas, taking that job in New Zealand for a year or investing in your mushroom growing business start up.

Before you rule anything out it can help to ask is how much will this goal cost to achieve?

Until you work it out you have no idea how much it will cost, and once you know how much it will cost, you can start to make a plan which is completely independent of other life commitments.

Let’s say one of your lifelong dreams is to drive around Australia for two months. You need to break this down into different categories – the cost of flights, the cost of hiring a camper van, fuel, food, spending money. If you have commitments at home, you should also consider the cost of keeping things running at home.

Once you have this cost, you can scrutinise every cost in detail. Is there anything you can do to save cost? Can you book cheap flights? Do you need to travel around in a camper van? Could you buy a cheap van and sell it on after the trip instead of hiring? Is there anybody you know in Australia that you could stay with while you’re there to save some money? Can you rent out your home for a few months or list it on Airbnb? Maybe you’re a journalist or a photographer, or you have links to Australian vinyards through your job in the wine industry, who knows, but is there a way you can tie the trip in with work? If there is maybe you can find a way to earn some money while you’re in Australia or as a result of your trip.  I wrote a post about budgeting which could be helpful, but above all, ask yourself “How much do you think this dream costs, and how much does this dream actually need to cost?”

I’ll get it wrong…

Fear of failure is a huge reason people don’t pursue their dreams. I’m guilty of this and it’s linked to having low self esteem. The truth is, you have no idea whether it’ll work or not unless you try. Fear is a protection mechanism. We are preprogrammed to fear things with the aim of keeping us safe and out of danger, but as a primitive response the real purpose of fear was to keep us from danger of wild animals rather than to fear making positive change in our lives.

I’ll admit that I have a tendency to identify the most potentially catastrophic result of any scenario and convince myself that it’s going to happen. Not helpful.

If you catastrophise too, put this trait so good use by thinking about what the worst possible thing is that can happen, and then working out what safeguards you would need in place to protect yourself should those things happen. Knowing you have this safety net in place can really help with your view of the “danger” of the activity, helping you to make choices and dream big.

Imagine you have a dream to leave your job at an advertising firm and move to Tahiti and set up a windsurfing school. Your excuse for not doing it is that you might fail. In the dream planning stage you can break down what you are afraid of. This might be that your business fails and you lose your money, that you have to move back home and live with your parents. Now that you’ve considered each item you’re afraid of, you can rationalise these. If your business failed and you lost all of your money, could you get other work in Tahiti? Could you work for somebody else? In the worst case scenario could you come back to the UK and actually live with your parents? Could you find work back in the advertising industry?

Now think about the likely outcome. What’s the chance of this outcome? Doesn’t that feel better?

My husband won’t want to…

Won’t he? Have you really spoken about it in detail? What are his dreams and ambitions? Ask him, he might surprise you.

I’ve been reading books and articles and listening to audio books for a long time now about getting the most out of life. I’m always telling my husband about what I read today. I’m frequently joking about “when we move to Australia…” or how “I’ve found an apartment to rent in Buenos Aires, it’s only £600 per month”. When I told him that I’d started this blog I thought he’d think it was a little bit crazy, but he was actually incredibly supportive. He has dreams too, not necessarily exactly the same ones as me, but he understands my desire for excitement and I think it’s fair to say that this barrier can definitely be overcome though some good communication.

It will be too difficult to…

This barrier is linked to fear of failure but I really believe that no matter what you want to do, there will be someone who has done it before and who will have written an article or a blog post or a book about it. Someone will know how to do it and will be able to talk you through it, maybe for a price, but there will be someone who has given all the things you’re thinking about a lot of thought and who has done it and has succeeded.

What about my… job?

A barrier might be that you can’t take time off work or that you’re worried about your CV if you take a career break.

A lot of large companies in the UK offer sabbaticals to people who’ve worked in the organisation for a certain amount of time, or you might be able to negotiate to take a large chunk of leave at one time. Some companies will let you “buy” additional leave if you want to. I know people who’ve done all of these things. I worked with somebody who took a six month sabbatical to go travelling, I know somebody who’s currently taking extended leave and visiting India, it does happen.

It’s true that for some people the only option is to take a career break and making the decision to leave your job to pursue a dream can feel like a difficult decision because they think it will leave an unexplainable gap on their CV. The truth is though that there’s no need to lie on your CV about that gap. When you get home, if you want to come home that is, write about your adventure on your CV. Your adventures and attitude of embracing life will make you stand out in interviews, it will give you and the interviewer something to talk about and more likely than not they will be jealous and want to ask you questions about how you did it and how they can do it too.

