Setting goals and resolutions is a popular way to start the new year. Being the type-A goal-oriented person I am, crafting resolutions and laying out life plans is basically my favorite hobby.
I like to keep an eye on my goals and reevaluate a few times a year, but winter is a natural time for introspective work, and the new year does give me a motivation boost even if I know it’s temporary. The world naturally slows down with the change in seasons, and the winter months can be a productive time to look inwards, reflect on the previous year, and our aspirations for the future.
This past year uprooted most of my plans, and I’ve become keenly aware of just how little is in my control. We’ve all had to adapt to new circumstances recently, whether it’s working from home, playing parent as well as teacher, or moving to a new home. Yet, this is a season, not the whole story of our lives, and even though there are days when I feel frustrated with the state of the world, I’m extremely grateful for it because it’s given me the time and the space I needed to understand what I truly want out of life. (At least for now – check back with me in ten years)
Starting fresh when life laughs at your plans can be overwhelming and stressful. I’ve burned through a lot of journals this year while sorting through my muddled thoughts. Typically journaling is all the therapy I need to gain a little clarity on my direction – but this year was particularly difficult… so I took a romp through the self-help aisle of the book store, got a bit philosophical while learning more about eastern religions, and took personality tests as if they were as fun as Buzzfeed quizzes all to better understand myself and what I needed out of life to feel fulfilled.
In case you are wondering… it could have guessed I was a Ravenclaw without taking the Pottermore quiz… and it was a lot floating around on the wizarding world of harry potter then it was discovering I’m an INTJ from the Myers Briggs personality assessment.
Jokes aside, two things actually gave me clarity and direction on my goals.
1: Actually ask yourself the hard questions – and write down your answers
Somewhere deep in my YouTube self-help spiral – Queen algorithm showed me the wisdom of Breeny Lee. She has some great videos on becoming more self-aware. Most of her content is specifically targeted towards people seeking advice in their love life, but understanding what is truly important can improve all aspects of your life.
It’s easy to go through life on autopilot, especially in school, where much of our path is predetermined. I graduated to realized that I have a nearly paralyzing amount of choices along my career path, even with a specialized degree. Without taking time to reflect on what you genuinely want out of life and what is important – you could be climbing up the corporate ladder to a position that isn’t suited to your authentic self.
Before you set any goal, I encourage you to reflect, so your near-term goals deeply resonate with you and affirm what brings meaning to your life.
The following prompts helped me hone in on what was most important to me and where I should spend my energy in the coming year.
What do I genuinely care about?
What excites my inner child?
What and Who do I love being around?
The most exciting part of this exercise was engaging with my inner child. I’m not sure when I got so old and stuffy (probably somewhere in the middle of taking life way too seriously), but I’ve come to realize that what I loved most as a child is still what brings me the most pleasure as an adult.
Things like feeling free, a new adventure, learning something new, running, horseback riding, and reading all make my heart smile, and I’ve been working this year to make more space for the things I love. In planning goals for the new year, it’s my aim to craft goals that make me feel I am progressing in my life while at the same time nourishing my soul.
2: An actionable plan for an aspirational future
I’m not exactly a fan of hard-set long-term goals. Life is too unpredictable to know where you will be in five or ten years. However, I think it’s essential to set directional goals that can adapt as your needs and desires morph with time. I don’t see planning as a concrete agenda for the future, but a mental exercise to show you where to focus your energy and get to the building of the future you’re imagining.
This year, I read a fantastic book on habit change called Atomic Habits, by James Clear, which focused on cultivating systems that enable you to habituate the daily actions and bring long-term goals to fruition. I highly recommend picking up this book as a part of your New Year’s reboot, and I’ll be doing a more in-depth book review in the future.
I stumbled across a great exercise for directional goal setting called The Odyssey Plan. This brainstorming activity was created by two Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans as a way to visualize how your life may unfold in the next 5-10 years at key transition points.
I loved this because it forced me to think about my current life trajectory if I continued life as normal – and made me question if I wanted that future.
The exercise consists of constructing of three alternate plans …
- In the first instance, you draw/write out your current plan or existing idea for how life will look for the next five years.
- In the next, you figure out what you would do if plan A can’t happen.
- In the third iteration, this is the fun part — what would you do if money and time were no object?
3: Goal Setting
Once you have a mental picture of your aspirational life, it’s time to evaluate how we can pull aspects of your fantasy into reality. It’s fun to imagine your life if money and time were no object, but back on earth in our mortal lives, choice is abundant, but there isn’t always an abundance of resources. So, we pick and choose aspirations – preferably based on that which we have already determined to be a priority for our future and essential to our happiness.
Looking at your “Fun” five-year plan, what are the daily, monthly, and yearly actions that form the habits necessary to construct this aspirational life?
One great thought experiment to use when identifying the actionable components of your life goals is to say, “If I were already a (runner, traveler, voracious reader, healthy eater, or social butterfly) what would I do?”
For each aspirational goal I like to focus on a few things:
Is it fun? If not – How can I make it more fun?
Can I identify with the action (does it feel authentic)?
How can I make it easy?
If I want to read 100 books a year … I want to be someone who routinely reads … and who enjoys the process of reading.
So, I imagine reading before bed, while I wait for the train, or reading on my phone while in line for a coffee.
Then I engineer my space to nudge me towards action without conscious thought. I can leave a book on my bed for when I’m ready to unwind at the end of the day and get cozy, download the kindle app on my phone and set it on the Home Screen, and sometimes even put a reminder in my calendar when it’s storytime. I also try and make the activity more social through book clubs, buddy reading, and engaging with the Booktube community and on GoodReads.
I have another video with my top tips on reading more books, so if that happens to be one of your goals for the new year, I’ll leave a card on the screen, and you can check it out.
This is just one example, but I hope this helps you construct habits that stick and move you towards your long-term aspirations.
GOALS AND ASPIRATIONS ARE A NATURAL START TO A NEW YEAR. REMEMBER, THOUGH, THAT IT’S REALLY A NEW YEAR EVERY DAY, AS YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO CHOOSE A NEW DIRECTION AT ANY POINT.
Good luck everyone! I hope that 2021 proves to be a bit more … stable than 2020.