Research Paper By Jessica Softcheck
(Goal Coach, UNITED STATES)
Often times I find that clients get frustrated when trying to set goals, or even disappointed when they look back and realize their goals were not met. Even more, I have found that most often, the goals set are set for reasons that aren’t in line with their beliefs, core values or even pushing them in the direction they want to go. Without a clear picture of where they want to go, they cannot even begin to create clear goals on how to get there. I grew up as an athlete, competed at a collegiate level, and after graduation, found myself seeking something to identify myself as that competitive athlete again. What I did not realize, however, was that the goals I would go on to set for myself were set to keep appearances, not to grow or move into a full and vibrant life. I found that every effort exerted towards those goals was a strain because they were not leading me forward, but rather, they were holding me in my past.
What is visualization?
According to the trusty ole dictionary, simply put, visualization is, “the formation of a mental image of something.” It is a simple tool that can be used to create emotion, motivation, reduce stress and define clear goals. Athletes everywhere use visualization as a way to imagine future success, whether through hitting a ball, scoring a goal or throwing a touchdown. When we use visualization, we are able to clearly see and even the potential of living into our best life. Research shows that visualizing (or even recalling old memories) has the ability to recreate neural pathways in the brain. “A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting. In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are most effective as a true physical practice and that doing both is more effective than either alone.” It’s as if we are tricking the brain into believing whatever we want it to! How powerful is that!
The benefits of casting a vision through coaching
We have all fallen victim to fear, limitations and the unknown at some point or another. It is hard to imagine the life we want, when we are currently living in the midst of stressors like time constraints, financial strains, judgment from peers, etc. Visualization allows us to open a portal to the future, where none of this exists, and to use our creativity, passion and authenticity to create a picture of the life/job/achievement/outcome we desire. When we work from a space of “limitless,” we can then begin to create the pathway to get to wherever we desire.
The Process/The Study
A small workshop (comprised of six individuals) was held with the mission to lead a group of individuals through exercises and powerful questioning resulting in authentic goals. Their goals would cover all areas of their lives and even if not achieved, would result in looking past obstacles and limitations and move them forward in the direction of their “ideal life.” We used a series of exercises, focusing on the following things:
- Recognizing Balance and Imbalance through Powerful Questioning
- Defining Core Values
- Developing an Awareness of Limitations and Roadblocks through Powerful Questioning
- VIsualizing Their Ideal Life
- Creating Powerful and Authentic Goals
The workshop began with introductions to break the ice, get familiar and to create a space that felt safe to get vulnerable in. All individuals were female and in the range of 24-35 years old.
Step One (recognizing balance and imbalance):
Our first visualization exercise was completed in order to help the participants get clear on what they Want VS Do Not Want in their lives and to recognize when they are living out of balance. The participants began by closing their eyes, taking a few deep breaths and then putting pen to paper. They created a large circle and filled it with words, feelings, and actions that described everything they want in their lives both in the present and future tense – free of limitations. Outside the circle, they wrote down everything they don’t want.
When asked “which area of the circle was easier to fill in,” every participant said “the inside!”
When asked, “which area of the circle do you feel you spend more time living in,” every participant said, “the outside.”
This opened up the space to ask powerful questions like, “what do you think of that,” “why do you think that is,” and “what have you spending so much time on the things you say you do not want in your life” and created an opportunity for awareness and a shift in perspective.
Step Two (Defining Core Values)
It is difficult to know when your life is “out of balance” if you do not know what balance looks like. This is where “Defining Core Values” comes in. For the purpose of this exercise, we defined Core Values together as “the things that are most important to you and when lived into, allow you to live a full and joyful life.”
I read from a list of 200 standard core values while encouraging the group to come up with their own if necessary as well, and they narrowed their personal Core Values down to 5-6 each. This list of Core Values will become the “filter” through which their goals and decisions pass through.
I asked a simple question at the end of this exercise, “What do you all think of your Core Values?” One answer particularly stood out to me. The participant said, “I realized I’m not actually doing most of the things I know are absolutely most important to me. And that’s why I feel unfulfilled, stressed and like I don’t know what I’m doing.” This participant had moved from a place of “living small, feeling frustrated and unfulfilled,” and into a perspective shift. She was now able to discuss why she wasn’t doing the things she most wanted to and that brought her the most joy. She was ready to discuss her self imposed limitations.
