If there was anything 2020 taught us, it's that goals can stand to be changed. With a whole year of flux and change and moderate chaos behind us, it's perfectly normal to start thinking about how next year is going to be different.
But let's be honest - 2021 is going to look a lot like 2020. It won't be the same up front shock, but the challenge of competing personal and professional priorities, the drain of isolation, and the work from home grind aren't going anywhere any time soon.
Plus - there's the crazy stat that only about 8% of people actually achieve their start of year goals. And a huge chunk - 25% - don't even keep working toward their goals past the first week of January.
What do I say? If you're giving up on goals after only one week, those weren't the goals for you.
So let's start at the beginning...
Looking back to move forward
Whether you are considering personal or professional goals, identifying what you want is at the heart of everything. I used to go searching for "new years goals" to figure out what kind of goals I ought to be setting for year. What a ridiculous assumption - that someone else's priorities and goals would just magically be important to me.
Instead, setting goals starts with reflection. Thinking about how 2020 went for you. Try out these journaling prompts:
What successes did you have?
What habits supported you through the year?
What struggles affected you most?
What would you have liked to handle better?
That reflection moment will likely illuminate strategies that helped you achieve your goals, areas where you feel you have unfinished work to be done, or priorities that you haven't quite figured out how to deal with yet.
Where ever you land, this reflection sets you up for creating goals and objectives which will work for you.
Setting goals and objectives
Through your reflection exercises, or goals that have percolated up in other parts of your life, Choose to set goals that related to the biggest priorities in your life (p.s.: our values identification worksheet or leadership growth areas worksheet are super helpful for exploring this further).
Without this type of focus on what's really important to you, you can end up with too many goals or goals that aren't really a priority. And that's setting yourself up to fail.
Instead, visualize yourself at the end of the year. What is different about your life? How do you feel about that difference?
Write down why your goals are valuable and important to you. Ask yourself "if I were to share this goals with others, what would I tell them to explain why it's a worthwhile goal?" This why is your motivation.
Many of you will be familiar with the principle of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timebound). A lot of people think that S.M.A.R.T. goals are the best way to set goals, because it navigates you through setting clarity, measurement, and focus on a set time period.
I've always had an inherent rebellion against S.M.A.R.T. goals. There's something in my brain chemistry that automatically believes that if I set time-bound measurements, I'm going to rebel and automatically fail. S.M.A.R.T. goals also lean heavily into all-or-nothing thinking (e.g., I didn't drink more water today than yesterday, so I failed at my goal).
Instead, I like to focus on setting goals that have some kind of measurement, whether that's quantitative or qualitative. Last year, for example, one of my goals was to go to therapy every month - very quantitative. But I paired it with a goal of feeling better about how I was handling my mental health - a qualitative measure that gave me space to succeed, even when the pandemic pressed pause on my ability to schedule monthly appointments.
There are a lot of ways to create some form of accountability around your goals. The most common is a form of external accountability - whether that's a (home) gym buddy, a mentor, or a coach. For some, that external accountability really works!
The challenge with external accountability is two-fold - on one hand it's dependent on someone else, not on yourself, and on the other, it requires a certain amount of vulnerability about what your goals are. Those are both perfectly good reasons not to set up external accountability.
Instead, I like to focus on whatever accountability mechanism you feel will work best for you. Is it a daily reminder on your phone to drink more water? Is it a check-in with your partner on your spending priorities at the beginning of the week? Or is it simply writing down a word somewhere easily visible to trigger your thinking about your goal? Maybe it's creating a regular time block on your calendar to review your goals.
Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity, not just a means to an end. Your end destination may remain quite similar over the long term, but the action plan you set for yourself along the way can change significantly.
What comes next?
Setting personal and professional goals is a crucial step to focusing on what natural attributes you want to lean in to, what areas you might find it helpful to develop, and how you want to define what success means to you.
You may have struggled in the past to achieve your goals without the clear focus on the values or leadership attributes that matter to you – based on values that you find motivating, what drives your decision-making, and what determines how you choose to interact with other people.
When you start to reframe and focus on the growth areas that you find important, there’s so much more focus and targeting. You’ll now want to think about:
How your personal and professional goals reflect your overarching values or long-term life priorities
Ways you can share your goals and growth areas with others so they can help you work to close the gaps you identified and achieve your goals
How you can use your goals to create action plans for big change
That’s why I work with coaching clients one-on-one to figure out how you can leverage your unique leadership growth areas to find clarity and purpose.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make your goals actionable in 2021, check out my 1:1 coaching page for more information.