I got to thinking the other day how I had actually managed to achieve a great many personal goals in my life, and how that had resulted in a considerable amount of personal happiness. And this got me thinking about how I could help others to do the same. This meant sitting down and analysing what I had done and not done to some extent - not easy, as (such is the nature of Life) a great many things occur to an individual over long periods apparently without any particular forethought or planning at the time, and patterns only become discernible later - in some cases much later.
So here is a breakdown of what I think I did. The degree to which these things were the determining factors in what then occurred will probably not become clear for many years yet, if they ever do, but I wanted to put something out there as a guideline for others, even if it is not exact or ‘scientific’.
1. Know Where You Are Going
When I was 8 years old, my father moved our entire family away from the small Yorkshire town where we were living on the edge of the Peak District National Park in Yorkshire to a desert town in South Australia, the driest state in the driest continent on the planet. Even before I had left my childhood home, and especially as I was driven away from it on that fateful day, I knew with all my heart that I wanted to return to it. Moreover, I knew that I would return to it, and that it would be my overriding goal to do so.
Looking back, this can seem sometimes as though my determination of what was going to guide me in Life was decided by a loss. Certainly it would seem to follow the principles underlying fictional characters and their motivations, from my book How Stories Really Work, in which protagonists have something or someone taken away from them which then compels them into action. Had I not been removed from that environment at such a young age, no doubt my purpose throughout much of my life would have been very different. But there is also another side to that: if one wants to live somewhere, for positive and worthy reasons, and one finds that he or she is prevented from doing so, then there is a sense in which overcoming the barriers between oneself and one’s goal isn’t so much motivated by loss as powered by the intention to have things the way one wishes to have them.
Whatever the motivation, the important point here is that it is vital to have a specific goal to which one’s efforts drive one. That can be, as in my case, a location - but it could be anything else: a financial target, a political aim, a conquest over a disability, depending on one’s personal circumstances. The more specific the goal, the more powerful the motivation, in my experience.
It took me 26 years to return from Australia to England (to the exact day, as it happens); but it took a further 21 years to get back to my hometown and a further 2 years to set myself up in the precise location I had imagined. But I made it.
To give you an idea of how specific I mean when it comes to goals, I had a notion of where I wanted to live: it would be somewhere between three landmarks from my childhood - an old water tank on top of a hill that looked from a distance like a castle; a finger of stone pointing skyward that marked the spot where an Anglo-Saxon King was supposedly buried; and a white stone on another hilltop which was a ‘trigonometry point’ or ‘trig point’ for short, being a precise Ordnance Survey location on the map. The triangle between these points marked the area in which I was determined I would live one day.
Almost 50 years after being taken away, I now live in almost the exact centre of that triangle.
You can work out a goal this precise too: you just have to look into your own heart and find out what is really important to you. Not what family, society or ‘the world’ says is important necessarily, but what your own heart tells you. That ‘core’ will become the engine that will help you to persist through all the obstacles until you get there.
2. Get Support.
There’s no way to do this on one’s own - or perhaps there is, if you have superhuman stamina and a lot of luck. Achieving goals becomes much easier when you have help. In my case, I remember taking my new wife to my hometown for the first time and walking with her through the streets and lanes - covered in snow at that time - and feeling overjoyed when she turned and said to me (unprompted) ‘Why don’t we live here?’
Working with her over the next few years was what made the logistics come together to achieve the dream. Had she not wanted to live here, or had some overwhelming, burning desire to live in her own ideal location, accomplishing my own dream would have been made that much more difficult. Mind you, the alignment of purposes is part of the secret to a successful marriage too - the subject of another article one day, perhaps.
The point is that, with another’s help and agreement, making all the things happen that need to happen in order to eventually arrive where one needs to arrive is much easier. The world tends to bend to the wishes of individuals, over time - it bends quicker when there’s a team doing the wishing.
That leads to the next point.
3. Treat Others As You Would Want To Be Treated.
This could form the topic for a separate article too: it’s the ‘moral principle’ which has led me along the tracks towards my goal without permitting the random events and happenings of Life to sidetrack me.
If one treats others judgementally or harshly, all you get from them is opposition or disaffection to one degree or another. On the other hand, treat people with courtesy and respect and you get some element of support and affinity from them. It’s an easy equation to process in any set of circumstances: you simply ask yourself, ‘In this situation, how would I myself like to be treated?’ Even when you are in the position of having to give hard advice or having to tell someone off, you can do so in the way in which you yourself would appreciate being dealt with.
I remember on one occasion as a teacher, I misjudged a classroom situation and used a set of materials that were not suited to the age group concerned. My senior at that time took me aside into her office and patiently explained something to me about the appropriate use of materials in classrooms, the pros and cons, and what might and might not be the results. During the conversation, I came to see that what I had done was totally wrong, and thought of a way of fixing everything. At the end of the discussion, my senior smiled and let me go to get on with my work. It wasn’t until some time later that I realised that I had been chastised and corrected, so courteously that I hadn’t suffered in any way but had completely seen the error I had made and worked out how to repair it. This incident stayed with me as a good example of the ‘Treat others as you would want to be teated' rule: had she been heavily critical, judgemental and loud, I would have probably have become defensive and argumentative. As it was, her calm and courteous manner had done the job without a single hair being ruffled.
A great deal of what we observe as ‘human behaviour’ is merely the interplay of one person or set of people defending themselves from the responses of another person or set of people who in their case were acting to defend themselves from some earlier supposed incursion. In other words, the world can become a kind of merry-go-round of action and reaction precisely because the people involved are not applying the maxim of treating the other or others as they themselves would want to be treated. As soon as this Golden Rule is implemented, wars cease, complexities unravel, and solutions emerge.
The same applies to individual lives: look for situations which are apparently irreconcilable and approach them with the above maxim in mind. Age-old glaciers melt; walls begin to come down; situations edge forward.
Reading the above, some will find exceptions and distortions which defy these principles. But they have worked for me, and I offer them only as guidelines for others.
Please let me know how I can help you to achieve your dreams.