Meaningful, Connected Goal Setting

This is the time of year when the pressure builds to set some goals. Make promises. Elevate expectations and maybe get a rush of energy (or anxiety!). I love this kind of stuff. But…

Over many goal setting sessions, failures and achievements, I’ve realized that the normal goal setting I do has a way of burning me out rather than igniting a new fire. It’s driven by list making and not my deepest, most real and intense motivations. I have lists in notebooks with few things checked off, walls with peeling sticky notes and a burning desire to do be and see more. I want more. And that old saying, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, keeps resurfacing. I need to do something different this year.

I dove down into my old way of goal setting to see why it wasn’t working. Why are all those lists unfinished? Why do I feel brimming with the desire to create and do more, yet I haven’t created the outlet for that? And I came down to this:

Because everything we want, every aspiration and goal, every craving and every desire is motivated by the desire to feel a certain way.

Because every craving, aspiration, or goal that you have—from what you want to eat, wear, and own, to all the great things you want to create in the world—is driven by an innate desire to feel a certain way. That’s it. It sounds simple, but it’s not the way we’re taught.

We’re taught about SMART goals. BHAGs and strategic goals, career goals and financial goals, health and fitness goals and family goals. Goals that are driven by definition—when I get here, earn this title, make this amount of money, have this—rather than intention. We’re taught to push our feelings aside—there’s no place for them in business, in success, in goal setting. But that is backwards. Making the lists isn’t wrong—we need lists and goals and things we want to strive toward. We just need to set them with more intention and a deeper understanding of ourselves. We don’t do things despite our feelings, we do things because of our feelings. That’s why when we achieve those BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals) we’ve set up, we still don’t feel happy. We’re chasing what we think will make us feel a certain way rather than the feeling itself.

I’m trying something different this year, inspired in large part by the Desire Map Program by Danielle LaPorte (and tangentially by texts from others, like Elizabeth Gilbert, Rupi Kaur, Malcom Gladwell, Seth Godin, my friends and family) and my own experiences. If you want to try a new way of goal setting for 2019, here’s a just-the-tip-of-the-iceberg, loosely structured guide:

  1. Reflect on the positive
    1. Make a list of the things you’re grateful for over the past year. The highlights and things you enjoyed doing.
    2. Exercise: Set a timer and write for four minutes. When you’re done, circle the biggest and most powerful items on the list.
  2. Recognize patterns
    1. Make categories and see what has surfaced repeatedly. Are most of the things on your list about family, work, your physical body, etc.
    2. Exercise: You can colour code your list, circle things, put them into a spreadsheet, whatever works for you.
  3. Identify emotions
    1. How did you feel when these things occurred and how do you feel reflecting on them?
    2. Exercise: Write the emotion that comes to mind beside each item.
  4. Consider what you want to let go
    1. What’s heavy and pulling you down? What tasks, relationships, issues, politics, etc feel burdensome? Don’t censor yourself and don’t weigh yourself down with shame or guilt. Be honest and write what comes to mind.
    2. Exercise: Set a timer for four minutes and write down the things that are weighing you down, that you want to change, that you find yourself…venting about to your friends. Think in your life, your community and the world.
  5. Letting go
    1. Look at the list you brainstormed above and, rather than make a to-do, make a stop-doing list. It is as exciting as it sounds—some of our greatest changes come from leaving something out rather than adding something.
    2. Exercise: Make your stop doing list. Consider prompts like who are you done trying to please? What’s been really hard and hasn’t really paid off? What would feel good to quit?
  6. Make a stop doing list
    1. Look at the lists you’ve made above of things that no longer serve you. You can’t give all of them up, likely, but there are some on the list that you will feel so good eliminating.
    2. Exercise: Make your stop doing list!
  7. Make a list of gratitude
    1. From experiencing more joy to better sleep, improved relationships to increased productivity, the benefits of gratitude are well documented.
    2. Exercise: Make a list of 3-7 things you are grateful for and why. For example, I am grateful for my dog, because he makes me go outside every day and experience more nature.
  8. An ideal day
    1. Whether you’re really close to achieving your ideal or miles away, this exe4rcise can help identify what we need to change and what we should be appreciative of that we have already. In everyday life: where would you be, what would you be doing, who would you be with, what would you be eating, how would you be earning, helping, creating, living, loving in a span of twelve hours?
    2. Exercise: Write down your ideal day. Not your fantasy ideal day, but a real ideal day.
  9. Identify the core emotions you want to feel
    1. Phew, getting long and pretty listy, eh? Almost there now. Everything you’ve listed so far will factor into these, and some of the work you did on steps one through three will help you most. This visual library from Danielle Laporte can help you think of emotions.
    2. Exercise: Write down all the ways you want to feel. Look at your above lists, especially from questions one to three, and consider what emotions you are chasing the most. Once you’re finished the big list, start narrowing it down. Ideally, you want to choose 3-5 core desired feelings. Here are some examples from other people. For me right now, these might be creative, productive, connected, energetic and excited.
  10. Creating intentions from your feelings
    1. What do I need to do to feel the way I want to feel? Here’s where it can get easy to slip into normal old goal setting. We want to think of setting intentions from the mindset of the emotions we want to feel. “To feel the way I want to feel in my relationships, I will….” Or even insert some of your emotions, “To feel connected and excited in my relationships, I will host get togethers at my home more often.” You can think of these in any categories that suit you. What I used:
      1. Livelihood and lifestyle
      2. Body, health and wellness
      3. Creativity and growth
      4. Relationships and my community
      5. Society and the world
      6. Spirituality
    2. Exercise: Write a few “To feel xxx I will xxx” for each category. Think of these as the big things, all encompassing.
  11. Zeroing in
    1. We’ve got lots of goals! Goals with a soul! Next step is to narrow in on some of the most important to you.
    2. Exercise: There’s no right number here. Choose a goal from each category, two, less, whatever, that is most important to you. Something from four to seven is good for focus.
  12. Micro goals
    1. Small steps make the big ones possible.
    2. Exercise: Write down all the small things that make the big goal possible For example, if you want to feel connected, that might include reaching out to friends regularly, turning off your device at night and interacting with someone you don’t know on a bi-weekly basis.

I’m going to post my core desired emotions somewhere I’ll see them frequently, so I can always ask myself if what I’m doing / about to do fits in with how I want to feel. It’s easy for me to get distracted and move the goal setting post, getting into the urgent and not necessarily the important.

I’d love to hear what you chose in the comments below, if you’re brave enough to share 😉

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