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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Why succeeding at my goals was a trap and 7 questions for true success in 2018

I hope you're enjoying the holiday season. It’s almost time to start your New Year’s resolutions! Hurrah!

I’m sure you’ve reviewed your wins over the past year, identified you main challenges and are committed to striving for ever more ambitious goals loving every bit of discomfort that comes with the process! And so write:

  • Goal 1: to do list.

  • Goal 2: to do list

  • Goal 3: to do list



Oh, OK…

Well, in that case, you’re probably a human being.

The approach above has a mechanical, unrealistic feel to it, right?

In fact, the latest neuroscience shows that unless you’re involving the emotional side of goal setting, you’re just scratching the surface of motivation and will get railroaded by your subconscious drives!

That’s why New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

Traditional goal setting uses the logical mind and neglects the deeper emotional aspects especially fear and desire.

[ See this week’s videos for 3 insights on alternative goal-setting ]


I’ve always been quite good at goals and achieved pretty much all of my career goals and more…I was one of those doers.

I remember I always had a white board with my 3 or 4 big projects on. There would be things like:

  • MRCP exam

  • Clinical audit

  • Conference presentation

  • Case report

…and then a few bullet points underneath each project that would get updated as things progressed. That was the sum total of my project management which was rather simple but was effective for me.

But being effective wasn’t the issue; and may not be the issue for you or the goals you have…


“If the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” ― Stephen R. Covey

I’m sure you noticed all my goals were: 1) career related and 2) outcome oriented…

So the issue wasn’t about getting things done; but the nature of the goals and whether they were fulfilling (rather than ego-boosting/confidence building).

Not that I regret any of my career achievements. On the contrary.

But, I’d say that I would’ve had a lot more fun and fulfilment had I focused on the process and the relational aspects that make our biggest goals and dreams possible. Plus, focusing on those elements would have really stretched me!

You see, I knew the things on my whiteboard would get done AND that I would get a pat on the back from the system (a Success Trap by the way and the theme of the writings for my book).

Yes, there was some stretch in the goals (e.g. only 7% of people pass their 3 MRCP exams first time) but the growth I experienced tended to be intellectual. I wasn’t stretching myself emotionally; or not deliberately anyway, which is key.

So, I was nowhere near challenging myself enough. I was doing what I was already good at. No one complained. It fit in with the expectations of the professional culture I was part of.

With hindsight, what might have been more of a stretch, more fun and more fulfilling would have been goals like:

  • Create more flow in life and cultivate tolerance for uncertainty;

  • Take a risk on something fun every day

  • See the deeper peace and joy of all situations

  • Own difficult emotions and cultivate the courage and compassion to communicate authentically.

Unfortunately, schools haven’t taught this, so people usually discover this on their own a little later in life and their goals start to change as a reflection.


Do you ever wonder why you’re sometimes uncertain about your goals i.e. whether you really want what you say you want?

One reason is that your goals (and motivation to take action on them) will change depending on which state of mind you’re in. For clear goals and consistent motivation, the trick is not to get lost in your superficial feelings and to prioritise a peaceful state of mind or consciousness.

This will ensure that the thoughts that your mind generates are of the highest quality and clarity possible. Otherwise, your thoughts will be subject to your mood which is influenced by your environment which create a lot of interference and confusion in your thinking…Without an awareness of this, your thoughts will be incoherent and even contradict each other!


One way is to be a detective and look into who you believe yourself to be at any one moment (in psychology this is called self-concept or self-image). This can be hidden in the subconscious, so it can take time to access the real answer.

The three self-concept options linked to your state of mind and influencing your goals are:

Level 1 self-concept: You are your desires and fears. The pain/pleasure principle governs your goals. You want things that make you feel good and avoid things that make you feel bad.

Level 2 self-concept: You are the awareness in your body that experiences things. You’re aware that you can choose what experience you want. You combine rational and emotional intelligence to make wise choices for your life/goals.

