A matter of choice

4th January 2008 at 00:00
You can change your life, your way of thinking or just where you live. Susan Young talks to life coaches to find out how.

So was it losing weight, giving up the fags or getting fit? Whatever your new year's resolution - how is it going, four days on? Making life-changing decisions at the start of a year is a good thing to do, according to life coaches. The trick is in making the right resolutions and making them in the right way - so we have taken some expert advice from Nik and Eva Speakman and Claire Bradford, who are all life coaches.

Nik and Eva have brought their sometimes surprising techniques to a huge audience through their book and TV show on UK Living. Through taking their own advice, they now live in the home of their dreams (a castle), have a DeLorean car parked in the grounds and the happy family life they yearned for. Claire made the move from teaching English to secondary pupils to become a life coach.

We've all made resolutions in January and, for the first week, have every intention of keeping them, but are they useful? The life coaches think so: "One thing I think is great about the new year is that we really start reflecting on our lives. It's a good chance to think what you want out of life," Eva says.

January 1 is not the be all and end all. Claire points out that for teachers, September could be better, while Nik says: "If Eva and I decide to do something we do it now, we don't wait for the new year." It's not enough to make a quick mental list on December 31, writing your intentions is better.

Eva explains: "The first thing is to be honest with yourself. The second is you don't have to get it right, you just have to get it going. Write it down so you are accountable. Tell people what you are going to be doing."

Claire agrees, advising you should write your resolutions in a diary and refer back to them frequently. The Speakmans believe in larger, longer-term plans too. They will often formulate plans with clients that can go 25 years ahead, with three immediate priorities and others to be achieved in two, three, five, 10, 15 or 20 years.

"If you know what you want, things happen like magic and you get things in the weirdest ways," Nik says. "In our brains, we have got a brain reticular activating system. It blocks out 95 per cent of what's going on around you and pays attention to things that are important. If you want a particular sort of new car you'll suddenly see loads on the road. They've always been there but your brain never thought it was important.

"We sat down 10 years ago. We knew we were having a fantastic life but thought, 'let's sit down and design the life we want' and 95 per cent of what we wrote down then we have achieved. Some of those things we thought: 'we have no idea how we are going to get that'."

Claire encourages her clients to complete a wheel of life to get what they want. This is a circle divided into eight segments, each of which represents money, friends, family, career and so on. Or, if you want to look at a specific area of your life, such as your job, you can divide it into sections such as teaching, relationships with teachers, relationships with pupils and so on.

"The centre of the wheel is zero and the outside is 10. Give each area a score between those two points. Then, it is easy to see if things are balanced or out of kilter.

"Doing this periodically is a good exercise. It's easy to see which areas are doing well or badly. Sometimes people will have tons of things that need to be changed, in which case it's good to choose two or three areas," she says. Interestingly, it can also reveal early warning of potential problems.

Nik and Eva get clients to complete a large list of things they would like to achieve and have an inventive approach to making sure nothing is missed. "Imagine you're in your 90s, looking back. What would I regret not doing? What would I like to have done? What would I have changed about myself? What would I prefer to enhance about myself? What contribution would I have liked to have made to the world? It could be something as simple as recycling," says Eva. This approach led Nik to discover a previously unknown ambition to swim with dolphins.

Ambition isn't enough. "People say they want to be millionaires because it sounds fun. But that's not enough. You need a good reason for it to work such as: 'then I can buy a house next to a good school'," say the Speakmans.

Claire thinks good resolutions also need to be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound. "Let's say you wanted to make a boundary between school and home life. It is not enough to decide you want to spend less time at work - you need to be much more specific. You might decide to spend a definite 90 minutes working after school every night and also a defined amount of time at the weekend, and that this must happen by half-term," says Claire.

"Another example - people will say I want a new job, but won't do anything about it. They are saying they hope it will come to them. Be more specific, say that you will start looking through the jobs section in The TES every week and that you will have applied for two by half-term."

And be positive. Both Claire and Eva stress the importance of using a positive vocabulary - your unconscious responds far better. "Don't say you're losing weight - say you're gaining health," says Claire. "Or don't say 'I will do less work at home,' say 'I will spend more time with my family'."

You've got the resolutions sorted, what next? "You have to imagine yourself having achieved that," says Eva. "Imagine the reaction you get. And you need lots of targets - for instance, when you lose your first 5lb reward yourself. Keep motivated, keep excited."

Get started, adds Nik. "If it's a training course, look on the internet, look in the phone book, find out information, ring up, do something about it." Suppose you want a new job, or promotion. What next? Claire recommends mind-mapping your ideal job, down to the tiniest detail. She also recommends regularly using the wheel of life technique to get a clear view of your strengths and weaknesses.

Using these things should give you a clear view of the job to go for - and it might be the one you're in, with some minor tweaks - and a useful tool for writing application letters and being interviewed. It can bolster confidence to be aware of things you've tackled well.

The experts say it's important to keep reviewing goals. "You have to decide whether you run your life or your life runs you," says Eva.

The sky's the limit, say the Speakmans. "We had one client who said we would think he was mad, because he wanted to go into space. We said, have it as a 25-year goal. Now you can put your name down for that sort of thing."

Eva adds: "We believe everybody deserves a perfectly happy life. If something makes you miserable - change it."

Your Life Can Be Fantastic Too by Nik and Eva Speakman costs pound;14.99 from Goldwing Publishing. www.thespeakmans.co.uk.

For more information about Clare Bradford see www.straightforwardcoaching.com

Want a bit more help building your future?

One lucky reader can win a FREE session with Nik and Eva Speakman, spending half a day at the couple's home in Rochdale, Manchester, where they will receive the full Speakman treatment. The Speakmans are booked up 15 months in advance at present, but our lucky winner will enjoy a life-changing session during the first six months of 2008.

To win, send a postcard to Treats, The TES Magazine, 4th Floor, 26 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4HQ, marking your entry "Speakmans" or email treats@tes.co.uk. The first entry picked will win.

By sending us your name and address, you agree to The TES sending you this prize. The TES will not use your personal details for any other future communications. The closing date for entries is Friday, January 18.

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