So, there’s never a good time for anything. There’s never a good time to make big financial decisions or big life decisions, but not taking action and letting life happen to you is laziness. Think about your life now. If you keep doing what you’re doing for the next ten years, how will you feel when you look back? I want you to go back to your life plan and I want you to challenge it. I’m afraid that we shy away from our real goals, I don’t want us to set the goals we think we should be setting, I want us to set the undreamable goals which we keep hidden away. I’m worried that when we day “one day I’ll…” we’re putting things off, and by putting things off, we’ll never know how happy we could be.

No Need to Apologise

I apologise too much. I think I’m getting better, but it’s a habit that I’m still working on. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s absolutely necessary to apologise when there’s a valid reason, but sometimes there isn’t a need at all. I think I apologise through habit and it’s pretty comical when I think about some of the things I find myself apologising for.

I’ve found myself apologising to my husband for forgetting to buy something that I didn’t even know we’d run out of, I’ve stopped myself mid-piece to apologise to my sax teacher because I’ve played a wrong note, I’ve apologised to the barista in Starbucks when I’ve paid for my latte in small change. When somebody reassures me or says “it’s ok”, I have been known to top it all off by apologising for saying sorry.

It’s not just me. I have a colleague who frequently starts sentences with “Sorry, but”, I’ve encountered people who apologise to me just because they walk through a door I’m about to walk the other way through, or people who bring a perfectly nice snack to a house party but apologise, “sorry, this is all I had”. Do we just do this out of habit? Where did the need to apologise from?

A couple of months ago I posted about accepting compliments. I said that some of us find it hard to accept compliments because we’ve been brought up to believe we should be polite. I think this form of apologising is linked, we might think that apologising is the polite thing to do in certain situations – and in certain situations it is, but in certain situations it isn’t and in those cases I think the bottom line is that this all comes down to confidence. We might be apologising because we feel inadequate, because we feel the need to apologise or make excuses for the way we do something, the way we look or dress, the way we speak or speak up, or the way we’re not something we think people think we should be. By doing that, we’re almost apologising for being alive. Annoying and frustrating, huh?

So, my mantra for the week is

stop saying sorry*

*unless there really is a very good reason – i.e. you’ve actually done something wrong. If you haven’t done anything wrong, don’t apologise. I think a lot of us think we should be a certain way, or we think people think we should be a certain way. We can’t be all things to all people, if we tried to be, we’d be exhausted, and actually some people do try all the time, and are exhausted. It’s just not fun, and it’s not worth it either.

In reality, other people are usually far too wrapped up in their own worlds to really care what you think they’re thinking or to really care if you slightly got in their way. People might view you as a brilliant person and by spending too much apologising you only draw attention to things  you really don’t need to.

While I’ve been thinking about this I’ve noticed that there are a few things we use sorry for. Sometimes we use sorry when we actually mean “oops I got in your way”. Usually we walk away after saying sorry feeling pretty stupid, questioning whether it was actually the other person who got in the way of us and wondering why they weren’t the one to say sorry. This is the one where somebody opens the door, nobody really knows who should walk through first, you walk through it and then feel you should say sorry. I think in this situation we’re confusing sorry with excuse me which would achieve just the same but in a more confident way. 

Then there’s the “I don’t think I’m good enough” sorry and this comes in many forms. This is where we’re feeling inadequate and want people to reassure us, we can end up apologising for anything from not looking a certain way to not taking the right snack to a party. I’ve been thinking about why we do this. Sorry isn’t really an apology, it’s almost as if we think that by apologising people will like us more, maybe it’s to do with coming across as more vulnerable. But why would anyone want to appear more vulnerable? Surely being confident is much more attractive and likeable?

I often experience the “I think you want me to do it a certain way and I don’t think I’m doing it to your standards” sorry. Here’s a great example of just how ridiculous this can get. My husband folds his t-shirts in a very specific way. It’s actually quite genius resulting in nicely folded t-shirts straight from the tumble dryer. Can I recreate this fold myself? No. I used to find myself folding things and saying sorry as he would need to refold them himself. Actually, he doesn’t expect me to fold them in any way, as a grown man, he’s perfectly capable of refolding his t-shirts to meet his specific requirements and if I’ve done the washing that day, he’s just pleased he has some clean shirts, no need for me to say sorry.

