In my attempts to navigate each new year in a fruitful and disciplined manner, and in my subsequent failures, I have noticed that one particular approach seems to best promote my chances of success. That is setting goals.
At any level of existence, goals are essential for our success. Whether it be the desired turnover for a large company or the result a leaving cert student wants to achieve in their Irish aural exam, goals directly influence what direction we go in. When we don’t know where we are going, we are lost.
For anyone with the faintest interest in self-improvement, the concept of setting goals will not be a new one. Many leading personalities in the field explore the notion. Jordan Peterson, Russell Brand, and David Goggins, who have become international household names, are just a few.
If the only way we implemented this wisdom was by writing down a list of goals and sticking it on our wall, we could stand to benefit. This simple effort alone could potentially nudge us towards taking action. Plucking our intentions from our busy minds and placing them on paper suddenly makes them a physical reality, which, when put in the right place, can confront us with our shortcomings and entice us to act. This is, without doubt, better than doing nothing at all, but there are ways to build on this.
By organizing your goals.
A common hurdle encountered when attempting to make a list of goals is making a list of goals. You could be enthusiastically driven towards the process, only to find yourself lacking inspiration when the time comes. Like writer’s block. One way of combating this is to organize your goals. Consider various broad aspects of your life: health, money, work, home, or family, for example. Using these as a guide, give each a heading and list more specific endeavors below. It would be unusual to not have at least one thing you would like to accomplish concerning these things. If you find yourself without one, then make it.
By being concise.
Read more often. Be better at running. Get in better shape. Although admirable and, again, supremely better than doing nothing at all, setting goals like this is essentially useless. For a goal to be successfully attained, it requires a distinct finishing point. Without it, it is vague and relies on the complexity of how you feel at a given time, which is bound to be changeable. Instead, consider the thing you wish to achieve, establish exactly what you consider achieving this to mean, and assign some numerical value to it, which will signify its completion. In relation to reading, ask yourself how many books you would need to read at the end of a year to feel that you had ‘read more often’. Or how many many days a week you would need to have read and for how long. The goal might then become something like “read four books this year” or “read three days every week.” You will then know exactly where you stand in relation to your goals at all times. And just like how sticking your list where you can see it confronts you with your failures, you will be constantly aware of precisely how far away from achieving it you are. This may make for uncomfortable reading, but could be the required motivating factor in getting it done.
By being realistic, but not overly so.
I have placed a potentially daunting emphasis on the importance of facing our shortcomings. Not the easiest of exercises, but certainly an important tool. That being said, you want to cautiously avoid setting yourself up for recurring failure, and in turn, avoid being constantly confronted by a piece of paper on the wall that could potentially leave you feeling worse than the version of yourself that originally wanted to improve. This can be achieved by making the spine of your goals realistic. Realistic goals are achievable. They allow you to tick boxes on your list, an activity that will make you feel good like you have accomplished something and will encourage you to do it more often. Making your goals predominantly realistic leaves room for some that are blatantly harder to attain but are maybe oriented more towards what you might call your dreams or aspirations. The inclusion of pieces like this is important in that, as mentioned before, by simply putting them on paper, you could be unknowingly orienting yourself in their direction. The confidence of achieving the other goals makes not getting these easier to process.
By reinforcing the macro with the micro.
Setting goals for the year is a beneficial endeavor for anyone interested in self-improvement, that much is clear. But imagine if you were to take the psychology that makes it so and apply it to months and weeks also. If having goals for the year helps us navigate it positively, surely making a list of goals at the start of every month that is influenced by our annual goals would only serve to reinforce them. Going one step further, a weekly list of goals that aims towards our goals for the month will place you in an even stronger position. Think of your goals for the year as a target board, your goals for the month as a bow, and your goals for the week as your arrow.
These are some things I have learned from the trials and tribulations of my attempts to harness the passing of a year as a way of achieving my goals. I hope you find them useful in yours.