Out with the old, in with the new you

Metro brings in a Master Life Coach to help us all start the new year on the right track.

By AIMEE NEISTAT
September 24, 2008 15:30
Out with the old, in with the new you

Maeir Epstein 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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New Year's resolutions are notorious as "that-goal-I-knew-was-a-good-idea-but-never-got-around-to-actually-fulfilling." With Rosh Hashana around the corner, Metro asked certified Master Life Coach Alisa Maeir-Epstein for advice on how to turn "New Year's resolutions" into "last year's conclusions." Long-Term Vision The key to life coaching is long-term vision, explains Maeir-Epstein. She defines this as "A place you'd like to get to in your life that if you were there, you'd like to stay for the rest of your life." It's more than just a goal. A person seeking to lose 10 kg, for example, would ask, "What would be the result of me losing weight?" The answer might be, "I'd feel healthier, see myself as more attractive, have better self esteem and thus succeed in other areas of my life." These goals, as opposed to dropping the weight itself, become the long-term vision. "Often, the choices we make on an everyday basis [serve as] either immediate gratification or a short-term goal," says Maeir-Epstein. Long-term visions help people stay focused on what they really want and help them make day-to-day decisions that lead them to fulfill those longer-term goals. A long-term vision should be written down, she advises - it can take up a page, a paragraph, or even a single line, but the more detail, the better. The key question After writing down their long-term vision, people can set goals that will help them along. Maeir-Epstein presents the key question for setting these goals: "What result could I achieve that would be most effective in bringing me closer to my vision?" These results must be attainable - a 50-year-old who has never been on a balance beam might want to reassess their chances of becoming a professional gymnast. Depending on the goal, the results can be quantitative, qualitative, or both. Fulfilling the vision "After asking [the key question] we have to get practical," explains Maeir-Epstein. Achieving results requires staying on course. Maeir-Epstein recommends three tools for doing this. 1. Keep your long-term vision in front of you. It is very motivating: One of Maeir-Epstein's clients works for a non-profit organization, raising money and organizing functions. The client sometimes finds it intimidating to call individual donors. "So we look at her vision," says Maeir-Epstein. "Her vision is not to call the donor and have them like her, which is usually what goes through our head when we make a phone call. Her vision is to help the people [for whom she is raising money], and she sees herself as a messenger for them," said Maeir-Epstein. The client's emotional connection to her end vision helps her stay motivated and confront challenges. 2. Focus on results, not methods: Life coaching focuses on results rather than supposedly tried-and-true methods, says Maeir-Epstein. First, the desired results are determined. Only after that comes the decision-making, prioritizing and methods. "This kind of thinking came from [the] business [world]," explains Maeir-Epstein. Instead of saying "there are X number of methods for running a successful business," modern approaches look first at the results a given business wishes to achieve and then work backwards to find appropriate work methods tailored to those results. "If one method doesn't succeed, we don't have to hold onto it as if it were holy. We go back to the results [we want] and work backwards to find new… ways of achieving them." Life coaching also encourages individuals to derive personalized strategies from their previous successes. Rather than looking at how a person has dieted in the past, or at general methods of dieting, Maeir-Epstein asks dieters to describe the most successful thing they have ever accomplished in their life. She then analyzes what strategies contributed to their success. "It might have been support from the family; providing [themselves] some kind of reward; joining a group [or] some kind of regimented [system] with notebooks," she explains. Dieters then apply the approaches that have proved effective in other areas of their lives to the diet - or other project - they're currently tackling. Maeir-Epstein also works with her clients on finding resources in their existing social networks that they can use to accomplish their goals. She urges her clients to approach their friends, colleagues and acquaintances for professional connections, skills, and information. 3. Choose a coach: "Choose a coach," Maeir-Epstein recommends. This might be a professional life coach or a "layperson" who can serve in that capacity, a mentor of sorts - someone with experience on projects similar to the client's, or a friend who is undertaking the same kind of goal. "Why do we need a coach? Look at Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps knows how to swim. But he needed a coach to get to the Olympics. All of us could use help from an external resource to keep [us] on track." Planning After deciding on the desired results, a little planning is in order. Maeir-Epstein says that often, a person's impulse is to draw up a long list and start working down it, checking things off. Others make up time management systems that allot estimated time frames for different activities, chart them, and insert them into weekly schedules. She notes that people who take this tack can be "totally overwhelmed." Instead, the life coach suggests writing down a short list of desired results, then prioritizing them. Another of Maeir-Epstein's clients, dreamt of leaving the public sector and offering psychological services to a private clientele. She decided she would need to convert the junk room in her home into an attractive office and made a list of everything that needed to be done. Maeir-Epstein asked her to identify one "central thing" from the list she could do, which turned out to be putting up a bookshelf to clear books off the floor. The next question was, "What would be the [act] that would bring you closest to that result?" The first thing to do was call a friend and ask for a recommendation for a good carpenter. The phone call led to the shelves, which led to the office, which led to the professional change. Long lists can be daunting. Rather than working on entire lists at once, coaching recommends choosing the crux and acting upon that. "Schedule that… Make a date with yourself. You could even get a little help from your non-professional coach by saying, 'Please be in touch with me on X day to help [me] do this 15-minute chore.' Then we feel like we already have one foot in the door," Maeir-Epstein says. After successfully taking the first step and seeing the result, "We do the same thing again" - go back to the key question and find the next effective, achievable result. "Sometimes, what we start out thinking might be very important doesn't really serve our long-term goals," Maeir-Epstein points out. Rather than working through a set list, life coaching recommends working on one key item at a time. Everyday decisions Long-term visions can also help with day-to-day decision-making, as well as choices that need to be made for special occasions. When deciding on a hotel for the holidays, holiday-goers could ask themselves, "What is the result you want to achieve from this vacation? Do you want to relax with your partner and get away from things, or do you want to come away with a good feeling of the culture and sights of the country?" Both options are legitimate, distinct visions of a "vacation." If the idea is to get up late, have a luxurious breakfast, then a massage, then read and go to the pool, perhaps a more luxurious hotel would be more appropriate. But if the envisioned holiday includes touring, tasting the food and getting a sense of the local culture, a lower-priced hotel might better serve the purpose, since it would only be a place to sleep. "When we connect our decision making to the 'loftier' goal, [decisions] become very simple because our goals contain our values, delights [and] dreams," explains Maeir-Epstein. New Year's resolutions When it comes to New Year's resolutions, Maeir-Epstein has a few tips: 1. Applaud yourself for each step you make, rather than idealizing what might be achieved and getting disappointed when the results fail to measure up. 2. Resolutions should contain and reflect personal values. People can look at their past successes and ask themselves what made them feel successful. According to Maeir-Epstein, resolutions that don't incorporate personal values are unlikely to be motivating. 3. "Resolutions should lead to satisfaction and joy; results that make us feel we're bringing out the best in ourselves," says Maeir-Epstein. 4. Keep resolutions and visions realistic. One way of testing this is to interview three people from different areas of your life and find out what they think of the resolution. "People around us can be very supportive and complimentary, so if there's something that doesn't suit us, we'll find out quickly," says Maeir-Epstein. What doesn't work According to Maeir-Epstein, "standardized" methods are a trap. "First, go to the result you want and let that guide [your actions]," she says. She also recommends avoiding "cheap, fast tricks." People need to invest time and effort to realize their vision.

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