There’s also an “I don’t belong here” sorry. Think of my friend at a party. She turned up with some great dips but immediately on handing them over she apologised to her friend, the host that they weren’t home made. Her friend was delighted she had some dips and the idea of home made dips probably weren’t even on her radar until my friend mentioned it. I think with this type of sorry, especially where we really feel we need reassurance, we need to keep in mind how we’re making the other person feel. By apologising so much, we come across as needy which can not only be frustrating, but we can also become a real burden on other people. Imagine the host at the party having to reassure my friend of how kind it was for her to bring a snack at all thinking my friend was beating herself up for not making a snack herself. It looks a bit mad written down doesn’t it?

I find that trying to identify what’s causing me to feel the need to apologise and then re-framing the idea can be helpful. Here are some things I’d like us all to stop apologising for.

Being happy

Some people aren’t happy and we can actually feel guilty in their presence when talking about how good our day has been or how we’re looking forward to something or how we’re just generally happy. Maybe they don’t feel they’re where they want to be in life or maybe they’ve had a really bad day whereas your life is going well. I’m not saying we should brag about how great our lives are, but being happy and satisfied is a great place to be, and being happy is a choice we’re entitled to make for ourselves. Your friend isn’t asking you to feel guilty and if your friend has had a bad day, you don’t need to apologise that yours wasn’t bad, what you can do is let your friend know that you’re there to listen if they want to talk.

Trying something new

Sometimes we feel uncomfortable when we try something new. Sorry I dyed my hair, I know you prefer it another colour, sorry I want to go to France on holiday this year instead of going to the place we go every year, sorry I got a different type of bread but I wanted to try this new one… need I go on? New experiences help us to learn more about ourselves so no matter how much our friends and family tell us the new us is different, don’t apologise.

Telling the truth

It’s important to tell the truth and be honest no matter how difficult it can feel. We should be kind with it, but we shouldn’t feel guilty for telling the truth or saying how we feel.

Saying no

Saying yes all the time to please others is exhausting and sometimes doesn’t fit with our true selves. If saying no is the right option for you, stand your ground and say no, kindly. It might feel easier in the short run to say yes to something especially if you feel you are letting somebody down or you want to help them, but if in the long run saying yes will leave us overcommitted and exhausted, it is better to admit we haven’t got time to do something or that we don’t want to do something than to make excuses later or to resent saying yes to something we’ve agreed to do.

Losing weight*

*If you are actually trying to lose weight. One of my friends has lost all of her baby weight through healthy diet and exercise and I think she’s just brilliant. Surprisingly she’s found people saying she shouldn’t feel the need to lose weight quickly. I truly believe some of her “friends” are jealous of her weight loss (yes, girls can be mean like this), and are trying to sabotage her success. Hearing people giving these weird messages could make my friend feel guilty that she’s lost weight and her friends haven’t. She shouldn’t have to deal with that. If you’re in this situation, just feel great about yourself, don’t feel guilty, you’re not responsible for other peoples’ decisions.

Ordering dessert

On the other side of this, if you want pudding, go for it. You haven’t sabotaged anybody else’s diet by having a slice of cake yourself. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want, you’re in control of your own life and everyone else is in control of theirs.

Changing your mind

Sometimes we realise we’ve made the wrong decision and we’re allowed to change our minds. Whether this is when buying clothes, changing your mind about a new class you signed up for, or just when you see the person behind you in the queue choose a much better slice of cake than yours. We’re not robots and we can’t get every decision right every single time.

Prioritising yourself

If we don’t find time to look after ourselves properly, how can we possibly help other people or achieve all the other things we have going on in our lives. It isn’t selfish to take time for yourself, and there’s no need to apologise. By finding time for yourself, you can be the best version of yourself. 

Instead of saying sorry, say thank you

Finally, one great tip I’ve been given is instead of saying sorry, to look for opportunities to say thank you. Whether you’ve walked through a door someone’s holding open, say thank you instead of sorry, when you pay the coffee shop in small change thank the barista for taking all of that heavy change off of you, when you have a moan to a friend about your day at work, rather than saying sorry, thank them for listening to you. 

Practice Makes Perfect

People joke that I have too many hobbies. It’s true that I have a lot of extra curricular activities, I’m learning German; I have sax lessons; I write this blog and a I’m a big aerobics fan. I’ve been doing aerobics for years and I had some German speaking and sax playing skills, but at the start of the year I was out of practice. Before I started the blog and really started to think about what I valued and my Life Plan, I’d identified these as things I’d like to work on. So far I’ve made time for them because I enjoy them and I want to become good at them, but what makes us good? And if you want to get good at something, how is the best way to go about it?

