Category Archives: Goals

The teacher who understood the value of “Coming Next…”

After all these years I still remember some of my school teachers, a few for happy reasons, others less-positively. In this last respect there was, for instance, an English master who regularly responded to bad behaviour in the back row of his classroom with an energetically-lobbed blackboard eraser.

The jury was out on whether or not he was a good shot, as the chalky missile invariably thudded into the wall rather than the pupil, but I rather suspect this was fully intended – a kind of shock and awe approach rather than downright physical violence.

I suppose the fact that I now spend a great deal of my days writing may be testament to the fact that he obviously did me some good, but it may have simply been because I tended to avoid sitting in the back row.


Fortunately other teachers made their mark for less combative reasons. One who taught Geography, for instance, was a genius at making the subject interesting and compelling, especially when it came to physical geography. To this day, I’m always on the look-out for a good terminal moraine when I’m on a train journey.

He had one little technique that I especially admired, which was that at the end of each well-paced lesson he’d provide his class with a short teaser about what would be coming next time we met. I’m sure he believed that this way we’d be keenly anticipating the next instalment of the curriculum. He was right.

It’s always good to have things to look forward to, but there are sure to be less-positive times in life when, unless you plan things yourself, it can seem as if the future is pretty devoid of goals and anticipation. And that’s never more so than when your mood is low.

At times like this you’re unlikely to be planning anything ambitious, but it’s definitely worth trying to set yourself some modest goals. Get through the morning and treat yourself to something tasty and healthy at lunchtime. Make it through the afternoon, then read a chapter of a good book, do a crossword puzzle, walk round the block or make a phone call.

You owe it to yourself to have one or two simple things to look forward to, even if you need to create them out of nothing.

Looking back on today, from 2022.

If today was actually June 2nd, 2022, what do you think you might regret not having done five years previously?

Are there things you could have changed? Places you might have gone? Things you’d have liked to say?

Guess what? You have the power to do all those things today.

So don’t build up regrets for tomorrow.

You may not be able to change the world, but why not try and do just one thing today that could come back to delight you in five years’ time.

The future is closer than you think.

Go on, treat yourself to a happiness moment

What one small extra thing could you do in the next 24 hours that might make you momentarily happier?

I’m not thinking about things that are already planned, or things that are going to happen on a routine basis.

And I’m not thinking about something that’s going to bring you profound joy.

I’m thinking about something small and additional that you can do that might make you smile. Or at the very least make things not so bad for a while.

At times we can all think that nothing we do will make a difference, but that’s not true.

It could be something as simple as sitting down for a coffee. Or it could be taking a slight deviation on a routine journey to go past or through somewhere nice.

The thing is, you do have the power to step out of normality. Even if it’s just for five minutes.

Go on. Give it a go.

From a word in your ear to some words on your screen.

Gosh, it was really encouraging yesterday to get such a lot of positive support for the “audio moodnudge” I linked to in my email, and posted on the blog. Thanks hugely to all who took the time to give me feedback.

If you didn’t catch the audio (which was just a couple of minutes long), it’s here.

I’m pretty sure we’ll do some more of that kind of audio thing, but for now it’s back to the good old written word.

Of course there’s a place for both the written and spoken word, but I’ve always believed that someone’s writing takes on a different dimension when you know what their voice sounds like, just as I’ve always found it easier to use Skype or Facetime with people I’ve already met in real life.

And now you know what I sound like. Three years into living in California, but I think still no sign of sounding ’Murican.

So, you and I start another week, and it’s good to note that by the time it’s over we’ll be just about out of January – not always the easiest month of the year. But, you know what, you’ve made it – or very nearly – so give yourself a pat on the back.

Spring, and then summer, aren’t really too far away in the northern hemisphere. So even on days when you may feel there’s little to look forward to (and we all get them from time to time, I’m sure) it’s good to hang on to the idea of new starts and fresh growth that springtime generally brings.

It won’t be long.

The pleasure of anticipation, and Happy Thanksgiving.

As a kid, there’s always something to look forward to.

Christmas, your birthday, the weekend, summer, winter, spring, autumn.

A new bike.

Thanksgiving, if you’re in the USA – and whether you are or aren’t, Happy Thanksgiving for tomorrow.

Generally a kid’s life is one big slice of anticipation, tinged with the frustration that nothing ever happens as quickly as you want it to.


But as the years pass by, it can sometimes seem that there’s less to look forward to.

Life may feel humdrum, with a distinct absence of carrots dangling from the end of the stick.

However perhaps there’s a little, not unreasonable, trick that you can play on yourself.

Often we gain even more pleasure anticipating something than we do actually experiencing it.

So if it feels as though there are no big things to look forward to, actively anticipate the smaller.

When you’re working, imagine how good it will feel when you down tools at the end of the day.

Going to speak to a friend in a few days’ time?

Visualise how warming this will be.

Reading a good book at the moment?

Start to anticipate the feeling of getting stuck back into it before you do.

Even when you’re not a kid, there’s generally always something to look forward to.

Sometimes, though, you have to seek it out.

It never hurts to think a little about where you’re headed.

I love maps.

I came across dozens when I sorted through some stuff recently, and opening one instantly transported me to a completely different place.

On a map, everything’s so organised.

If you want to get from A to B, it’s generally pretty easy to see how you should go about it.

You can see where places are, relative to others.

And of course you can carry your map with you, to help in case you get lost.


I can’t help thinking how helpful it would be to have a special map that would do for living what a conventional one does for travelling, but life’s twists and turns are usually pretty unpredictable.

Maybe this is unfortunate, or perhaps it’s good.

It certainly keeps you on your toes.

However, even if there’s no piece of printed paper to help you navigate through today, I think it does help to have a broad idea of where you’re headed.

