Goal Setting: The Art of Dreaming Big, But Starting Small

The hectic holidays are behind us and, like many of you, I turn my thoughts to my goals and aspirations for the new year.

I admit it. I love to set goals, strategize, and organize. (That’s why I’m so good at my job!) But I know not everyone loves this process as much as I do. It can easily turn into negative self-talk time —  feelings of being overwhelmed  (“C’mon, I’ll never really find the time to get that done”) or self-doubt (“Yeah, that’s been on my goals list for three years, why do I think I can do it this year?).

Don’t let goal setting make you feel that way! I have some suggestions for how to make the time well spent AND exciting, empowering, and rejuvenating!

The key for me has been to learn not to set too many goals, or ones that aren’t really attainable. Goals should make you stretch yourself personally, professionally, and spiritually but not be so pie-in-the-sky that you can’t attain them.

Here’s how I go about setting goals and applying them to my real life. I’ve used these basic steps for over a decade and know that they work for me. Give these suggestions a try, but don’t be afraid to modify them to meet your own personality.

I used to do this on a pink legal pad, but these days I do it online. Though I must admit, sometimes the physical act of writing and just seeing the words on paper in your own handwriting provide inspiration of their own. Do whichever feels more comfortable for you.

  1. Be quiet.  Find time to pray, meditate, or simply breathe deeply and consciously as you begin this project. Go someplace where you won’t be interrupted and set a timer — even 5 minutes can be enough! Ask yourself “what are my intentions for this year?” Then be quiet and …. listen. Your brain (and heart) will fill the space with what is important. When the time is up, jot down in any order the words or images that kept bubbling up.
  2. Segment. Write headings titled with the various areas of focus in your life. Keep them fairly broad — something like: “professional”, “personal”, “spiritual”, “parenting”, “health”, etc.
  3. Write your goals.  Categorize the notes from your quiet time, and anything else that comes to mind, under these headings. Don’t limit yourself at this point. I always ask myself what my goals would be if money, time, and circumstances were perfectly aligned. Write it all down.
  4. Visualize.  After you’ve done this for each section, reread what you’ve written. Visualize yourself reaching all of these goals.  Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed — just go to your happy place and imagine life a year from now with these goals complete.
  5. Create a plan. Now you need to apply some brain power. I suggest beginning with the end in mind. What does that mean? Start with the vision you have of your goal completed. Then ask yourself what you did to reach that goal by working backwards from the point in your story where the goal is complete. For example, you want to be working for yourself? The step immediately before being your own boss is probably not, “quit current job”. It may be something like “have sufficient client base to support me on my own” or “get certified in this field so I can promote my services”. Prior to THAT, it may be “talk to other people in this profession about how they went out on their own” or “research the legal process of setting up my own business.” Etc, etc.
  6. Evaluate the plan. Now that you’ve created a plan, evaluate it and ask yourself if it can realistically be done. If the plan requires hard work and effort on your part, GREAT!  If it requires others to move mountains for you —  and you don’t think they are as committed to the idea as you are — you may need to reconsider that goal. For example, you striking out on your own may impact your family’s financial situation. Perhaps the first step it to speak to your partner about your desire to do this and brainstorm way to explore it before taking unnecessary financial risks.
  7. Push yourself. That said, there’s a big difference between being realistic with your goals and letting yourself off easy. If the goal is really important to you, don’t just say “we can’t afford to do this”. Take a look at why not. Are there sacrifices you are willing to make? Are there things you can learn that may make the process more appealing or financially viable.
  8. Share your goals. It can be scary to share your dreams. But it’s important to find a cheerleader — and someone who will hold you accountable. It’s easy to get distracted from your plans by the hectic realities of daily life. Share your goals with someone who will help you remember the commitments you made to yourself.
  9. Keep your goals where you can see them. If you didn’t write them out, print them now. They are easy to forget if hidden away. Some people keep theirs on the bathroom mirror or the refrigerator door. I like to put mine in a frame and keep them on my desk. Seeing them every day is a gentle prod to “keep your eye on the prize”.
  10. Revisit your goals. The plan you devised early on in the process, is a set of mini-goals to help you stay on track. Revisit your progress frequently and tweak your plan if necessary. The more you revisit your goals the more likely you’ll achieve them.
  11. Get out the red sharpie. OK, maybe this is just me, but there’s something so satisfying about drawing that thick red line through a completed task! Of course, you can use whatever type and color of writing utensil you like! Just know that the more tasks you complete the better you’ll feel. All those crossed off items are a great way to share your success with those holding you accountable, too.
  12. Reward yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. But all too often we forget to pat ourselves on the back. Treat yourself as you cross items off your plan. Even if it’s just little rewards like a hot bath, an afternoon off to see a movie, or drinks out with friends. You deserve it!

Dream big! I wish you the best and brightest year yet!

Michelle

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