The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.
As the holiday season draws to a close, many of us find our thoughts turning to the new year and all it might bring.
Maybe your thoughts are there already.
For many of us (planners and non-planners alike), the idea of a new year filled with new unknowns (e.g., new opportunities, new relationships, new difficulties, and so on…) can feel daunting.
Add in the cultural pressure to establish an iron-clad set of new year’s resolutions by Jan 1st (and then actually keep them!), and you have a recipe for worry, guilt, even shame.
No one wants to invite those feelings in. Especially before the year’s even begun.
So, if resolutions aren’t your thing? Consider making a list of things to let go of instead.
But if you do want to make some changes in the new year? Real changes that actually matter to you?
Consider mindful goal-setting.
Think of mindful goal-setting as a gentler (yet more powerful) alternative to the traditional new year’s resolution:
- Whereas resolutions often stem from discontent and feelings of obligation (“I should…,” “I need to…”), mindfully-set goals stem from an intentional vision of what could be
- Whereas resolutions are often made in haste (e.g., by the arbitrary deadline of Jan 1st) and can be rigid, mindfully-set goals are created thoughtfully over time, and designed to evolve along with you
- Whereas resolutions often are shaped by comparison with others, or comparison to some societal ideal, mindfully-set goals are entirely unique to you. Dreamed up by you, and customized to your own unfolding story.
…and whereas new year’s resolutions often set the stage for worry and self-criticism, mindfully-set goals are created with your emotional wellness in mind!
So, how do you get started with mindful goal-setting?
It’s easier than you think.
First, give yourself some time and space to consider:
- What’s 1 thing you wish for yourself in the next year?
- What was challenging about this past year? What did you learn from these challenges?
- What was satisfying and/or joyful about this past year? Who (and what) was most helpful to you in cultivating that satisfaction and joy?
Once you’ve reflected on these questions, goal ideas will begin to take shape.
You might want to jot down these ideas as they occur to you, but don’t rush this part of the process. You’ll most likely have new ideas each day for awhile.
Now that you’ve got some ideas in mind, it might be helpful to simplify a bit:
- Try listing them all out on a fresh piece of paper (or in a blank Word document)
- Cross out any that you don’t feel connected to
- Circle the ones that kick up emotion and excitement for you (even if they feel a little scary)
- Edit and adjust the list as needed until you have a few solid ideas to work with
Once this prep work is finished, the next step to mindful goal-setting is to actually create some goals for yourself!
For each goal you create, answer the following questions:
1. What is my specific goal?
For each goal you set, strive to make it as specific and measurable as you can. This will help you track (and celebrate!) your progress along the way.
2. Why is this goal meaningful to me? How is it connected to my values?
Part of the reason most new year’s resolutions are abandoned early in the year is that they were never linked to a strong “why” in the first place.
This step can take extra time and reflection on your part (this is mindful goal-setting, after all), but the payoff is truly worth the extra effort.
When you start to link your goals to what matters most to you, you may have difficulty pinning down your values in the first place. That is totally fine. If you get stuck, just back up a bit and think broadly about the people, things, and ideas you care most about. Identify the commonalities among them and they’ll point you right to your values.
3. How will working toward this goal influence my life?
Is there a picture in your mind of what’s waiting for you on the other side of this goal?
Write out what you picture. Be as descriptive as you can.
4. What will life feel like for me (and for those around me) as I make progress on this goal?
Again, be as detailed as you can in imagining the results of working toward this goal.
What will you feel like when you wake up in the morning?
What will your day be like?
How might your relationships with your partner, loved ones, and coworkers be influenced?
The more specific you can be, the more invested you’ll start feeling in this goal. And that makes all the difference in the long run.
5. What are some small steps I can take to get started on this goal?
As with anything worthwhile, starting often is the hardest part.
So, make it a bit easier on yourself:
Think of what it will take to get you going on each of your goals. What will you need to assemble, prepare, etc.? Will you need to block off any time? Or ask for help with something? Or track down some information?
Once you’ve got the first steps laid out, break them down into a few (even smaller) steps, and you’ll have your running start to making progress on this goal!
6. How will I know I’m making progress on this goal? How will I celebrate this progress along the way?
Perhaps the most striking difference between traditional resolution-making and mindful goal-setting is the fact that mindfully-set goals are as much about the process of reaching them as actually reaching them.
It’s tempting to reduce our complex future into black-and-white check boxes (e.g., lost the weight vs. didn’t… saved more money vs. didn’t), but when it comes to living your best story, the goodness is all in the steps along the way.
So, really think through the journey toward each of your goals.
The mile markers, the potential pitfalls, and the views and experiences around each turn. Plan now to expect the unexpected.
Then give yourself real credit for recommitting, over and over, each day.
Before you know it, you’ll be miles from where you started.
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Ready to get started with mindful goal-setting?