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‘Tis the Season (for Goal Setting)

New Year’s Eve is a special time.  Although I’m not into staying up until the wee hours to see the clock turn twelve, I am into the bigger-picture optimism and hope and anticipation and motivation that come with the imminent arrival of a clean slate.

I obviously like and believe in goals and the daily practices that are part of achieving them (after all, this is what wellfesto is all about).  But I recently found out that everyone thinks about their aspirations differently, and for many, goals are a really private matter.  I conducted a survey a few months ago, and learned from my relatively small (70-person) sample that 1) people set goals on an ad hoc basis, 2) they don’t track consistently (and if they do, they are most likely to use manual spreadsheets), and 3) they are hesitant to share their goals publicly with anyone outside of their closest circle of relationships.  Many people said things like, “I don’t regularly set goals, but somehow, I end up doing the things I want to do.”  Hmmm…so in the absence of setting formal goals, how do we do more, learn more and move forward?  Is it magic?  Destiny?  I’m now on a mission to find out.

There are lots of other people trying to find out too.  People who have a lot more experience and money than me are making real bets that goal setting will be on the rise, and that technology can aid our success.  Start-ups like Lift and Evr.st have raised money on the premise that people will set and share their micro (daily) and macro (“bucket list” style) goals.   Stanford professor and behavior change expert, BJ Fogg, runs a simple online program called Tiny Habits, which is trying to support people in taking baby steps toward changing their behavior (Fogg has proven, btw, that baby steps do indeed work).  A start-up called Mightybell began as a goal-setting site, but has migrated into a place where people can connect around shared interests, passions and goals (I like this idea and may set up some wellfesto groups there to try it out).  And the darling of them all, Pinterest, is all about things that people want to do, become, look like, have, etc.  This obvious energy around envisioning our future (the fuzzy version) and tracking our behavior (the sharper version) means there are a lot of people trying to figure this out…which is awesome.

But this doesn’t solve the issue of if and how to set goals today, on the eve of 2013.  Here are a few immediate suggestions for you to consider if you’re spending some time today or tomorrow or this month mapping out what your future looks like:

  • Write down your goals using a system that works for you.  Any of the electronic tools I listed above work well…a spreadsheet works well…and a handwritten poster hanging on your bedroom wall works well too.  Despite all of my research into tools to help, I still use a plain old spreadsheet (including daily practices, 1-yr, 5-yr and bucket list goals in the categories of health, home, money, work, travel, and family).
  • Separate out daily behavior changes versus accomplishments.  Be clear about what daily changes you want to make (these aren’t always quantifiable) and what you want to achieve (this is quantifiable or at least a hard milestone).  Quantify everything you can, but don’t fail to make a change because it’s not easily measurable.
  • Think in smaller increments.  Research shows that people need to keep up a change for at least 30 days until it’s a habit.  How about setting out to do something for 30 days and then take it from there?  Or, you could borrow from the model many companies use and opt for a 100-Day Plan (this is sometimes also called the 100-Day Stretch) to set broader, more medium-term goals.
  • Get an accountability partner.  Enlist someone in helping you achieve your daily commitments and goals, and in calling your bluff if you’re trying to do too much or not doing enough.  This works best if it’s a two-way street (you can help that person too).  For me, this person is my husband.
  • Dedicate your goal to someone else.  In yoga, it’s common to set a dedication at the beginning of the practice (most often, to a person), and come back to that dedication when you’re feeling mentally or physically challenged.  Why can’t other goals be the same?  Maybe you want to eat a vegan diet (and lower your cholesterol) so you can see your children grow up.  Maybe you want to run every morning in honor of a friend battling an injury.  You get the picture.
  • Write your wellfesto (shameless plug).  If you aren’t ready to set specific goals, get some clear guideposts in place to help you think through your everyday choices.  It’s a great start!

If you’re a goal-setter, I hope this is some useful food for thought.  And if you’re not, may the magic be with you.  Either way, enjoy the brightness of this time of year and energy the holidays have given us time and space to restore.  May 2013 be your best year yet!

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