For his book, Peak, Anders Ericsson did a lot of research into whether talent is driven by genes or general perseverance. He concluded that we don’t need special genes to excel in a specific area. If we want to get really good at something, anything, we can through practice. You may have heard the theory that you can come expert at something after 10,000 hours of practice, a message (amongst many others) popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers but Ericsson argues that sheer volume of practice alone is not enough.

I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of thinking that by just playing my sax I’ll see vague overall improvement. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. When we practice a skill we get better results when we try to refine specific skills. When we take an approach which allows us to identify what is going wrong, we can improve. It’s helpful to find ways to measure performance so we can receive feedback on how we’re progressing and which areas need work. It can also be a benefit to work with a teacher who already has a high level of skills as they can share their tried and tested training techniques.

It’s also helpful to practice outside of your comfort zone, if you go over and over things you can already do there are no opportunities for advancement or improvement. With saxophone this means playing music which is a bit too difficult and which pushes me. It’s not easy to do this but it does make you work harder.

Since deciding I want to take German and Sax seriously, I’ve been going to lessons for both since January. I’ve been practising each weekly, but I won’t deny there are times when my enthusiasm has waned. It’s human nature to give up on things that we don’t care about, we live in a world where there are so many distractions and opportunities that if we try to convince ourselves we’re interested in something in an attempt to achieve a goal which just isn’t us, we’ll quickly end up staring at Facebook and wondering why three months later we’ve made no progress with our goals. If we want to achieve something, we really need to have passion driving us forward, and the only way to have that passion is to choose goals that we really care about. There’s absolutely no point me saying I want to train to achieve a record breaking triathlon time because I have next to no interest in swimming but I do have a strange obsession with the German language which has meant I haven’t dropped this as an interest since I first proudly announced Ich heiße Zoe.

Going back to the idea of quality of practice, a way to increase your passion for something is to approach it from a different angle, or to combine it with something else you’re passionate about. My goal in German is to be able to watch German TV, specifically I would have liked to have watched Deutschland ’83 without subtitles. German lessons are helping and I’ve also employed a number of apps in my studies, which are helpful for vocabulary but really not that interesting. It dawned on me that to be able to watch German TV without subtitles, I’m going to need to start watching German TV – even if I need subtitles for now and I’ve found a website which streams a detective series which I can watch to my heart’s content, pausing as I go to look words up. It’s painstaking at the moment, but is allowing me to feel closer to my goals while giving learning German a different dimension.

I got this idea when I heard a colleague say that she’d watched the whole of a particular box set in French, and I could choose a show I love and only watch it in German. This idea is known as Temptation Bundling. It’s about giving yourself motivation to do something you might otherwise find boring or lose interest in by combining it with something you love, and it’s true that practice isn’t always fun.

Looking at it another way, it can be helpful to find a purpose for your interest. I’ve been getting pretty fed up with the sax pieces I’ve been learning and realised that to keep motivated, I need a goal. An exam. Having this in the diary will keep me focussed. For somebody else the goal might be to achieve a certain standard so they can join a band, or to practice a certain piece so they can perform in a charity concert.

Some people find that pressure from others, whether that’s their partners or their parents or a group they belong to can help them stay focussed. It might be that you want to achieve a goal for somebody, or that involving others in your goal keeps you accountable, you’re much more likely to get up at 6am for a run if your friend is expecting to meet you. It can also help to find a focus which is bigger than your own success, maybe you want to run a race in the best time because it helps your running club achieve some kind of status. There are a lot of ways you keep motivated and here ere are my tips for setting goals to get great at, and staying motivated to achieve them.

Set a goal you’re passionate about

Give your goal a purpose in a wider context

General practice isn’t enough, be focussed

Break the goal into smaller SMART objectives

Find a way to measure yourself and use feedback to improve in specific areas

Schedule time to practice regularly

Find a teacher or someone you can learn from

Make yourself accountable to somebody

Find new dimensions to add to your practice

Combine practice with something you love

Practice beyond your comfort zone

Be optimistic, everyone starts somewhere

So, this is definitely a blog post of hope. If your life plan includes your dream to learn Italian, to play the ukulele, to do hand stands, to make macaroons or to run a sub-4 hour marathon, we’ve established that this can be done no matter what your genes. Getting the right quantity and most importantly quality of practice is actually the deciding factor in whether you’ll meet your goals. Let me know which goals you’re working on, I’d love to hear about them.