Step Three (Discussing Limits & Moving into Visualization)
In this step, I briefly ask a two-part question – “What do you think is holding you back from living into these Core Values” and “What would your life feel like if you began living into them!?” After a few shares, the energy of the room is light, excited and we are ready to move on to visualizing our best lives! The group is seeing and feeling “possibility” and their tones and body language tell me that they are ready to explore what they really want and how to get it!
The visualization begins with everyone seated, eyes closed and encouraged to relax. We take a deep breath together, and I begin a series of questions to guide them through imagining many aspects of their “ideal life.” For the purpose of this exercise, we are visualizing a full, rounded life ten years from now. The time frame of ten years forward was chosen because it is far enough out to realistically imagine major change, but also close enough to the present where one can look forward to living into their new life.
See below for the transcript of questions/prompts read to the group (I allowed for 10-15 second pauses between each question, giving each participant time to think, imagine and let the image land in their memory):
- Imagine your life ten years from now.
- Where would you be if time, money, education or location had no bearing on who you could be, where you could be or what you could create?
- How old are you?
- Where do you live?
- Who’s there with you?
- What does your home look like? Feel like? Sound like?
- Are there plants, a garden, animals, children, natural light, neighbours?
- Do you work?
- If so, from where?
- What do you love about your job?
- What part of you is flourishing as you do it?
- What do you do for fun?
- Do you travel? Read? Write? Play a sport?
- What role do you play in your community?
- How do you feel waking up in this life every day?
- What does it feel like to be balanced, content and thriving?
- What do you feel best about right now?
- What kind of impact are you having on your world?
- Where will you go next?!
The participants open their eyes and are encouraged to either write their vision down or sit and meditate on it for a moment.
Some participants are emotional and quiet, others have excited expressions and are vigorously writing their vision down on paper. This is where I get a clearer sense of who has been “playing small” and who is “ready to make changes!”
I asked powerful questions like “what surprised you about what you saw,” “what were you doing differently,” “what obstacles had you overcome,” and “what excites you most?” The group discussion is my favourite part of coaching because they encourage each other to open up and speak their visualizations to life through their own vulnerability in sharing. Group work allows the participants to find a common thread between them, and that thread is usually “I’m the one standing in my way, and I’m the one who can make the change!”
Step Four (Working Backwards to Create Authentic Goals)
Here we used our upward shift in energy to move into creating and writing down goals that would help them begin to create this ideal life they just imagined.
I asked them to divide their lives into “three major domains,” and offered the suggestion of “career, personal, health” as a starting point to gather inspiration from.
After that, they divided those domains into “10” “5” and “1” year boxes where we would walk through creating clear, concise, measurable, realistic, authentic and audacious goals from!
They filled their boxes with goals that related to their previously defined core values and which would bring them closes to living their ideal lives.
They each now have measurable goals to work towards that will give them the opportunity to live with balance, joy and authenticity.
The participants used visualization in a series of exercises throughout this workshop. Each exercise opened up the opportunity to recognize old patterns, limitations, old beliefs as well as given the opportunity to begin creating the things they want to see more of in their lives. A visualization is a powerful tool, however, it cannot be the only tool used to help a client achieve their desired outcomes. Visualization must be paired with the opportunity to notice the things that are not working so that the client can decide to move away from them and into new possibility. Visualization must be followed up with the creation of an action plan, and further coaching may be necessary to help the client use powerful language and stay away from those old limitations they have defined.
The style of this workshop, in my experience and opinion, is very effective. It offers enough lightness to the clients to keep the energy moving upwards. The workshop begins with discussing limitations and flows nicely into creating exciting action steps to move them into a really powerful way of living.
Moving forward, I would aim to include participants who are connected to each other in some way (co-workers, friends, teammates, etc) to encourage more discussion and vulnerability. I learned that individuals are more likely to share their life experiences, limits and self-doubt in a group they are already comfortable with. I also learned how important it is to make sure the “session” ends with high energy, and that I give the opportunity for all participants to leave feeling empowered and encouraged versus still focused on what is holding them back.