As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, we not only pop the champagne to celebrate the close of one year, but also the excitement of beginning the next. From sentimental social media posts to being surrounded by close family and friends, the notion of starting fresh with a blank slate on the first day of the year is just one reason why over half of Americans set New Year’s resolutions and goals for the year ahead.
Similar to creating business goals and setting performance metrics in the workplace, personal goal setting is a powerful tool to create both a long-term vision, as well as short-term motivation. It creates focus and provides a personal lens to prioritize the changes you want to make in your life.
This exercise of personal goal setting follows a similar logic to that of going out for a hike or taking off on a road trip – you wouldn’t leave without a map or some idea of where you’re looking to go. The same is true in your own life, whether that means setting goals for professional development, hitting a specific GPA in school or simply setting goals around your daily living activities. In fact, some may argue personal goal setting is the most critical element to map out considering it is the foundation upon which the rest of your life is built.
So why don’t more people set personal goals? After all, research shows that setting goals is not only linked to success, but also shows a high correlation with self-confidence, motivation and autonomy.(1) Whether it be for fear paralysis to keep doing things as they’ve always been done, pure laziness or the desire for instant gratification instead of long-term planning, there are many theories on why people often skip this important exercise. But with all the distractions and competing priorities in the world today, personal goal setting can be the necessary step to keep on track and achieve your dreams – both now and in the future.
Just like there are different personality types, the things that make us all “tick” or motivate us can vary by person. Therefore, there is no one magic format or formula to goal setting. The key is to go through the exercise to figure out what works best for your life, your situation and your goals. It should allow you to evaluate and reflect, think and dream long-term and ultimately keep yourself accountable for your own life. It is often referred to as setting a life direction – figuring out what will create a fulfilling, happy and enjoyable life journey, the steps to make it happen and how to continue to progress toward that vision.
As a starting point, the following framework can get you started on the right track. From here, you may adapt, change and evolve your process to make it your own. After all, personal goal setting is for you, and only you. It is an exercise to support your life’s journey. Although there are many tools, articles and opinions out there on what works and what doesn’t, it should be used as a guide to point you in the right direction and support positive habits for your life’s vision (2).
So, let’s get started:
- Evaluate and Reflect: this is your current state. If you set goals last year, how did you do? Did you surpass any with ease? Or fall short? Why? Did any of your goals change throughout the year (which tends happens in more cases than not). If you didn’t set goals last year, think about what you accomplished and any differences you noticed in yourself since the beginning of that year.
- Think and Dream: before getting into the details of what you’re going to accomplish this coming year, think big. What is your life direction, and perhaps your 10-year, 5-year and 3-year goals? Where do you want to be? What would make you happy?
For guidance, theorists have claimed these 5 categories as the “ingredients of happiness.” In other words, these areas must be satisfied for most people to feel happy. When creating your vision and life journey, consider breaking it down into these five categories.
- Health and energy
- Relationships with family and others
- Meaningful work
- Financial freedom
- Inner peace and spiritual understanding
- Set Goals: next, set your goals, which are essentially the tangible things you will accomplish this year to reach your dreams and stay on track in your life journey (what you laid out in #2). Goals can often be broken down into the following types of categories:
- Community Service
It’s this activity of breaking down your bigger dreams into smaller goals that keeps you focused and accountable in the short-term. But then comes the reality check – why do 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February? Or, why do some people fail to accomplish their personal goals? Here are 5 tried-and-true tips you can use to set meaningful and achievable goals (3):
- Write it down – have you heard about the Yale Study that showed that 3% of people with written goals achieved more than the other 97% who didn’t write down their goals? In addition to this powerful data point, it also helps you engrave into memory your goals to easily reference them in the future.
- Use the SMART framework – we’ve all heard it before, but there are some good criteria in this philosophy (reminder, it stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound).
- Schedule check-ins – depending on the nature of your goals, this could be monthly, quarterly or bi-annually. It likely goes back to your personality type. Do you write down goals and then forget about them the rest of the year? Then you may need to hold yourself more closely accountable and check in more frequently.
- Find an accountability partner – who isn’t trying to better themselves? Find a family member, friend or colleague to share your goals with and ask for an accountability partner. Whether it’s a simple text when reaching for that candy bar, or a call in 6 months to see how you’re progressing, the notion of having another layer of support can make all the difference between achieving your goals or not.
- Celebrate wins – discipline means hard work, and hard work deserves to be rewarded. From cheat days to an end-of-the-year celebration when you hit your goals – celebrating yourself helps reenergize and keeps you motivated for what’s ahead.
Everyone needs to start somewhere -- why not make 2019 the year to start personal goal setting? This will not only level-set your own expectations with yourself, but will also set you up on the right path forward to accomplishing your dreams – one year at a time. Instead of “New Year, New You”… it is more like “New Year, Always Improving You.”