What are your goals for 2014? What do you want to accomplish with your business, your creativity, your family, your health?
A lot of folks wait until New Year’s Eve to determine their goals for the following year. We all have a sense for how effective that is, don’t we? We all know that most New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten within the first 90 days of the year.
If we want our goals to become reality, we’re going to need to step up our game. If we want to reach our goals in 2014, we’re going to need to start planning. Now.
What do we need to have truly effective goals?
First of all, goals share certain qualities that differentiate them from dreams, hopes and visions. Goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Sensitive. Saying, “I want to make more money in 2014,” is not specific or measurable. Saying, “I want to make $100,000 in 2014 via my freelance writing work with a particular type of writing client (you name it) working 20 billable hours per week,” is specific and measurable. Why do goals need to be SMART? If they don’t have these qualities, there is no way to assess whether we’ve reached them! They remain vague, and we can wiggle out of accountability about our goals: if we aren’t too specific about the goals, we don’t have to be specific about our successes or our failures.
The “attainable” portion of SMART is about knowing ourselves. Are you able to work the hours you need to work to meet your financial goals if you are also a single parent with health problems? You may need to prioritize which goals come first and whether they happen this year or next or the year after that. You’re the CEO of your own life: you have the power, and you also have the responsibility that goes with it.
“Relevance” is an interesting one, too. This is where your goals intersect with the reality you live in. Is it your goal to go on a family vacation to Disney – with your high school children? Is that goal relevant at this point? Is your passion for cassette tape technology relevant to your technical writing goals? Are your goals directly linked to your passions and values, or are they simply co-opted from your parents or teachers?
A goal also needs to be time-sensitive. When will you earn that $100K? When will you reassess your progress (weekly? monthly? quarterly?).
Next, goals can be broken down into tasks that go into our calendars. They are translated from ideas into the actions we take in time and space. Our task list for the day should be directly linked to the goals of the week, month, quarter and year. If they aren’t, we have to ask ourselves why those things are in our calendars. Life is short, and the things we choose to do for work, for play, for connection and for growth should be in alignment with our ultimate goals and callings. If they aren’t in alignment, then we live a reactive life: we follow the agendas others set for us and the next shiny object to cross our paths, rather than the agendas we set for ourselves. Some people are very happy to do this, and it’s entirely up to them. However, if you don’t want to be that person, then it’s time to work on those goals and their subsequent tasks.
What happens when you hit resistance – either from within or in your surroundings? What happens when you set goals, you break them down into tasks, and you find yourself procrastinating, feeling anxious or overwhelmed, or you’re failing at reaching your goals? Or what if you’re the kind of person who is paralyzed at the goal-setting level: there are so many options, how do you choose?
First of all, welcome to the human race! If you haven’t already read my blog posts on procrastination, fear, overwhelm and perfectionism, now would be a good time. The question isn’t about whether you will experience a breakdown but rather when. And it’s okay. Take a deep breath and allow yourself a big dose of compassion.
Next, identify where the breakdown occurs for you, and begin to work with it with curiosity and compassion. We often can’t solve our problems because we’re too busy berating ourselves, hiding the struggles and feeling bad about them. If we can stop that reaction, we can begin to look at the nature of the problem and to look for solutions.
Lastly, curiosity and compassion will take you worlds beyond the possibilities that exist in shame and hiding, but they will only take you as far as your own perspective will allow. The next important ingredient is to open up your situation to others who can provide new perspective. Go to your wise friends, advisers, therapist, coach, social networks, and start opening up your problem to others. Get feedback. Get outside your own head and see your problem from a new angle. From there, you will discover opportunity open to you and your future that you never imagined possible.
Your goals and the tasks associated with them will bring up every fear you ever had; every type of resistance you’ve ever encountered; every fault you’ve ever hidden. The difference between the successful person and the unsuccessful one isn’t that they don’t have faults: it’s that they were courageous to try something new, despite their flaws. They gave themselves permission to pursue something worthy of pursuit without waiting for someone else to give them permission.
And if you’re waiting for permission, allow me to help: go for it! It’s time to set those goals for your next year.