We all know that January is the traditional time to set goals. We call them New Year resolutions. After all of the indulgence of the festive season it’s no surprise that this is the time of year when the gym memberships soar. We make all sorts of fitness plans, saving plans and general life improvement plans at this time.
I don’t think that January is the best time to begin thinking about our goals. We actually need to begin earlier when we can devote some time to the process. If we want to put our best foot forward at the beginning of the year then we need to set aside a small amount of time at the end of the year before to think about exactly what it is we want. However, whatever the time of year, the process remains the same.
The best way to guarantee that any new goals will succeed is to begin with an audit of our current situation. Have a look back at the year just gone and consider a couple of questions. What did I want to achieve this year? Was I successful in achieving it? Do my previous goals still seem important? Do I even know what this year’s goals were? Is it time to consider some completely different goals for my life?
Perhaps you set goals and wrote them down but then put them away and did not look at them again. Perhaps you began with a bang but then life got in the way and things petered out as the year went on. Now is the time to review those previous plans and consider what went wrong and what went right. Were the goals too broad? Did you fail to break them down into achievable steps? Did you review them regularly? If you can’t find your goals or you did not write any, don’t despair, we will fix that now.
If you did set some goals and then abandoned them as the year went on, that’s not necessarily such a bad thing either. Something to keep in mind is that it is completely acceptable to alter a goal as you go along. There is no point in continuing to persue a goal that is taking you in the wrong direction. Perhaps it was the right one for you when you set it but now your life is going another way. It is completely fine to abandon that goal. Simply let it go because it will not add value to your life as it is at the moment. This is different to giving up on a goal because it became difficult or you couldn’t be bothered working towards it anymore.
So the most important part about goal setting is to stop and reflect. Consider what is important to you in all of the areas of your life. Think about health, family, work, finances and any other key aspects of your life you wish to develop.
Remember that if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. It is important therefore to only choose one or two key goals in each area. These will be the focus and will have actionable steps in order for us to achieve them.
It can help to take a piece of paper, divide it up into four quadrants and use each one to brainstorm your desires and goals for the year. Use a different quandrant for each area of life, one for health, family, money, work. Feel free to alter these so they best fit your needs. It’s perfectly acceptable to go nuts here. Put down everything that is important to you in each quadrant, be creative and have fun with it. Make the time to do that now before you move on.
Now we will walk through a process to set our goals and create actionable steps to help us achieve them.
What do I want?
Firstly we need to identify what it is we want. This is a broad statement of a desire to have something different in our lives. Have a look at the first quadrant you wrote in earlier. Now I want you to take a highlighter and identify the top three goals or statements in that section. Do they relate to each other? Can they be collected and written as one overarching desire?
For example, I might have : lose weight, get fit, fit into my old jeans, be healthy, hike the Inca track, have more energy, etc. All of these goals can fall under the umbrella of health and fitness. I can lump them all together and then break them apart again as I consider the next step of the process which is an action plan for making them a reality.
Why do I want it?
Now we need to have a good hard think about why we want to achieve the thing we have identified. This is probably the most important step in the process. We need to identify our ‘why’ because this is what will help to keep track of the goal. It will give you the motivation to continue working on it even when you don’t really feel in the mood. It is your purpose for setting this goal in the first place. If you cannot identify your why for this goal then you need to seriously consider changing your goal. If you don’t know why you want to do it, you will not be able to rustle up the motivation to work towards it no matter how much you claim you desire the outcome.
My why for setting a health and fitness goal might be because the family plan to travel to Peru and hike the Inca track together and I know that if I don’t get fit, I will not be able to do it. This would make me sad because I would not be able to experience this adventure with my family and I would regret the missed opportunity.
What exactly will I achieve?
Next we need to identify exactly what it is we want to achieve and put a date on it. For example, by January 2019 I will have the physical stamina to hike 43 kilometres over three days in altitude on the Inca Track.
How will I know I am on track?
Next we need to develop a way to monitor our progress towards this goal. It’s no good checking in for the first time at the end of next year and wondering why we didn’t achieve it. We need to consciously work towards it every day and every week. In this example I know that I will need to increase my ability to walk for an extended period of time. I might therefore decide that I will walk for 30 minutes five times per week, gradually increasing the amount of time and the difficulty of the walk as the year progresses. I will keep track of the times I do this and the distances I walk as a way to measure my progress.
What sacrifices will I make?
What am I willing to give up? We are either working towards something or we are moving away from it. What we want is to move towards our goal. In this example I would be willing to give up watching television after dinner on five nights in the week so I could go for my walk in the evening. I might also decide I want to give up eating snack food such as chocolates and chips so that I am working on creating a healthy body from the inside as well as the outside.
What steps will I need to take?
What will I need to do to achieve my goals? I will need to find an exercise buddy to keep me accountable for my exercise program. I will need to keep track of the walks I achieve. I might even want to track the distances I walk and use this as a motivation to keep going. For example, I can add up the distances each day and work out how far around the world I have gone by the end of the year. This might be a fun ways keep me motivated. I will also need to think about improving my nutrition by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables.
What action can I take today?
We need to gain momentum as quickly as possible to give ourselves the best chance of success. Determine what you will do straight away to achieve your goal. For example, I will go through my pantry and throw away all of the unhealthy junk food I see in there. I will buy myself a good pair of walking/hiking boots so I am excited about beginning my training. I will work out which nights of the week I will walk and enter them onto my calendar. I will contact my friend to see if she wants to walk with me on some of the evenings.
Without adding the time to break our general wish into actionable steps, we will not be any closer to achieving our desired outcome at the end of the year than we are today. Take some time now to work through the process and determine what action steps are required to make your goal a reality. Download the action step worksheet here to help you.
Remember that you can’t get upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.
It’s no good looking back on the year and lamenting the fact that you didn’t achieve your goals when you did not take any action steps towards them. It’s up to you to decide if your goals are worth investing your time to achieve. If they are, then set about creating the circumstances to be successful and create your best, most productive year ever.
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