How having BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) helps post-divorce

I must admit I had never heard the term BHAG until one of my clients used it last summer, and I looked at him blankly, feeling confused.  He was a business man, used to setting inspiring goals in his business life, and at the time we were working out what goals he wanted to work towards, to help him to create a new life after his separation. He explained that BHAG simply means a “big hairy audacious goal”.  As I love helping people work out what they value and want to create their life around, you can imagine how this appealed to me.

The concept of a BHAG was first described in a book by James Collins and Jerry Porras, “Built to Last: successful habits of visionary companies”.  A BHAG is a goal that changes the very nature of a business’ existence.  There are big parallels here for me with divorce.  When you start to imagine, visualise, think about and take steps towards goals that motivate, excite and inspire you, you can change the very nature of your existence.  You can create a new and vibrant life.

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I remember the day in June 2009 that my divorce came through, and the decree absolute fell on the door mat.  The day it became real, and I was officially and legally “single” again.  For many of my clients, that day can be one of very mixed emotions.

There might be relief that the legal process has come to an end. There might be sadness that the marriage really is now finished and over. There might be regret about how things have panned out. There might be anger or bitterness.  Whatever you feel, it’s likely that there will be a mix of emotions.

I remember thinking “who is this new single person?”. I wasn’t quite sure who I was any more, or what I wanted the future to look like. For many people this can be daunting.

One of my clients recently summed it up, saying that it felt as though she’d spent the last couple of years “doing”, preparing paperwork, providing documents, filling in forms, answering queries, consulting lawyers and financial advisers.  She had lived and dreamed her divorce process, and it had dominated her thoughts and actions.  Now it is over, there is a gap, and she knows she wants to have a period of reflection, to take stock and to work out what she wants the future to look like.

And this is where BHAGs can really make a difference.  Having goals gives purpose and meaning, and can propel you forward.  Thinking and dreaming of your big hairy audacious goals can bring to light dreams that you may have kept stuffed down for years, and never really believed were possible. This is your chance to dream big and crazy.

This is the exercise I often run through with clients, to help them identify their BHAGs, and start to take steps towards them.

Step 1:

Brainstorm all your ideas.

Some questions to help you:

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  • What would you like to BE or DO in your future?

  • What have you always wanted to do but couldn’t before?

  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

  • What did your 20-year-old self dream of being and doing?

  • What will your 70/80 year old self regret not doing?

  • What did you always want to do but your ex didn’t?

  • If you could wave a magic wand and wake up tomorrow in your ideal world, what would it look like? Who would you be?

  • If you found a genie in a bottle, what 3 things would you wish to be, do or have?

These questions are designed to help you really fire up your imagination.  Recently a client and I were doing this exercise, and she started off by saying she might decorate her bedroom. Ten minutes later, she had moved onto learning Mandarin, climbing Kilimanjaro, and learning to sail a yacht.  It doesn’t matter if the goals seem silly or crazy – remember they are Big, Hairy and Audacious Goals. They are meant to make you smile and dream.

Step 2:

Once you have brainstormed all your ideas, choose a couple of them to look at more closely.  For each of these, ask yourself these two questions - which I was introduced to by on my NLP training course with Neil Almond of 91 Untold, and which open up all kinds of possibilities:

  • What will that give me or allow me to be?

  • What will that give me or allow me to be, that’s even better?

Keep asking the second question again and again, until you can’t think of anything better. For example, learning to sail a yacht will give you a feeling of the wind in your hair, and that feeling will allow you to feel joy. Feeling joy will give you satisfaction, which will allow you to have freedom and peace. 

Notice I say “will”, not “might” or “would” - because I want you to really associate into what those goals will give you or allow you to be.

The answers will give you clues as to what is really important to you deep down. When you know why something is important to you, it helps keep you motivated.

You may find that your answers keep ending up in the same place or with similar words – and that’s ok.  When I do this exercise for myself, which I do from time to time, I always come back to freedom and exploration – which may explain why so many of my dreams involve travel and trying new experiences!

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Step 3:

Decide on 3 small actions that will take you closer to each of the goals you’ve chosen.  

My Kilimanjaro client decided that she would a) start researching companies who organised trips to Kilimanjaro, b) search for blogs written by other people who had climbed Kilimanjaro, and c) arrange a trip to Wales to climb Snowden to see if she really did enjoy climbing mountains. 

Once you have decided on your steps, write them down and commit to a time by which you will do them.

I have done and achieved so many things since my divorce – I can dance modern jive, I have ridden my road bike for 87 miles through the Welsh mountains in under 7 hours, I have taken my children on holiday by myself, I have sailed on a catamaran around the Whitsundays in Australia, and I have nurtured and grown a business that was born out of my desire to help others recover from and create new lives after divorce.

I am just an ordinary person, with an ordinary life. 

If I can realise my BHAGs and dreams, you can too!

Your life is yours to create now.  You are who you choose to become (Karl Jung).



Claire Black