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One of the best ways to remind yourself of your goals is to make a vision board, a collage of photos representing your personal and career aspirations. Valorie Burton created one several years back—when she was hoping for a family and growing her career. She cut out photos of a beach vacation, a couple on their wedding day, a gaggle of kids, an NBC logo. She kept it in her closet so she’d see it every day. A year later she had vacationed on the beach, met her husband and his two girls (her “bonus daughters”), and made the first of many appearances on the Today show. She and her husband also expanded their family with a son, now 3 years old.

As a life coach, Burton teaches topics like resilience and daily goal-setting. She’s also the author of eleven books and the founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute, a program for training other life coaches. Having a clear vision for what she wanted her life to be kept her resilient despite setbacks, she says. That doesn’t mean everything has fallen into place, but she’s achieved her biggest goals by following the advice she teaches others. Burton offered to share her tips for women balancing career and personal goals, creating a vision for their lives, and hoping to make a habit of gratitude.

Madeline Fry: You run your own business, raise three children, and write books. What have you learned about work-life balance?

Valorie Burton: It’s important to have the set amount of rest and breaks, and if you can’t fit that in, there are things you have to remove. There is also a season of life where personal obligations are more important than what’s going on at work. That’s when you say, “I’m going to do a good job, but I need to put extra effort into family or a personal project.”

I know the work I do is a calling. We can have more than one calling. I feel called to be a wife. I feel called to be a mom. I also feel called to inspire and write and speak. You can’t go full speed at everything, and I think there has to be a work-life flow. Sometimes it flows more toward professional and sometimes more toward personal. Be aware of what’s needed at any given time. Where does your energy need to be focused to live the life you want to live in they way you most want to live it?

MF: What's the No. 1 thing that keeps women from achieving our goals?

VB: First, many people don’t have any meaningful goals. I think that a lot of people simply do what is expected of them and oftentimes don’t get in touch with what they really want. If you don’t know, it’s easier sometimes to do what others say you should do than to press in and make goals specifically for you. There’s a fear that comes when you want something because you may not know how to get it. Many of us are stuck because we don’t know where we’re going. You have to have a sense of direction—otherwise you’re literally spinning in circles.

MF: For those of us who are new to goal-setting, how can we start small?

VB: You start with where you are right now. Ask: “What is something that would stretch me out of my comfort zone today, or this week?” That’s how you build momentum. Maybe you want to lose weight, and it feels overwhelming so you think you have to work out for an hour a day and not eat anymore. That’s wrong. You might start with something as simple as a ten-minute jog or a brisk walk each day. Or instead of drinking all caffeinated beverages, have at least one glass of water. Once you see you can do the small things, you build what’s called “self-efficacy,” which is the sense that you can do what you set out to do. Small goals are important.

MF: What’s a good goal for women who feel they’re in a rut but aren’t sure how to get through it?

VB: It’s important to coach yourself. It’s all about asking yourself powerful questions. In my book Brave Enough to Succeed, I talk about how important it is to find the message in your difficulty. What opportunities does this problem present? Whether it’s a habit or a relationship that’s creating issues, there’s always an opportunity in it. It’s an opportunity to reset. A good goal is to find the message and run with it. Allow it to grow you and give you hope that things can be better.

MF: What if burnout is keeping us from achieving our goals?

VB: It’s important to recognize what burnout stems from. One of the problems I think is really prevalent now is we don’t take breaks between activities. We move from problems to wins without celebrating. Have non-negotiable breaks and routines to celebrate little victories. You can take a vacation without spending money. It’s called a staycation! Explore your own area or just stay in bed.

We have a certain amount of energy for whatever goals are in front of us, and we deplete that as we pursue those goals. If you reach for the next goal without reenergizing, the energy gets lower and lower until there’s nothing left. And that’s where you end up having no energy for what you used to be passionate about.

Celebrate even the end of the week. What was the best part? What did you learn? What are you proud of? Those questions fill your energy tank up. 

MF: What's one thing we can all do, right now, to change our lives for the better?

VB: The best thing you can do is to begin a gratitude practice. Literally every single night and morning, ask yourself: “What am I most grateful for? What was my best moment of the day?” There are many different ways to ask that question. Write down at least three things and why you’re grateful for them. 

Looking into a new day, ask, “What am I looking forward to today?” If nothing else, anticipate the opportunity to learn something new, to be stretched and to grow. Gratitude builds positive emotion, and it’s not just correlated with success—it actually creates it. Gratitude is a happiness trigger, and the chemicals it produces make us happier so we can set better goals. Gratitude has a lot of benefits that we might not always see. 

The other thing is to intentionally connect with positive people. Happiness is contagious, but so is negativity. Be intentional about connecting and reaching out to people who matter to you. You can’t be happy in a vacuum all by yourself. We were built for connection.