Women’s Group: Setting Commitments

I am going to…learn German, lose weight, write a book, learn how to play the guitar, start a business…!

Often we have fantastic ideas and intentions of what we want to achieve. Yet struggle to reach them, and judge ourselves when we don’t.
A common one I hear is: “I am going to learn to speak German in the next 6 months!”.
We proceed to set goals as to how we want to get there.
“I will study everyday for 1-2 hours!”
We start fully motivated and inspired.
Then we may hit a snag which throws us off our plan.
Family comes to visit, new project at work, child get’s sick… something takes up our time.
We are unable to meet our specific goal… we may feel discouraged, worried and judge ourselves or feel judged by others. Feeling deflated it is harder to motivate ourselves to pick it up again.

Maybe we do pick it up again… we do an exercise, find it hard, get more wrong than right… Frustration and negative thoughts show up.. “I should know this by now!”, I’m not making any progress!”,”I must be stupid….” To make matters worse, in-laws try to speak to you and you find yourself not being able to follow what they are saying or feeling like you sound like a 3rd grader. Or an acquaintance tells you about “so and so who can speak French, German and is now learning Russian… how cool is that!” Don’t we feel inspired then! The negative “noise” inside just gets louder… “Lazy, Stupid…”

When we hit these barriers we often become discouraged and tend to give up.

Yet. these difficulties are not due to our unworthiness or lack of skill. Usually it is because our goals are unrealistic in the sense of resources, time and/or space. Another barrier is that we expect it to go smoothly, and we allow the uncomfortable feelings and negative feelings derail us. We see it as proof that things are going poorly. When in actuality barriers, mistakes and discomfort are part of any endeavor.

In the previous Women’s Group we explored our Values – what and who is important to us and how we connect to this value in our lives. Setting the direction of our compass if you will.

In this month’s Women’s Group we will continue to build the foundation on which we set our goals. By linking the values to a broader commitment. What is important about this value? Doing this we can access a wider range of ways to work towards our dreams. Going back to the desire to learn to speak German.

First, we clarify our values. What about this goal is important. Look internally… not externally. “Because my partner and in-laws tell me I need to be able to speak to fit in here in Switzerland.” Is one I hear often, yet does not help us when the negative “noise” shows up. Mistakes feel more painful then! Could it be that you want to feel like you are continuing to learn? Or to be able to communicate and advocate for yourself in Switzerland? Name this… I want to learn German so I am connected with my values of learning and being independent.

Then specify a commitment connected to this value. Again keep it somewhat broad – taking regular time to expose myself to German to build my German skills. Then consider a wide range of practical actions and options. Look to set goals concrete short term that fit your schedules and resources.

As a new mom, I did not have the energy or time to study undisturbed for 2 hours a day, nor the finances or time to attend multiple week intensive German courses. So instead, I listened to my husband talk to our baby in German, watched Super Nanny with him in German, listened to the German radio while I cleaned up, did 1/2 hour of German exercises three times a week, and attended a weekly class when I could.

When I see it now listed like that, it seems like a lot, but also a bit silly (really “Super Nanny?”). Yet, I enjoyed it more than grueling drills and it did help me reach my goal. Back then, these small goals felt like a “cop out.” I felt if I did not follow the rigid rule of “studying everyday” I was a failure. Once I let go of the ridged rule I could be more realistic. And when I checked to see if my actions were connected to my commitment of “is this helping build my German skills?” I could more easily answer yes. I then felt more motivated, could see the small steps of progress I was making and also be more willing to keep going. I was willing to tolerate feeling incompetent, less intelligent, and uncomfortable in German speaking settings. I could better filter out the negative statements in my head about my “awful German Grammar,” “you still sound like a 3rd grader,” or comments from others of correcting my German. Once these negative experiences had less power over me, it was easier to keep trying, making mistakes, tweaking my goals and plan, and stick to my commitment and eventually reach my longer term goal of being able to read and speak in German and advocating for myself and my children in Switzerland. This was empowering!

So by naming our underlying values, identifying a clear and reasonable commitment, we can then set several realistic and flexible goals that are better suited to our situation and resources. Doing so increases the likelihood we can reach our long term goals and making our dreams reality!