Not always easy, I know.

I’ve always liked these lines from Alice in Wonderland, though:

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

Where are you going to go today?

When you’ve too much on your plate, just do what you can in 30 minutes. Then stop.

You’ve got too much to do. We all have too much to do.

But you only have one life. Only so much time to fit in everything you believe you’re supposed to do.

I often struggle with this myself. The amount on my To-Do list really is never-ending. If I could work 24-hour days for the next year, I still wouldn’t have checked everything off.


Sometimes I let this get to me. But most of the time I think it helps to ignore those nagging worries about The List, and simply to get on with living in the moment, getting done what I can today, and knowing that tomorrow’s another day—another chance to tackle another batch of stuff.

I can’t always block out the big picture worries for long, but putting in an hour at a time seems to work.

I’m sure it seems odd, but one of my most useful pieces of kit is an electronic kitchen timer. It’s flashing away in front of me right now in fact. I’ve given myself sixty minutes to do some writing, and have a target of what I need to get done before it emits its friendly little beep.

You’ve got too much to do. You won’t get it all done today.

So give yourself a target and block out a shortish chunk of time. You’ll probably surprise yourself when you achieve more than you thought you would.

As I just have. There goes the beep.

The 3-step way to set goals on the shabbiest of days

On some of my darkest days, my only goal has been to make it through to bedtime: not exactly the loftiest of ambitions. But maybe better than nothing.

When you’re going through a rough patch, nothing seems very meaningful. Every step feels like plodding through treacle. Each minute can add to the weight bearing down on your soul.


Thankfully it’s not the way I feel right now, but that doesn’t prevent me recalling what it’s like. At times like that, you may have little appetite for life. In fact, were someone to ask you what you were looking forward to, it wouldn’t be surprising if you replied ‘Nothing’.

Nothing. Imagine that. Imagine genuinely believing (since that’s one of the cruel tricks that low mood can play on you) that there’s nothing (nothing!) on the horizon. No goals. No treats. No things-yet-to-come.

I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t sound a very pleasant place to be. It would feel like being locked in a cell with no prospect of release.

The trouble is, it’s a vicious circle. When your mood is low, you stop making plans: you stop setting goals. But then when you stop setting goals, it’s not unreasonable to expect your mood to dive even lower.

What to do then?

Perhaps this three-step process can help:

1. Acknowledge that, even if you’re feeling very low, in principle people do respond well to having things to look forward to.

2. Admit that (feeling the way you do right now) you’ll never in a million years be able to make big plans.

3. Accept that even the tiniest piece of anticipation is almost certainly better than none at all.

How tiny is tiny? I think it can be REALLY tiny. Look forward to eating something good at lunchtime. Tell yourself that you’ll take a ten minute walk this evening. Promise yourself a soak in the bath later on.

On a good day, these may seem insignificant ambitions. But on a bad day they can make all the difference.

Today. Take the first step of a momentous journey.

Perhaps you dream of writing a book.

Maybe you imagine yourself learning to play a musical instrument, taking up a new career, or even starting a new relationship?

What are you going to do, one day?

The thing is, these probably sound like gigantic projects.

Perhaps they feel nice but impossible.

The kind of mission you might contemplate on a good day, but on a bad day… well, no.

Forget it.

And this is unfortunate.


If the days are dark and despairing, having a goal such as this could be just what you need, but when life has dealt you a poor hand it’s hard to find enough enthusiasm to work out what you’re going to have for breakfast, let alone to embark on some kind of life-changing journey.

Dreaming of beginning something, but believing you can’t, is frustrating.

Imagining it but dismissing it might even make you feel even worse than you were before.

Is there a solution then?

You know, I think there might just be.

What’s the smallest chunk of your dream that you could bite off right now?


I’m thinking about fifteen minutes, no more.

In fact, definitely only fifteen minutes: you must absolutely stop after a quarter of an hour.

You’ll only achieve a tiny amount.

Perhaps you’ll find an exercise book, write ‘My Book’ on its cover and ‘Chapter 1’ on its first blank page.

Maybe you’ll use Google to find someone nearby who teaches the ukulele (you never know, it might be your thing).

Alternatively, you could invest your precious minutes in phoning a friend who knows more about the new career you dream of.

Or (steady now) check out an online dating site, evening class or local walking group.

You might not believe you’ve done much, but in fact you’ve taken a huge step: the first step, always the hardest.

And miraculously your goal is no longer a dream, but something on which you’re actively working.

Have a go.

And please do let me know when your book comes out.

On darker days, make plans, but make them modest.

What’s for dinner tonight?

Anything planned for next weekend?

Which friends will you be catching up with in the coming month?

When you’re going through a rough patch, it’s unfortunately rather too easy to believe you’ve little or nothing to look forward to.

Even the most optimistic of us can turn into glass-half-full individuals when times are tough.


A sense of keen anticipation about upcoming events tends to be a good indication that you’re in a relatively good place, while the opposite – a feeling that there’s nothing on the horizon – is probably a pretty good sign that all’s not well in your world.

If you feel like doing little else than pulling the curtains shut and climbing under the bedcovers, you’re unlikely to be in the right frame of mind to make big plans, nor should you beat yourself up for not doing so.

When the black dog visits, your sense of perspective gets skewed, so even if you do try to make important decisions, your conclusions may well be distorted.

However, this needn’t necessarily prevent you from setting yourself smaller, more winnable, objectives.

So don’t try to re-plan your career, but do think about what you might enjoy for lunch.

Instead of struggling to make decisions about a forthcoming family gathering, simply decide what you’ll watch on television this evening.

They may seem trivial goals but the truth is, giving yourself something to look forward to can make a big difference to the way a dull day goes.