Now, every coach/manager/person-who-has-achieved-something can tell you how to set goals. You also might be familiar with some or all of these goal setting techniques:
setting SMART goals,
working backwards/reverse engineering the outcomes you want,
choosing a goal to achieve and doing it through sheer grit and force of will,
using apps like these to help you achieve goals,
and so on.
There is no shortage of resources to help you learn the art + practice of goal setting, just Google it (or better yet, Ecosia it):
BUT, chances are, if you started reading, none of the approaches you've become familiar with so far are approaches you want to reach for this time. Not to say these don't work, they all do in different ways to different extents.
But goal setting and goal getting is a very personal experience, so to set yourself up for a December 31, 2022 where you have achieved the things you want to achieve the way you want to achieve them, instead of rolling them into 2023 or achieving them by the skin of your teeth, gasping for relief and thanking god that's over, let's look at goal setting and goal getting differently this time.
I've been setting and getting goals for almost 39 years. You've been setting and getting goals for however many years you've been alive, too. Our earliest goals started along the lines of learning how to eat, how to crawl, how to get the people around us to do things we want them to do like play with us or comfort us, and over the years they became more structured, like memorizing multiplication tables, and submitting an application to a particular college admissions office by a particular date. For these kinds of goals, we weren't necessarily using or needing specific techniques like SMART goal setting, we had a certain set of results we wanted, and then we just did what needed to be done for those results to happen.
Nowadays, that approach is fine for some things in life, like restocking the refrigerator or arranging a birthday party or finalizing a slide deck and presenting it at a meeting, but it's not quite sufficient for creating long-term, intentional changes in your life.
Here's where I offer you six steps to consciously set and get goals that matter to you and that create a comprehensive life that you are happy, fulfilled, and excited to be living. This approach is the latest and greatest culmination of my personal and professional evolution, and I hope it provides insight and value to you this year:
STEP 1: ASSESS + REFLECT
Take a look around at your current life. Sometimes we're so eager to rush into the next chapter we haven't honored the current one in all its glory. Look at where you are, the parts you like, the parts you're ready to release + replace. Take inventory and give it one last good look.
STEP 2: PLAY
This step can be challenging, because we're quite conditioned to live by rules + expectations + norms, rather than whatever pops into our imaginations. In fact, we're often chastised or judged for living creatively and by inspired compulsion. Step 2 is about releasing this conditioning, just for a few moments, so you can honestly complete this sentence: "If I could live ANY kind of life ANY kind of way, this is the kind of life I'd love to live and how I would live it..."
Play a touch further by pretending that whatever you answered is happening in 3 years.
STEP 3: IF THIS, THEN THAT
Follow the thread and continue playing along this line of thinking, and write out your thoughts around the following prompts:
IF the life you'd love to live is happening in 3 years, THEN what's happening in 2 years?
IF that 2-years life is happening, THEN what's happening 1 year from now?
IF that's life 1 year from now, THEN what's happening in 6 months?
We are creating an actual journey to what you'd love, anchoring it in a timeline. I encourage you to explore this exercise in the contexts of "If the life I'd love to be living is happening in 3 years, what does my life look like 2 years, 1 year, 6 months from now?" and "How am I living life? What am I like?"
STEP 4: STRATEGIZE
Using what life looks like 6 months from now as your reference, ask yourself "What are the basic changes that need to have happened in my life 3 months from now so I'm on my way to that 6-month life?" Notice that this is different than the previous "What is my life like?" This is calling out specific changes that will have taken place halfway to that 6-month life, this is a "Here's what's different:" list comparing and contrasting today's present-day life with life 3 months from now.
STEP 5: FILL THE TOOLBOX
Here we shift the imagination from a visioning exercise to a problem-solving one. Consider the 3-month changes you described in the last step. What are ALL the action that YOU can personally take to maximize the probability of those 3-month changes happening? This is a "let it all flow" activity, just let the question roll around in your imagination, and write down everything that pops in, no matter how strange or difficult or cringey they may feel.
Then, after you have at least 20 actions (YES, 20!) written down, choose the top 3-5 that would make the biggest impact and generate the greatest progress toward getting you to those 3-month changes.
STEP 6: OWN A DIFFERENT YOU
One of the most fundamental flaws in the most common goal setting techniques is that they focus entirely on taking action, on doing. You might be thinking "Uh, yeah, that's how things get done."
But the DOING is only going to happen 1) effectively and 2) at all IF we are identifying as a version of our selves who takes those actions, who does those things BEFORE we've achieved the goal. Essentially, you need to see yourself as the person who has achieved the goal before it's happened in present day reality.
Right now, you haven't yet achieved the goals you want to achieve, in the way you want to achieve them (that part is important) because you haven't done the things that need doing, in the way that they need to be done. This means you identify yourself to be a person who has not done those things. Because, well, you haven't.
At the time of this blog post, I haven't run a marathon, so I identify as someone who isn't a marathoner because I haven't run a marathon. Right? Okay. It might seem like I'm being circular, but stay with me on this.
The person who has achieved the things you want to achieve sees themselves differently than you currently see yourself. A person who identifies as a marathoner thinks not only of themselves differently, but what's normal and expected of them differently, too. While I do identify as a runner, what I see as a "long training run" would be a run of around 8 miles, whereas a marathoner would consider a "long training run" something closer to 15 or 16 miles.
We are both running, we are both including long runs in our training programs, but the actions we take and how we take them are ultimately different. Still with me? Good.
Now, it's not only what we've already done that allows us to shift our way of self-identifying. Up to now, it might seem as if you can only identify as the person who has achieved the things you've actually already achieved.
The key to better goal setting and goal getting is identifying as the version of you who has achieved the goals you want to achieve, BEFORE you have achieved them.
If I'm a runner who has a goal of running my first marathon, my chances of succeeding in the way I want to succeed (defined not just as making it across the finish line, but making great progress in my athletic abilities and technique, and completing the race in a way that I'm happy, present, and not gasping for life at the end,), are GREATLY increased if I see myself as a marathoner from the start, rather than "a runner who is trying to run a marathon."
"A runner who is trying" shows up for training hesitantly, expecting for training to be arduous, uncertain of whether she can or not. A runner who runs marathons shows up and embraces the training as what is simply part of the gig. This is a direct reflection of myself as I transitioned from identifying as a CrossFitter to a half-marathoner.
We are gifted with imagination, the ability to "see" and conjure thoughts and images and even emotional experiences of things that we have not experienced in our 3-dimensional reality.
This gift is what we can tap into to help us identify as the person we are aspiring to be: which is the person who has achieved the outcomes our present-day self desires to achieve, in the way we desire to achieve them.
This makes habit-forming and action-taking that much more likely to take root as we transition from Present-Day-Us to Smashed-the-Goals-Us. This makes the brain that much more amenable to doing the things we need to do in the way we need to do them, even if it feels unfamiliar.
To recap, here are the 6 steps that I myself take and am happy to share with you as we step into 2022's limitlessness together:
Assess + Reflect
If This, Then That
Fill the Toolbox
Own a Different You
I invite you to try this on for 3 months. See how 2022 moves for you! And if it doesn't work, hey, at least you have 4.1 billion other approaches to try!