Level 3 self-concept: You are an infinite awareness that extends beyond your physical body. Here, you trust that everything that comes your way is part of an interdependent web of existence and play with opportunities to create from a powerful state, moment-to-moment. In other words, you’re not driven by pain/pleasure or the desire for experiences. You’re playing with opportunities in the moment to allow something new to unfold. Of course, this isn’t really a self-concept, it’s a way of being.


Ever had opportunities come your way in completely unexpected ways?

Let’s try and illustrate the effects of moving up the levels:

Legend in the making: Dr S and I have been working together since August and had a few coaching sessions before she noticed a strange happenings…One of her main goals, when we first spoke, was to get a consultant job in a couple of years in a particular type of medical speciality in a specific hospital. We framed this in the context of her desire to experience a successful transition from maternity leave to a consultant (leadership) role and flourish in this new phase; and she committed to stepping into greater visibility as well as cultivating more self-compassion and trust that things will work out i.e. focusing on the experience and qualities that feel supportive and fulfilling rather than the hard outcomes.

Last week, she informed me that she agreed to do a presentation as part of her commitment to visibility. It turns out that after the presentation, someone came up to her and offered a consultant post in the EXACT speciality and the EXACT hospital she wanted.

She was rather taken aback, at first! This is not something her rational mind engineered. She hadn’t been thinking about it or planning anything in detail about how to get the job. But it isn’t magic even if it feels like it. She articulated her desired experience and committed to cultivating the qualities required to facilitate it in her life including trusting that she could relax whilst taking action. So yes, things can work out without your struggling to make it happen through logical steps.

As a bonus for her commitment, she’s also been nominated as a lead representative at the London level for her speciality and noticed that she might even be starting to enjoy the visibility! Finally, a difficult situation that she was handling at work has resolved for the best. She stepped up courageously to speak against an unfair set up and powerful people stepped in to help. She benefits and those who come after her will benefit. Fantastic stuff, Dr S!


Whether they’re new goals (or recurring goals that you’re not achieving) the important thing with these questions that they help you find out whether they are the right goals for you.

Use your imagination and allow yourself to choose what you REALLY want not what you THINK you should want.

First, Make some space by asking:

Q1: Which 2017 goals do you need to let go of? (these are generally goals you think you should want but don’t really feel that inspired with)

Q2: What do you want to experience in 2018? (more joy, spontaneity, peace, abundance, boldness, aliveness)?

Allow yourself to imagine what this feels like (if that’s difficult, go back to a memory of when you felt this)

Next, ask yourself what does this look like in the present. Pay attention to what comes up first.

Q3: What could you do to create this experience in 2018? (finally learn to surf/sail/knit or go on that big trip; write, submit and present a proposal for a promotion at work)? Pay attention to what comes up first and trust it.

Note: Leave the planning aside for now. Do NOT get into the how of anything as it will drain your inspiration pretty quickly because different parts of your brain will be competing for attention if you do; and the logical, planning part will win if this is your default. Allow the imaginative part to play for a little longer. The how can wait for now…

And now for the really fun bit:

“Be an opportunity seeker rather than a goal-setter” (Rich Litvin).

Q4: What opportunities are available for you to have this experience immediately? (book something you’ve been wanting to do; send a bold email you’ve been putting off; reconnect with an old friend)?

Q5: What are the top 20% of last year's actions that are completely in alignment with the experience you want to create, and that you can repeat?

Celebrate what you’re already doing.

Q6) What do you absolutely need to stop doing to enable this experience? What must you stay away from at all costs?

Make a list that you will keep to hand for use when making decisions.

Q7: How can you change your external and internal environment to support and inspire you in creating this experience? (review people, places, habits that need to go. It will help the experience to unfold of its own accord as if by magic…)

If you want to do this exercise later, I’ve put these questions into a Word document that you can download here.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions and I’d love to know how you get on!


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