Twenty-two years before the movie Groundhog Day subtly illustrated the boredom of a repetitious life, I set my first goal.
My goal? To never have two years of my life be exactly the same.
Not yet thirty, I had already reached a point where my life was frighteningly predictable. I realized that if I didn’t do something about it, I was going to keep having the same year over and over again until my life came to an end.
Despite growing up in an environment that frequently warned not to expect too much in order to avoid disappointment (a classic example of twisted logic), from the moment I heard about goal setting, I became an enthusiastic practitioner.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t terribly successful at accomplishing those early goals. Over time, however, I discovered there was much more to the process than simply wishing for things that I didn’t have.
Here are a few things that have made a positive difference for me.
* The real reward isn’t at the finish line. While visualizing the things you want to accomplish is certainly a fun part of the process, the big prize is what you become by making a commitment to be, do or have something that’s missing from your life.
When we set goals, we’re issuing a challenge to ourselves to stretch, grow and overcome. Keep moving in the direction of your dreams and you’ll grow in ways you can’t imagine at the outset.
* Ink matters. As Patricia T. O’Conner reminds us, “An idea in your head is merely an idle notion. But an idea written down, that’s the beginning of something.”
Every goal setting system I’ve ever studied begins with the admonition to write them down. You don’t have to publish them online (unless you want to) or show them to anyone else, but writing them down is still step one.
* Size matters. Many people fail at their goal setting attempts because they timidly set goals that don’t ignite their imagination. Other times it requires a bit of reframing to get us excited about doing the work.
I just rediscovered that myself.
Because of respiratory problems, I have avoided stairs for several years. When I decided to buy my second floor walkup condo, the stair climbing was an issue, but I thought I could manage.
For the first few weeks, I dragged myself up the stairs, often telling myself that this exercise was good for me. I still arrived at my doorway breathless and cranky.
One day, I realized that the steps weren’t going away and unless I wanted to become a recluse and live on pizza delivery, I needed a different approach.
Now when I arrive at the foot of the stairway, I remind myself, “I’m training for my next trip to Venice” (where stairs are unavoidable). Climbing those stairs is more enticing now that I’ve connected the activity to a more exciting project than just getting the groceries upstairs.
* Beware of deadlines and timelines. Countless projects have been abandoned because they haven’t come to fruition in the time we anticipated. When that happens, we may be tempted to call our efforts a failure and give up.
But too often what we call failure is simply running out of patience.
While self-imposed deadlines can keep us focused, they need to be treated with caution. After all, how can you predict how long it will take to accomplish something you’ve never done before?
If you’ve ever remodeled a house, you know how ineffective timelines can be. Effective goal setters are more apt to embark on a new endeavor with the attitude of sticking with it for however long it takes.
* Make space for the new. Metaphysical teacher Catherine Ponder introduced me to the idea of creating a vacuum. In Open Your Mind to Prosperity, she writes, “You must get rid of what you don’t want in order to make way for what you do want. Substance does not flow easily into a cluttered, crowded situation. Substance does not flow easily into a cluttered, crowded mind.”
Ironically, letting go of what we don’t want often requires courage. Whether it’s conflicting goals, lack of confidence or a crowded calendar, elimination is an important part of the process.
* Take inventory every 90 days. What’s working? What isn’t? Have your priorities changed? Do you need to make room for a new project or spend more time on an old one? Are you working on things that no longer matter?
Goal setting, after all, calls us to evolve and reinvent. Checking in regularly prevents hanging on to goals that no longer serve the person we’re becoming—and alerts us if we’re settling for the same day over and over and over.
* More tips. There are many good books on goal setting. My favorite is Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser. Whether you’re an experienced goal setter or just a beginner, this belongs in your library.