Setting goals is something I love doing so much that it’s practically a hobby in itself for me. I love to teach students how to set goals in leadership class, and I get so excited when former students email me to let me know about the goals they’re working on today. Here are several steps to create, plan and take action on a goal that you won’t give up.
Step 1: Visualize Your Future
One way to figure out the path you’re meant to be on is through visualization. Close your eyes and think about how you picture your ideal self at some point in the future. It could be a year from now, ten years from now or at a life change like graduation or retirement. What has the future version of yourself done with her life during that time? Think about where she lives, what she looks like, her state of mind and how she spends her day. Allow your imagination to go into as much detail as possible and pay attention to anything that surprises you.
I still remember completing this exercise several years ago, in late fall. The picture I formed in my head created an entire life shift for me. As I paid attention to the details in my mind, I noticed that the future version of myself worked part time as an art teacher and spent the rest of her time in her personal art studio behind her farmhouse. She lived in the country with chickens running through the fields of her farm. Now this surprised me! I had never considered living anywhere other than in the city, and the idea of owning a farm or chickens had never crossed my mind.
Even so, the vision felt right, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Within a few months, I started taking more risks with my illustration business to increase profits, my house began to take on more of a farmhouse aesthetic and I’d read every book and blog about raising chickens that I could find. That summer, I built a chicken coop in my backyard, adopted two baby chicks and started my Yardia Farm dream right on my little property in Seattle.
Allowing yourself the vulnerability to imagine your ideal future without holding back on what you think it should be can get to the root of what you truly hope for, and help you to determine which goals will get you onto the right path.
Step 2: Determine Your Values
With the vision of your future in your mind, reflect on your life as it is right now. Consider major areas like family, friends, relationships, work or school, health and personal interests. What areas can be worked on more? Where can you put your focus to help you reach your vision for your future?
Try to get at the deeper meanings behind your values. For example, if you start with the area of health and decide you want to eat healthier and exercise more, consider the feelings surrounding why you want to do these things. Perhaps you want to feel stronger, have more energy, or not feel held back to play outside more often. Maybe you want to live more sustainably or have a better understanding of where your food comes from.
These reflections can get you to your true values and help you to make the right choices for how you’ll proceed with your goals. Instead of resolving to generally eat healthier, if your true value is one of sustainability, growing a vegetable garden or buying more produce at the farmer’s market might be a goal that could fit your value more and be more likely to stick than if you simply started buying diet food at the grocery store in an effort to eat healthier.
Step 3: Make a Plan
Choose one area of your life to focus on and try to think of one thing you can do every day to live this value more authentically. Try to make it something that could develop into a positive habit. Start easy, and make your goal or habit something that would be difficult for you to fail at. One of the biggest mistakes I see others make with their goals is that they don’t get specific enough with what they actually want to do. They forget that reaching a goal takes sustained action and work. A hope or dream isn’t going to become reality without some effort.
Consider the specific actions that you’ll need to reach your goal and whether these action steps are realistic for your schedule. When will you practice these actions and for how long? Is this amount of time realistic for a daily practice or should you cut down the time to something more manageable? Set an end date to your goal. I like to start out with a month, and if by the end of the month the habit I’ve developed feels right, I expand it to a year.
Two other things to consider in your plan are what strategies you’ll use to motivate yourself when you want to give up on your goal, and how you’ll reward yourself when you’ve reached success. You might be excited about starting the goal now, but when the monotony of the hard work is no longer novel, you’ll need to know the things that will help you to keep going.
At the beginning of the year when I set the goal of a meditation practice for myself, I intentionally planned it out to be so doable that I wouldn’t have any excuses to fail. I found an app with a variety of guided meditations within a 5-10 minute range. I planned to meditate every morning after my current daily habit of exercising. I set out a cushion next to my yoga mat and put my headphones for listening to the guided meditation in a little bowl on a table next to my free weights. Each morning, I had no choice but to do what I’d said I’d do because I set myself up for success. It didn’t take long for it to become a habit. Now, when I finish exercising, my natural inclination is to cool down through meditation because I’ve made it so easy for me to do.
Step 5: Commit to your Goal
Once you’ve come to a final decision on your values, goal and action steps, write it down. Make it official by writing it on a fancy piece of stationery that you can post somewhere you’ll see it every day. Consider using my illustrated Goal Setting Worksheet to commit to your goal.
Post your goal in your home or office, where you’ll see it on a regular basis around the time that you’ve scheduled to practice the action steps. I have my exercise and meditation goals posted next to my yoga mat, and I have my business goals posted in my studio. I’m in these rooms of my house every day, so the written goals serve as a good reminder to get to work.
I also recommend writing your goal in your calendar or on your phone. I have a page in the basic iPhone Notes app where I list out all my goals for the year. I refer to it regularly to check in with my progress and update it when I’ve reached a goal.
Step 6: Make your goal public
It’s a good idea to make yourself accountable in your goal to other people. Ask a friend who is also working on goals to be an accountability partner. The two of you can check in with each other over the course of the month or year to see how you’re progressing and ask each other for advice when needed. Try to schedule out regular times when you’ll check in: weekly if your goal will last a month, or monthly if it is a yearlong goal.
Announce your goal to anyone else that you can. Tell your friends and family, make it public on social media and talk about it with your coworkers. I even tell my students about the classroom and teaching goals I create at the beginning of each school year so that they can hold me accountable. They love to point out when I’m not working on my goals and I love them for keeping me on my toes.
Setting and working on goals is one of my favorite things to do and I hope that it can become the same for you. Let me know what goals you’re working on and how they’ll help you to live out your values more intentionally.